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Dangers and Delights of Shrooms

The dangers and delights of shrooms go hand in hand since it may or may not be illegal in the 50 states.

Psilocybin mushrooms are nature's own psychedelic, more visual in their hallucinations and smoother and shorter-lasting in their effects than LSD. The principal genera of Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms can be found growing wild in most parts of the world, or can be cultivated with relative ease in the home. Their possession and use aren't technically illegal in Florida based on a 1978 case, Fiske v Florida, which ruled that wild picked psilocybin mushrooms weren't illegal. The police can still arrest you, but supposedly this case can help your case. 

However, both the mushrooms and their synthetic derivative, psilocybin, are Schedule I Controlled Substances under federal law. The history of psilocybin mushroom consumption geographically and chronologically parallels that of mankind. Harvard University ethnomycologist (mushroom anthropologist) R. Gordon Wasson traced the presence of Psilocybe cubensis and its related mushroom genus, Amanita muscaria (“Fly Agaric"), to cultures as widely separated as those of Siberia, and South America, and as ancient as Greece, 5000 B.C. Aztec Indians, in Mezo-America referred to the psilocybin mushrooms as teomanacatl -the “Flesh of the Gods”—and, as reported in Peter Stafford's Psychedelics Encyclopedia, Gordon Wasson even asserted that, “Religion as we know it may well have been the result of eating Amanita muscaria...As our most primitive ancestors foraged for their food they must have come upon psychotropic mushrooms...and eaten them, and known the miracle of awe in the presence of God.”

Rediscovery of Shrooms

Image via Tumblr

On a less exalted level, it was Wasson's 1955 re-discovery of the Mazatec Indian “Magic Mushroom” cult in Oaxaca, Mexico, which stimulated the birth of psychedelic subculture. Fourteen years after his own discovery of LSD25, Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann synthesized psilocybin from P. cubensis mushroom samples brought back from Mexico by Wasson's colleague, Roger Heim. Timothy Leary realized the cosmic potentiality of psychedelic consciousness-expansion after eating psilocybin mushrooms in Cuernavaca, Mexico, in 1960.

Throughout the 60s and early 70s, members of the counterculture heard much about the vaunted mushrooms, but rarely had an opportunity to sample them unless they were fortunate enough to travel to Mexico or Colombia, where Psilocybe cubensis are found sprouting from the fertilizer of fresh cow dung. Conventional wisdom at the time held that the mushrooms would lose their potency within hours of being picked, which made it impossible to ship them back to the States.

Persons who did sample the latino mushrooms reported that the experience usually began with feelings of nausea within a half-hour of eating the shrooms, fresh out of the dew covered cow flop. Proponents rationalized that this was the magic plant's way of purging the user's system, readying it for the psychedelic revelations to come.

The trip itself was described as being less turbulent than LSD and more organic, in the sense that the tripper would feel as if he and the universe were breathing together, as one organism. Natural psilocybin was also said to provide more vivid visual hallucinations than acid, although this effect was supposed to be best experienced in total darkness. Gringo mushroom heads would usually consume the things fresh, in the morning. These effects have remained the hallmarks of the authentic psilocybin mushroom.

New Potent Psilocybin Mushrooms

Image by Seymour Chwast 

In the early 70s, a group of west coast mycologists announced that a potent psilocybin mushroom species, