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magic mushrooms

Camden was known as a centre for the sale of Psilocybin mushrooms. But now retailers
face life imprisonment if they sell
magic mushrooms
Rachel Ong investigates...

 
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Mushrooms in Camden

Camden traders could
be facing life imprisonment for
selling magic
mushrooms
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The days when customers could legally buy magic mushrooms from dozens of stalls and shops in Camden are now over - since a new law came into force on July 18 2005.

Camden retailers had been taking advantage of a loophole in the law that prohibits the active ingredients but not the mushrooms themselves.

But when 'Clause 21' of the new Drugs Bill came into force, they faced life imprisonment if they continued to sell the 'shrooms'.

Tony Van, proprietor of ‘Amsterdam Of London’, (pictured left) whose own store along the high street stocked fresh magic mushrooms when they were legal, explained before the new drugs law went before Parliament: “The purple bits inside the mushrooms, that’s the psilocybin.  Psilocybin is the active drug inside the mushrooms which is illegal.  When it’s still in its natural state inside the mushroom, it is deemed as legal.  Once the product ceases to be in its natural state and is altered by ‘the hand of man’, it then becomes a Class A drug because you’ve literally extracted the drug from it.”

Certainly, it was an unusual loophole in British law. Psilocin and psilocybin, the psychoactive constituents of ‘magic mushrooms’ were illegal Class A drugs under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act and therefore supplying them was punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment. On the other hand, the gathering and possession of fresh mushrooms containing the drug had never been an offence in Britain. To prove the point, one of the new crop of companies selling magic mushrooms had a recent (pre Clause 21) letter from a Home Office licensing officer assuring them it is “not illegal to sell or give away a freshly picked mushroom” or mushroom growing kits.

While the “shrooming culture” began 7,000 years ago with tribes in The Sahara Desert, Van remarks that it’s still relatively new to the UK, having only become popular in the last 30 years.  Tony Van suggested that unlike with drugs such as cocaine or heroin, the Government stance on the issue was still undetermined as mushrooms only make up a small percentage of drug crime in this country."

And he added prophetically: “Mushrooms are such a new thing in the UK, but it only takes a series of people to misuse the product for the Government to reconsider where the law stands regarding mushrooms at the moment.”

"The worry with magic mushrooms is really about education. 
We’ve had more cases of people eating poisonous mushrooms
because they haven’t identified the correct species"

A spokesperson at Drugscope, UK’s leading independent centre of expertise on drugs, commented, “Selling magic mushrooms in their natural state was legal.  The one big grey area comes in with the age limit - you had to be over 18 to purchase them.  Usually retailers will self-regulate their trade.  Overall, we supported how the issue of magic mushrooms was being treated.

“ The worry with magic mushrooms is really about education.  We’ve had more cases of people eating poisonous mushrooms because they haven’t identified the correct species of mushrooms.”

However, regardless of the legal standpoint, one of Van’s colleagues was arrested for possession of fresh mushrooms, even before the Clause 21 ban

“People haven’t caught onto the idea that you can sell fresh mushrooms - in fact, one of my colleagues was arrested for possession of fresh mushrooms.  The case is still pending because there’s a delayed charge for possession, but the possession itself was totally legal because the mushrooms weren’t altered in any way, ” said Van before the ban.

Despite Drugscope’s statement, Van noted that there were still a number of “shroom distributors” who didn’t regulate and subsequently, customers ran the risk of buying a dodgy product. 

“There are some retailers around here who don’t adopt the safety issue.   These are the people that will probably be the downfall of mushrooms because they’ll just sell it to anyone for profit alone.  I’ve had people come in and ask me if the products that they buy off the high street are good.  I’ve looked at some of them and they’re in such a bad state, I usually throw them away and give them one of my boxes.”

Safe consumerism is what it’s all about, maintains Van.  Each package of mushrooms at ‘Amsterdam Of London’ had a warning label affixed to it.  Teenagers looking for a quick fix were automatically asked for I.D. as they didn'tn’t sell to under-18’s.  Van also ensured that each member of staff tried the mushrooms; it wouldn’t make sense for them to sell the product unless they’ve experienced its effects first-hand.

While the “shroom demographic” stretches far and wide - from college kids to professionals with high profile jobs - Van warns that it’s not like cannabis, where you can smoke a joint on your own.

“I don’t suggest anybody take any form of mushrooms alone, not only because it plays off your mental state, but also because some people have an allergic reaction to them. 
“You want to make sure that you’re around friends who you trust and can rely on.  If your mindset is bad and you take the mushrooms, it’s going to enhance that.  If you’re depressed and you decide to take mushrooms alone, the consequences can be devastating. 

“We also told our customers to have orange juice around because if you’re having a bad trip, the vitamin C will neutralize the psilocybin.”

“Mushrooms have to be respected,” adds Van.  “You shouldn’t have two dosages in less than 10 days because it takes that long for the psilocybin to flush out of your body.  If you take two dosages within 10 days, you’re increasing the psilocybin in your system and you’ll need a higher and higher dosage to feel the effects which will injure your system.  This doesn’t mean you should take them every 10 days either. 

