One of the most interesting trends to come out of the UK for a while is the resurgence of psychedelic or hallucinogenic drugs. A survey of 2,000 British clubbers published by Mixmag in February found magic mushrooms had risen in popularity by 427 percent -“ the biggest growth in use of any drug in the history of Mixmag’s survey. The popularity of mushrooms has been accompanied by sharp rises in the use of other hallucinogens such as ketamine and the new ecstasy-like designer psychedelic 2C-1.

The dramatic rise is the result of an explosion in the sale of imported magic mushrooms and home growing kits in street markets, shops and over the internet. According to a report in a UK magazine, one of the major outlets of legal hallucinogens Amsterdam of London sells 100kg of magic mushrooms a week -“ the equivalent of 10,000 individual trips -“ to visitors to the stores both in London and the other 15 stores around the UK.

Mixmag’s findings on mushrooms are echoed in the latest British Crime Survey figures on drug use, which revealed the estimated number of users jumped from 150,000 a year to 180,000. The Independent Drug Monitoring Unit said its research showed drug users’ ratings for magic mushrooms had jumped sharply in the last year -“ a sign that future usage is set to rise.

So can we expect to see the same thing happen here and are there any risks associated with the use of these natural psychedelics?

Hallucinogens change the way people perceive their surroundings. The most popular hallucinogen is the synthetic drug LSD. Many other hallucinogens occur naturally such as magic mushrooms, datura or angel’s trumpet, mescaline and DMT (dimethyltryptamine). Magic mushrooms contain psilocin and psilocybin. Psilocybin is converted to psilocin in the body. The effects of psilocin are very similar to those of LSD, although psilocin is about 100 times less potent than LSD.

There are approximately 20 species of mushrooms in Australia that have hallucinogenic properties. The three most commonly eaten magic mushrooms in Australia are gold tops, blue meanies and liberty caps.

Fresh or dried magic mushrooms are usually taken orally and may be eaten raw or cooked. They may be added to a variety of foods including pasta and stews or boiled into tea preparations. The effects produced by these substances and the reaction to these effects can differ greatly among individual users, ranging from elation to terror. Hallucinogens can produce varied experiences in a person each time the substance is used, even though the same dosage is used every time.

The main risk involved when using magic mushrooms is misidentification and the subsequent poisoning of users. Many poisonous mushrooms are very similar in appearance to hallucinogenic mushrooms and even the experts can find it difficult to distinguish one from another. Toxic mushrooms can cause symptoms ranging from nausea and diarrhoea through to coma and death.

Hallucinogenic drugs are not for everyone -“ many fear the loss of control and the length of intoxication that are part of this often extreme experience. Once you go tripping, you’re really in for the long haul -“ if you have a bad trip, you will just have to ride it out.

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