Dr. Russell Newcombe, Senior Lecturer in Drug Use & Addiction
It is now illegal to let relatively harmless mushrooms containing psilocin grow on your lawn, but quite legal to grow (or let grow) highly poisonous mushrooms like amanita virosa ( destroying angel ) and amanita phalloides ( death cap ) – which kill most people who swallow them.
On 11 th April 2005 , psilocin containing fungi (i.e. mushrooms and truffles) became full Class A drugs – meaning that the previous restriction of the ban to prepared mushrooms or extracted psilocin was removed. The law on psilocin containing mushrooms is now the same as for heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, LSD and other Class A drugs – possession is punishable by a maximum prison sentence of seven years, and trafficking (production, supply, etc.) by a top sentence of life imprisonment.
Though a fairly simple change, there are several implications of this new law. For instance, possession of controlled drugs means (a) knowledge of the location of the drug, and (b) access to it – both physically and socially – i.e. either ownership, or permission to use. Thus, if psilocybe mushrooms grow on your front lawn, and you know that they are there, you are technically in possession of a Class A drug, and could face up to seven years in jail. If you go into your garden and pick them, you are fully in possession of a Class A drug – unless you are going directly to a place to destroy them or to hand them over to the police (this was confirmed in the recent debate of the Drugs Bill, reported in Hansard). If you pick them and give them to anyone else, you are guilty of supplying a Class A drug, and could be jailed for life – as you could for growing them yourself. Lastly, if you knowingly permit several hundred psilocybe mushrooms to grow on your lawn, you could be prosecuted for intent to supply – on the grounds that such numbers are more consistent with supply than personal use (another provision of the new Drugs Act).
Though such high sentences are unlikely, smaller sentences are quite possible. But surely it is ridiculous to classify a natural, relatively harmless mushroom which grows wild all over the UK as a Class A drug. With the three famous exceptions of coca leaf, opium poppy and cannabis plants, the British government has always shied away from making natural drugs (plants) illegal – particularly when they are indigenous or have been grown here for centuries, but also foreign plants. For instance, peyote or San Pedro cacti, which contain mescaline (a Class A drug when extracted), remain legal in their natural form – as does the khat shrub, which contains the controlled drugs cathine and cathinone.
And although it supposedly closes a (small) loophole in the Misuse of Drugs Act, the new Drugs Act actually leaves a gaping great hole in the legislation, because it excludes hallucinogenic mushrooms containing drugs other than psilocin (notably fly agaric) – many of which are potentially far more toxic than psilocybe shrooms like liberty cap. Moreover, many other hallucinogenic substances – notably ketamine, the daddy of them all - remain legal to possess and use. Who was it who said the law is an ass?
What are the likely effects of this legal change? It increases the likelihood that an illicit supply of psilocybe mushrooms will appear, with adulterated products of variable strength/cost – including expensive concentrated extracts. And we know that banning drugs rarely reduces levels of use - and may even produce the ‘forbidden fruit' effect, and lead to an increased prevalence of use among young adults – or conversely lead to an increase in the use of other hallucinogens such as LSD
In short, this is another ill-considered change to the drug laws. It is now illegal to let relatively harmless mushrooms containing psilocin grow on your lawn, but quite legal to grow (or let grow) highly poisonous mushrooms like amanita virosa ( destroying angel ) and amanita phalloides ( death cap ) – which kill most people who swallow them. In the 2000s, there have been many signs of a backlash against liberalisation, but the total banning of psilocybe mushrooms must get the prize for both stupidity and immorality.
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