Magic mushrooms are often associated with hippies and the counterculture of the 1960s and ’70s, triggering images of young people dancing freely at music festivals, without a care in the world. Those stereotypes are slowly starting to fade into the background, although as we can see with the legalisation of cannabis around the world, it is a slow process.
Psychedelic mushrooms have been at the centre of controversy and debate for years, and that debate is starting to ramp up around the world. More researchers, medical experts, and government officials are starting to open up the market for more research into these substances and their potential benefits for all types of conditions. That process, historically, is what paves the way to a substance’s legalisation.
To get where we’re going, we have to travel back to where the modern-day debate began.
During the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances, the committee voted to place psilocybin, the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms, on the Schedule I substance list. That designation, which became part of the Vienna Agreement, meant the committee had reason to believe the substance has a high potential for abuse, and low potential, if any, for medicinal or therapeutic benefits. The idea behind the move at the time was to stop people from abusing psychedelic substances such as LSD.
Similar to what we have seen unfold with cannabis in recent years, surveys show psychedelics are slowly becoming more widely accepted among the medical community as a potential treatment for people with severe depression and anxiety. Some argue psychedelic mushrooms could be a viable treatment option for some people, while others have countered that they offer no medicinal benefit at all.
What Are Magic Mushrooms
Magic mushrooms may be front and centre of a new debate, but they are not new at all in many cultures. These naturally occurring fungi grow on every continent in the world, aside from Antarctica, and they were believed to have been used by indigenous tribes dating back thousands of years.
Magic mushrooms contain all types of compounds, including two psychoactive compounds, psilocybin and psilocin.
When the U.N. changed the drug’s designation in 1971, the council only placed the psychedelic compound psilocybin on the list, not the mushroom’s root network or spores. That has made for some interesting interpretations of the law, along with a few loopholes that cities and countries around the world have figured out how to work around in recent years.
Magic mushrooms are still illegal in most countries, but some countries have made exceptions or changes to those bans, based on the loophole in the Vienna Agreement that bans psilocybin, not the mushroom itself.
Legal Versus Decriminalised
In many countries, laws and regulations surrounding these substances continue to change, and the first step to legalisation is typically decriminalisation. That means that even though a substance is illegal, law enforcement treats these offences as low priority. Decriminalisation also means that you cannot face criminal penalties for personal possession, but you can if you have large amounts.
Where You Can Legally Buy Magic Mushrooms and Psilocybin
Jamaica is the only country that has never placed restrictions on magic mushrooms or the psychedelic compounds in them, including psilocybin.
In recent years, Jamaica gained attention for its magic mushroom retreats, one of which was featured on the Netflix series “The Goop Lab.” These retreats are billed as “mental health spas” where people claim they can find spiritual awakening.
While these retreats may be fun, they are not cheap. A week-long stay at one of these hot spots in Jamaica can run you $10,000.
Austria was among the first European countries to decriminalise magic mushrooms, but with a catch. If you are caught in possession of a small quantity of magic mushrooms for personal use, you’ll have to undergo free therapy, but you will not be charged with a crime. You can buy spores and grow kits to use at home but selling large amounts of dried mushrooms is still against the law.
Brazil uses the loophole in the Vienna Agreement in its laws surrounding magic mushrooms. You can possess, consume, and even sell magic mushrooms, but psilocybin is illegal. With that said, you can find magic mushrooms for sale in shops throughout the country, as well as delivery services that will bring them to you.
4. The British Virgin Islands
You can possess and consume magic mushrooms in the British Virgin Islands, but the distribution of magic mushrooms is illegal. That part of the law is rarely enforced, but it does prevent people from selling them legally.
Canada is possibly seeing some of the most drastic changes in the regulations of magic mushrooms. Psychedelic mushrooms were categorised as Schedule III substances in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act of 1974, which means they are believed to pose some public health risk.
Spores and grow kits are sold legally in Canada and can be used to make a wide variety of mushroom-infused products at home.
But, psilocybin is still an illegal substance, and possessing, producing, or selling it is against the law unless it’s being used for research or clinical trials. Microdoses, or tiny doses of psychedelic hallucinogens, are also sold legally in dispensaries but only for medicinal purposes. A microdose is about 1 percent of an active dose of any substance, and it is not intended to produce hallucinogenic effects.
Magic mushrooms have not been approved for recreational use, but, overall, law enforcement for small amounts has been a low priority. Under the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, these substances are exempt from legal penalties when used for research, clinical trials, or if they’re deemed medically necessary. That opened the door for the sale of magic mushroom edibles and beverages. Many of these items are available in online dispensaries, and the market continues to expand past dried mushrooms. As demand grows, more products are being introduced to the market, including chocolates, gummy candies, and beverages such as tea and coffee infused with the psychoactive compounds in magic mushrooms.
