A curious loophole in the law allowing the sale of hallucinogenic
mushrooms is providing trippy hippies with a legal high at the Glastonbury
festival. But how safe is it? Anthony Barnes reports
27 June 2004
Glastonbury Festival was awash with rain yesterday, turning fields
to mush and drenching the masses. But spirits remained high, and it wasn’t
just the power of the music played by Paul McCartney and Oasis.
Festivalgoers, as well as thousands of other people around Britain,
have turned on and tuned in to the all-natural hallucinogenic kick of “psilocybe”.
The magic mushroom is back.
Last week, NME, the music bible, pronounced that 2004 is “the third
summer of love” thanks to the resurgence of the “‘shroom”, previously out
of favour for decades. Fans of the magic mushroom praise them as a natural
alternative to ecstasy, which is declining in popularity. Yesterday an
overdose of ecstasy was blamed for the death of a 24-year-old man at Glastonbury.
A curious loophole means fresh magic mushrooms are legal, whereas
the sale or possession of dried or cooked mushrooms are prohibited. This
weekend there were several stalls around Glastonbury as well as wandering
vendors selling numerous varieties – Mexican, Colombian and Hawaiian. Small-time
dealers made hundreds of pounds within hours of the festival kicking off
Dreadlocked Mary “the Mushroom Seller” took £600 from the sale
of Yorkshire-grown liberty cap mushrooms and others on the first morning
alone. “It’s a good living for the weekend,” said Mary, who tours the
summer festivals selling her wares. The use of mushrooms is extending
beyond the 900-acre site to towns and cities around the UK.
LSD fuelled the first summer of love in 1967; ecstasy and LSD the
second in 1988. NME has hailed the rise of the mushroom as the spark for
the third summer of love.
This week it published a “top tips for top trips” guide to magic
mushrooms in its Glastonbury edition, although it did add the rider that
they are best consumed in a familiar environment.
Concern has been raised about the use of mushrooms because of their
unpredictable effects. Professor John Henry, a drugs expert at St Mary’s
Hospital in London, warned that vomiting, an increased heart rate and flashbacks
“You can’t predict what is going to happen,” he said. “You may have
a nice trip where all the lamp-posts are wailing at you or a horrible one
where the lamp-posts are threatening you. People respond in different ways
and the same person may respond differently depend-ing on their mood – scared
out of their wits or running over a cliff. You can also have terrible flashbacks
A spokesman for Avon and Somerset police said: “The advice we always
give is that for your own benefit don’t try anything new here. If you’re
in an area you don’t know, with people you don’t know, be very careful.
The NME’s editor, Conor McNicholas, defended the paper’s mushroom
guide: “A minority of young people will at some stage of their lives experiment
with drugs. You have to talk in a way that young people will relate to
– you don’t want someone coming on like your mum or dad and being told not
to do things.”
Certainly, ‘shroom fans were much in evidence at Glastonbury. Chris
Coul, an electrician from Slough, said: “They’re a nice natural buzz. There
is no aftermath which you get from chemicals. Pills are a cheap, quick,
synthetic buzz. For the same price, mushrooms give you a mind-altering high.”
Lucy Scones, 23, had stocked up with 80g of Hawaiian mushrooms from
London’s Camden Market before heading to the festival to beat the price
mark-up. “They’re perfect for the festival; with a good crowd and your ego
hit by the mushrooms, the magic can happen.”
The trade in fresh magic mushrooms is thought to be a multi-million-pound
business and growing rapidly. Chris Territt, business manager of supplier
Psyche Deli, said his staff has doubled in the past few months to cope.
Online orders had doubled as a direct result of people stocking up for
His company checked with the Home Office last year to establish the
legal position and was told fresh mushrooms and growing kits were acceptable.
Mushrooms were also easily available in London last week. At one
café in east London they were dispensed from a fridge in tin trays.
A 20g bag of Mexicans costing £10 was said to be enough for two potent
trips. The stronger Colombian strain cost £15.
A Home Office spokesman confirmed the mushrooms were not illegal:
“If they’re fresh it’s not a problem.”
Additional reporting Louise Jury, Genevieve Roberts and Sophie Goodchild
The potent mind-altering effects of magic mushrooms have been known
for about 7,000 years. Rock paintings found in Algeria from that time show
the harvest, use and adoration of the fungus, which was later called the
“flesh of the gods” by the Aztecs.
Although the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act bans psilocin and psilocybin
– the two main active ingredients found in the mushrooms that result
in a trip for their user- the gathering and possession of fresh mushrooms
is not a crime in the UK.
However, deliberately drying, altering or freezing them would lead
to them being treated as class-A drugs. Both substances disrupt the balance
of brain chemicals, which regulate sensory perception.
Eating the mushrooms in their raw form slowly and on an empty stomach
leads to a more intense trip but, the taste of the raw fungus is not that
appealing. Some people put them on pizzas, French bread, or omelettes to
better handle the flavour. One danger in using or picking magic mushrooms
is that if you cannot identify them accurately you may eat a poisonous
species. Since the plant is considered hallucinogenic, side-effects could
include severe anxiety, paranoia, loss of reality or mental health problems.
They can also lead to stomach pains, sickness and diarrhoea.
There are four basic types of magic mushrooms for sale legally in
the UK. They are usually sold in 10-gram bags and range from £10
to £15 in price.