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Over the past few months this column has discussed the resurgence of "psychedelic" or hallucinogenic drugs in the UK, particularly "magic mushrooms". Due to a legal loophole there has been an explosion in the sale of imported magic mushrooms and home growing kits in street markets, shops and over the internet in that country. In fact, according to a report in a UK magazine, Amsterdam of London, one of the major outlets of "legal hallucinogens", sells 100kg of magic mushrooms a week - the equivalent of 10,000 individual trips - to visitors to the stores both in London and the other 15 stores around the UK.
However, there has been bad news for British fans of mushrooms as the law is about to change, making this particular type of fungus illegal. Ignoring pleas from mushroom retailers and consumers, the British government has announced under clause 21 of the Drugs Act 2005 they are reclassifying psilocybe mushrooms as a class A drug alongside heroin and crack cocaine. This law will come into force on 18 July. From that date, importation, possession or sale of magic mushrooms will be punishable by a life sentence, effectively outlawing sales of any type, including the internet.
There has been great criticism of the new law. One of the major groups voicing their concern is the Entheogen Defence Fund, a group set up to protect the interests of mushroom retailers and consumers, who believe that the criminalisation of magic mushrooms is a retrograde step. It predicted the reclassification would simply encourage more youngsters to try ecstasy, LSD, heroin and cocaine.
Many believe that their argument is a strong one. With such huge amounts of magic mushrooms being sold per annum and their popularity on the rise, many do believe that mushrooms have had an impact on the reduction of the use of illegal drugs such as ecstasy. However, the government has said that the law is being changed due to the harm associated with mushrooms, stating that they could trigger psychosis and there was evidence users could be at risk of self-harm.
The research is not conclusive and whether mushrooms cause significant harm to most users is debatable. However, hallucinogenic drugs are not for everyone - many fear the loss of control and the length of intoxication that are part of this often extreme experience. Once you go tripping, you're really in for the long haul - if you have a bad trip you will just have to ride it out. We are hearing of growing interest in the use of mushrooms amongst drug users in Australia but the law would not need to be changed here. Currently, the laws in this country around the possession, use or supply of psilocybin are the same as for heroin.