Pubdate: Tue, 03 Aug 2004
Source: Pretoria News, The (South Africa)
Copyright: 2004 The Pretoria News


A mushroom used by the ancients to gain "spiritual enlightenment" is still 
a source of inspiration today, writes Robert Verkaik.

Timothy Leary, the intellectual cheerleader of chemical transcendence, said 
that when he ate magic mushrooms in Mexico in 1960 he learned more in four 
hours than in all his years as a psychologist.

Forty-four years later, seekers of knowledge need only take a stroll along 
one of London's famous high streets and visit one of the many "shroom 
shops" to test his theory. Furthermore, they can do it without breaking the 

To prove the point, many of the shop owners display copies of a letter 
written by a Home Office official that makes it clear there is nothing 
illegal in the trade of freshly picked magic mushrooms.

But their legal sale appears to be about to end since ministers have moved 
to tighten the loophole.

Under the current law the psilocybe mushroom, or magic mushroom, is not a 
controlled substance, but the hallucinogen, psilocin, that it contains, is 
classified as a Class A drug.

Provided gatherers don't commercially "prepare" the mushroom - by freezing 
it, drying it or using it to make tea - before selling it, they are not 
committing a criminal offence.

But the shift in policy signals a new zero-tolerance, meaning that the sale 
of unprepared mushrooms could now be illegal. Home Office Minister Caroline 
Flint has told shop owners that if they are selling magic mushrooms they 
are probably breaking the law.

Anti-drug groups have long warned that this legal loophole encourages young 
people to experiment with a hallucinogenic substance that can lead to 
nightmarish trips, stomach pains, sickness and, in some case, psychiatric 
problems. The minister advises: "In the Home Office's view, a form of 
preparation and production has occurred by the sale of magic mushrooms in 
market places and shops or at other premises or at other sale points.

"Accordingly, those selling, or seeking to sell, the mushrooms at such 
premises are unlawfully supplying a product containing psilocin and or 

There are now estimated to be between 200 and 300 shops selling mushrooms 
in Britain and many other businesses trading online. Some of the mushrooms 
are home-grown, but the bulk of the produce is imported from Holland.

The use of hallucinogenic mushrooms is probably as old as humanity itself. 
Ancient peoples are known to have taken mushrooms to experience altered 
states of consciousness and gain "spiritual enlightenment".

A group of mushroom statues found in Guatemala and thought to date as far 
back as 500 BC has been interpreted as evidence that ancient peoples once 
worshipped the mushroom.

But it wasn't until the 1960s that Western cultures, led by counter-culture 
gurus such as Timothy Leary, began to use mushrooms recreationally as a 
natural and milder alternative to acid.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart