Monday, 19 November 2012

Magic Mushrooms Are Harmless

The Aztecs referred to them as "the flesh of the gods". Lewis Carroll based whole passages of Alice's journeys in Wonderland on them. And the Glastonbury organisers have found that, unlike Ecstasy, "shrooms" ( as the psychedelic fungi sold across the land are known ) don't fill the medical tent with dehydrated living dead. Indeed, magic mushrooms seem to have no unfavourable health effects ( unless you take them while operating heavy machinery ). Which makes it curious, as Alice might have put it, that next month's Glastonbury will be the last where devotees can journey to the spirit world without fear of ending up in a jail cell. The rationale is that a little time this summer - the small office won't identify - magic mushrooms, hitherto illegal only when dried or otherwise prepared, will, thanks to clause 21 of the new Drugs Act, be unlawful in their fresh state - and classified as a class A drug alongside heroin and crack. Clause twenty-one was rushed thru by the last Labour govt in what critics saw as a blatant attempt to appear hard on drugs. But the law is so defective it could even see Her Majesty banged up at her own pleasure for permitting psycilocybe mushrooms to flourish at Windsor and Balmoral. The government made no reference to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of substances ( ACMD ), the body that's meeting tomorrow to reconsider the downgrading of weed to class C. This raises 2 points : first, in the case of cannabis, but not magic mushrooms, the government has been prepared to defer to the ACMD not once but twice ; second, while it has been careful to be seen responding to worries about the risks of criminalising weed, it has acted in precisely the opposite fashion with mushrooms. Indeed, as groups like Release and Transform disagreed during the act's hasty passage through parliament, the main effect of clause 21 will be to criminalise a trade that, on current proof, poses little danger to any one. "If you have mental health Problems then using a hallucinogen or any recreational drug is a bad idea,' claims Steve Rolles of Transform." "But what about the bulk of folk who don't have mental fitness problems? It's like banning peanut butter because a small minority of folk are allergic to it." Magic mushrooms have a long and noble history of ritualistic use - rock paintings in Tassili, Algeria, dating back 8,000 years outline dancing shamans with what appear to be toadstools sprouting from their heads. According to Simon Powell, author of a new book on magic mushrooms, the first westerner to study mushrooms found the experience as different from alcohol "as night and day". 'How do you tell a person who has been born blind what seeing is like?' asked the New York banker-turned-ethnomycologist Gordon Wasson, after a trip to a Mexican shaman in 1955. Thanks to the ingenuity of Dutch mycologists, fresh shrooms are now as ubiquitous as incense and patchouli oil. But an unsanctioned trade thru festivals, market stalls and web outlets nudging £10m a year isn't a form of anarchy New Labour could tolerate. Hence the remarks of the small office minister Caroline Flint during the act's board stage that mushroom users were exposed to'self-harm' and LSD-style "flashbacks". In fact, as Brian Iddon, an organic chemist and the sole panel member qualified to give a systematic view, told Flint, magic mushrooms are psychedelics, not hallucinogens, and cannot be compared to LSD. And he could find no proof that mushrooms were addictive or dangerous.