“I also didn't recommend taking them with anything else - if you drink alcohol and take them, you’re going to feel the alcohol which, depending on your constitution and your mental state as a result of drinking, might not be a good thing.”

THE PEOPLE WHO TOOK THEM:

Before the ban, we asked Camden locals to tell us about their experiences with mushrooms. Some didn’t want to take part in the article for fear of what employers and family would think. Others, like Sarah below, were happy to talk to us but didn’t want to be photographed. Here’s what they all had to say...


Sam
“I had a really bad experience the first time I tried mushrooms.  My friend and I went to a really crowded bar, which was a bad idea.  As soon as the mushrooms took affect, the murals at the bar began to morph and then they began to talk to me - it really freaked me out so I left alone which was another really bad and dangerous idea.  I don’t know how I made it back home in one piece, but I did and managed to sleep it off.
“The second time was a lot better.  I was a little hesitant at first because of my previous experience.  My friends and I decided to stay indoors this time.  We lit up a few candles and as I was tripping, I couldn’t stop looking at the colours.  Despite feeling nauseous in the beginning and not being able to walk properly, it was a relaxing trip.  I really think that you’ve got to be careful about who you take mushrooms with and where you do it.  Having my close friends around in a controlled environment was ideal.  But that being said, I wouldn’t want to do mushrooms too often.”


Rashad
“I’ve tried the Hawaiian and the Philosopher’s Stone.  They’ve both been good experiences.  The Philosopher’s Stone gave me a head buzz - it cleared up my mind a bit.  When I consume those, I’m usually around friends and people who love me.  I couldn’t do them with strangers. 
“When I did the Hawaiian, I was with my girlfriend at our flat.  She also took them and it just enhanced the love we have for each other.  In fact, most of the time when I do mushrooms, it’s in my house.   
“With Hawaiian, I did hallucinate a bit - I don’t really know how to explain it because the hallucinations really depend on what type of mood you’re in when you take them.  In my best mood, I saw the top of the moon, like I was flying over it. 
“My girlfriend and I got into really long conversations as well - we were closer because one of the effects of mushrooms is that it erases your personal borders which can be a good or bad thing, but in my case it was good.  The trip lasted about 5-6 hours.  The day after, I felt really productive.”


Kika
“With mushrooms, I’ve had both good and bad trips.  The bad trip was indoors - I was sitting on the floor and couldn’t move for the longest time which was really bad because I wanted to get to the toilet.  I was aware of everything warping around me and my legs felt like solid poles of steel.  I felt a bit trapped and started to feel really self-conscious because there was this guy sitting in the corner who had a really strange vibe about him.
“With the good trip, I was outdoors.  It was like being really stoned.  The air and space surrounding me felt really tangible and people looked no more solid than the space they were in.  There was no difference between objects - everything was equally bright and right there in front of me.  No one thing was more important than the other.  The trip lasted about 4-5 hours.”

Sarah
Sarah is not her real name and she didn’t want to be photographed as she has a high-powered media career and doesn’t want her employers to know she takes mushrooms.
“I don’t do mushrooms on a regular basis.  The first time I did them was on a trip to Amsterdam.  After an informative and helpful chat with a shop assistant, we were advised to have the Mexican mushrooms as they were the best for first time users. 
“I didn’t trip as such when I took them, but had a warm tingling feeling all over and then the colours and my sense of space became more vibrant and intense.  There was lots of laughing, but I still felt totally in control.  It lasted about 4-6 hours. It’s definitely become my main preference, if I’m going to take drugs.  I’m not interested in other chemical based drugs as much any more.
“People are definitely looking for more of a natural way to get high.  I think this change is due to the way people are going out now - it’s not about superclubs or full on raves anymore. 
“Other recreational drugs such as Ecstasy have so many chemicals, they make you feel really polluted for days after taking them.  With mushrooms, it feels like a clean, positive and natural experience and there are no comedown effects that come with taking pills.”

THE DIFFERENT TYPES:

The main types of mushrooms that were on sale in Camden were Indian, Columbian, Mexican and the Philosopher’s Stone truffle. We asked Tony Van of Amsterdam of London to give us a rundown of the different varieties


Mexicans
(Psilocibe Cubensis)

“These mushrooms give the user a happy trip, with nice visuals, lots of giggles and trippy thoughts.  Social and controllable.  Often recommended for first-time users.  The trip will last 4-6 hours.”


Indians
(Psilocibe Cubensis)

“Similar effects to the Mexicans, but slightly stronger.  Social and controllable.  Usually recommended for intermediate users.  The trip will last 4-6 hours.”


Colombians
(Psilocibe Cubensis)

“These mushrooms take the user to another level.  Gives way to visuals and “deep thoughts”.  Often recommended for intermediate to experienced users.  The trip will last 5-6 hours.”


Philosopher’s Stone
(Psilocybe Tampanensis)

“Similar effects to other Truffles - high and dreamy, bright colours and a XTC-type rush - but much stronger.  Usually recommended for intermediate to experienced users.  The trip will last 4-5 hours.”

All interviews took place before the mushrooms were made illegal


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