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Magic Mushrooms

WARNING: mushrooms should NEVER be ingested unless positively identified to be non-poisonous by a mycologist. Often the only differences between highly toxic mushrooms and edible mushrooms are extremely subtle and require a great deal of training to distinguish. Also, several hallucinogenic varieties have been shown to be toxic to humans in medium to large doses.

   OH  O-
   | /
   O                  CH
   |                /   3
 // \___  _ CH CH N
|   ||  ||    2  2  \
|   ||  ||            CH
 \\ / \ /               3
       H                  PSILOCYBIN
For thousands of years before Europeans set foot in the New World the sacred mushroom was in use in native rituals. In the 1950s R. Gordon Wasson, a Wall Street banker, participated in a Mexico mushroom ceremony and eloquently described the 'Divine Inebriant' in a piece of writing which could go some way to explaining the fascination with which many people regard psychedelic drugs. These words, of course, could really equally apply to any of these substances:

'There are no apt words ... to characterize your state when you are, shall we say, 'bemushroomed.' ... How do you tell a man born blind what seeing is like? In the present case, this is especially true because superficially the bemushroomed man shows few of the objective symptoms of one intoxicated, drunk ... [the mushroom] permits you to see, more clearly than our pershing mortal eye can see, vistas beyond the horizons of this life, to travel backwards and forwards in time, even (as the Indians say) to know God. It is hardly surprising that your emotions are profoundly affected, and you feel that an indissoluble bond unites you with the others who have shared with you in the sacred agape ... All that you see during this night has a pristine quality: the landscape, the edifices, the carvings, the animals - they look as though they had come straight from the Maker's workshop. This newness of everything - it is as though the world had just dawned - overwhelms you and melts you with its beauty. Not unnaturally, what is happening to you seems to you freighted with significance, beside which the humdrum events of everyday are trivial ... What you are seeing and what you are hearing appear as one: the music assumes harmonious shape, giving visual form to its harmonies, and what you are seeing takes on the modalities of music - the music of the spheres ... All your senses are similarly affected: the cigarette with which you occasionally break the tension of the night smells as no cigarette before had ever smelled ; the glass of simple water is infinitely better than champagne.'

From 'The Hallucinogenic Fungi of Mexico', R. Gordon Wasson in The Psychedelic Reader, Ed. Gunther M. Weil et al, Citadel Press Inc., 1973.

Fortunately one does not have to visit Mexico to experience the mushrooms, probably the most effective and safest of natural psychedelics. Psilocybian mushrooms should not be confused with the Fly Agaric (amanita muscaria) a toxic deleriant. The most common species of 'Magic Mushroom' found wild in the UK is the increasingly popular 'Liberty Cap' (psilocybe senilanceata). Indeed this particular species, despite its relative weakness, is prized by the South American Indians as one of the best. The Liberty Cap contains psilocybin, which is converted to psilocin in the body. Psilocin is a close chemical relative of LSD. However, the effects, according to many users, are milder, more pleasant and there is said to be less risk of bad trips. The greatest danger comes from eating other mushrooms -- different poisonous mushrooms picked by mistake. Therefore any potential mushroom picker should be quite sure they know what to look for (many reference books about mushrooms describe the Liberty Cap). The season for the mushroom is between September and December. During this time many people, not known for a previous interest in fungi, can be seen scanning the grass in fields with bent heads. The mushrooms are usually found after heavy rain and a long search. After picking they are dried on paper. Although the dried mushrooms are less potent than the fresh, if not dried the mushrooms might contain flies harmful to the liver.

Some people say mushrooms make them sick, but then I have never had any toxic effects from the mushrooms. A test for psilocybin-containing mushrooms is to look for a blue colour at the end of the stem after they have been picked. Those who want to make quite sure can buy a chemical called methaminophenol sulphate from photographic positive identification. Add it to twenty times its volume in distiled water. Apply to stem of mushroom and wait half an hour for a deep purple colour.

The American mushrooms include Psilocybe cubensis and caerulescens and are far more potent on a weight basis than the English ones. Whereas typical doses of the Liberty Cap are 25-50 dried little mushrooms, only a few grams of the American mushrooms ('shrooms) are needed. The effects, as with any drug, depend on the individual's body weight as well as the size and strength of the mushrooms. The mushrooms have a greater effect if a soup is made from them and also if taken on an empty stomach. To prepare a soup it is necessary to boil up the 'shrooms for ten minutes, add packet soup powder or instant coffee to hid the (disgusting) taste then drink the soup and repeat the process using the same mushrooms.

The effects start after about twenty minutes for soup and forty-five minutes when eaten. At low doses effects last about four hours and at higher doses up to six hours. Once the effects start to end they do so rapidly, unlike acid which seems to linger on a bit.

Possession of fresh mushrooms, in the UK is not illegal at the present. This may well change in the future. Even now possession of a preparation or product of the mushrooms is an offence. This includes drying mushrooms to a powder, crushing or boiling them. Mushrooms which are dried but are still intact are legal (excuse: 'I picked them like that, Officer. The sun must have dried them out, honest guv'.').

Kits to grow the mushrooms at home in jam jars are available from the USA by mail order. 'FS' has a 'Resource Guide' containing information about 43 companies selling every thing from mushroom videos to edible cultures and spore prints (more than 50!). The address is given in the bibliography. Judge Clive Callman ruled in 1983 test case that the cultivation of 'magic mushrooms' is legal in the UK, unfortunately it's also quite difficult. A friend once tried it and failed due to lack of sterile conditions.

Fly Agaric

This drug is only included to warn of its considerable dangers.

The Fly Agaric ('amanita muscaria') is the well-known red toadstool with white spots which appears in illustrations in fairy tales. It is not a true psychedelic drug and at best has unpleasant side effects. At worst it could kill you.

Effects are said to be dizziness, muscle twitching and possible vomiting after a half hour. This is followed by a drunken feeling and perhaps a light sleep lasting about two hours. Numbness may be present in the extremities. On waking feelings of great strength and hallucinations (especially of size) lasting about six hours have been reported. Overdoses can lead to convulsions, derangement, coma and amnesia. There are reports that this drug can cause ergotism, constriction of blood in the extremities of the bodies (e.g. nose, fingers etc) leading to gangrene. Death or permanent brain damage is possible from overdose (caused by respiratory paralysis). Kidney damage is also possible.

Neither the toadstool nor any preparation of it are controlled substances. They are not likely to be ever classified as such, since hopefully few will be foolish enough to try it.

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