What & Why? Magic mushrooms

What and Why? Magic Mushrooms.
Psilocybe semilanceata or 'liberty cap' magic mushrooms are common fungi that grow on grassland in the UK, usually from early September to the end of October, and which when eaten, have hallucinogenic effects.

The first thing to say, despite what you may have heard or read elsewhere, is that liberty caps are very unlikely to endanger life, despite the commonly repeated myth that the biggest danger from using them is poisoning through picking the wrong ones. There are no dangerous wild mushrooms in the UK that look similar.

Another variety of hallucinogenic mushroom found in the UK is the more dangerous amanita muscaria or ‘fly agaric'. This large red mushroom with white spots is a familiar image from childhood fairy stories (usually pictured with an elf perched on top) and contains a powerful hallucinogen. A large fleshy mushroom, it has powerful sedative effects on the central nervous system and, if used in quantity, can cause seizures. Although unlikely to cause death, fly agaric can be mistaken for some very poisonous types of mushroom.

Psilocybin has an hallucinogenic effect because it closely resembles the naturally occurring brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that transmit impulses across nerves. Liberty caps are taken in a variety of ways. They can be picked and eaten fresh, but are often dried, or ‘brewed’ in tea, beer, or wine.

Once dried they can be made into tea, crumbled into joints and smoked or are occasionally pressed into crude tablets. Changes to the UK's Misuse of Drugs Act in 2005 made it an offence to be in possession of any mushroom containing psilocybin or psilocin.

They are occasionally sold, (although not in any organised way in the UK) with prices being variable and mainly dependent on whether or not they are in season. In Holland fresh hallucinogenic mushrooms are legally sold in ‘smart shops.’

Liberty caps are taken in a variety of ways. They can be picked and eaten fresh, but are often dried, or ‘brewed’ in tea, beer, or wine. Once dried they can be crumbled into joints and smoked or are occasionally pressed into crude tablets. However, preparation of magic mushrooms makes them illegal to possess or use - in their natural form, they are not illegal. ‘Preparation’ could be taken to include simply allowing them to dry.

Most users experience waves of intoxication with feelings of inner warmth, colours appearing unusually vibrant and beautiful. Perception feels enhanced and people feel able to interpret reality in a new and different way.

They have been used for thousands of years: some people and societies believe they have sacred properties.

The strength of individual mushrooms varies, especially if they have been stored for any length of time, therefore accurate dosing is difficult.

Amounts needed for this 4 to 8 hour hallucinogenic experience, range from ten to a hundred or more (with an average being around 40). They can be
measured by weight with a typical dose of fresh mushrooms being 25 - 70 grams, which is equivalent to 2.5 - 7 grams when dried. The dose varies depending upon their strength, the required effect, the experience of the user and tolerance to the drug - which develops rapidly if they are used daily.

‘True’ hallucinations in which things which do not exist are seen, heard, smelled or felt as if they are real, are unlikely to occur with magic mushrooms.

It is probably most helpful to understand why people use magic mushrooms, in terms of the person - their belief system, psychological make up, and mood; the drug - the physical and psychological effects of the drug on the individual, and society - the use of the drug by a persons social group and the availability and acceptability of the drug. The exact balance between these factors - the reasons people do it - are unique to each individual.

Unpleasant unwanted effects are more likely for inexperienced users or those taking higher doses. These can include intense feelings of being out of control, panic, anxiety and paranoia or bizarre or frightening hallucinations - which, in susceptible people, can trigger or worsen mental health problems.

Magic mushrooms do not cause physical dependence, and psychological dependence is rare if it exists at all. This is because tolerance to the effects of psilocybin develops rapidly, making it unlikely to be used on a daily basis for an extended period. Where problems do occur, they are most likely to be acute - the person suffers unpleasant effects such as anxiety or panic attacks for the period the drug is active in their system.

As with any powerful hallucinogen, the main risk is to do with the ability of the drug to bring to light, or worsen, underlying mental health problems.

If you've read this far, you will probably want to look at 2 great publications about magic mushrooms from LIfeline publications that we stock in our online shop: the superb magic mushrooms book - 40 pages packed with unbiased information, from a drug agency with years of experience (only £5.99 inc. P&P) and Magic Mushrooms FAQ a short booklet for health professionals and parents, but also of interest to users.

As with all our publications, you can read the books online before you buy.


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