The increase in the availability of magic mushrooms in Canada is just one of the big changes that have taken place over the past year.
In August 2020, Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu issued an exemption allowing four terminally ill cancer patients access to psilocybin to use as part of their end-of-life therapy. The exemption was granted 100 days after the patients first appealed to the government for access to the experimental treatment. It was a historical move and marked the first time since 1974 that a legal exemption had been granted for psilocybin.
6. Great Britain
Among the stricter countries in the world when it comes to the current cultivation, possession, and sale of Psilocybe mushrooms is the United Kingdom. Up until 2005, the sale of magic mushrooms was completely legal in the U.K. That year an amendment was added to the Misuse of Drugs Act that fully criminalised hallucinogens and levied penalties of up to seven years in prison for possession and up to life for any amount that could be considered an intent to distribute.
Psychedelic compounds in magic mushrooms are illegal in Mexico, with psilocybin listed as a Type 1 drug. That designation is similar to the Schedule I designation in the United States, meaning the drug has a high likelihood of abuse potential without any medicinal or therapeutic benefits.
A newly formed advocacy group called The Mexican Psilocybin Society has been drumming up support to get these substances reclassified to Type 2. If that happens, it will pave a path for more research into the drug in Mexico and beyond.
In some areas in Mexico, villages of indigenous groups are still known to use magic mushrooms in traditional ceremonial settings. Some of these areas have slowly started to become tourist destinations, similar to the magic mushroom retreats that are popping up in Jamaica.
In the Netherlands, drugs are classified into two categories: hard drugs, like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine; and soft drugs, like cannabis, peyote, and salvia.
Psilocybin mushrooms were considered in the soft drug classification until 2008, when they were upgraded to hard drug status.
However, some wiggle-room in the law allows many “smart shops” in the country to sell mushroom spores, extracts, and magic truffles. Magic truffles are the part of the mushroom that grows below the ground, used as food reserves for the part that grows above, hence the inclusion of “truffle” in the name. Both have comparable amounts of the psychoactive compounds and can be freely purchased.
8. United States
In the United States, magic mushrooms are regulated under the Psychotropic Substances Act on a federal level. Still, a few cities in states around the country have already cleared the path for the legalisation of magic mushrooms. Denver, Colorado, was first to do so in 2019, followed by Oakland, California, Chicago, Illinois, Santa Cruz, California, and most recently, Ann Arbor, Michigan, following a year-long lobbying effort.
Denver and Chicago passed similar resolutions, making magic mushrooms low-priority issues for law enforcement. Chicago City Council passed its measure on its own, making the ordinance official city-wide.
Over the past year, dozens of studies have been popping up across the United States as researchers try to dive deeper into these compounds and their effect on the brain. In 2019 alone, the U.S. played host to 20 conferences covering the latest trends, developments, and research into psychedelics and their potential use in medicine.
What Happens Next?
We could see more cities across the United States added to the list of places that decriminalise psychedelic mushrooms in a matter of weeks. Voters in Oregon, Washington, D.C., Vermont, and New York will be voting on this issue in 2020.
In D.C., voters will get to weigh in on Initiative 81, or the Entheogenic Plant and Fungus Policy Act of 2020, which would place magic mushrooms on the low-priority list of criminal offences. It would also clear the way for certain people to consume these substances under a doctor’s care.
Voters across the state of Oregon will decide whether to approve Measure 109 on the 2020 ballot, which would clear the way for the state health authority to create an advisory board to study therapy using magic mushrooms. The measure would allow for a two-year grace period to draw up rules for how to regulate these substances across the state.
Grassroots campaigns in more than 100 other cities across the United States are gaining quite a bit of traction and support for getting a similar initiative on the ballot in the near future.
More governments around the world are also clearing the way for researchers to study the effects of psychedelic mushrooms. 2018 saw the rise of major global studies, as well as clinical trials. That year, U.K. drugmaker Compass Pathways received the “breakthrough therapy” designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its experimental psilocybin therapy for depression. In September 2020, Compass announced its IPO and became the first psychedelic company to trade on the NASDAQ stock exchange.
A recent data analysis from Data Bridge Market Research estimates the psychedelic drug market could grow by 16.3 percent and could reach $6.85 billion by 2027.
At Johns Hopkins, major steps are being taken to better understand the properties of magic mushrooms and if there are any benefits. In August 2020, The Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research announced the first-of-its-kind magic mushroom study was heading into the trial phase outside of the lab. The results of this study are expected to come back sometime in 2021.
The psychedelic industry seems to be headed down a similar path to the one cannabis has been headed down for quite some time. As more research is conducted and results are revealed, we will get a better idea of whether magic mushrooms will get closer to widespread legalization or not.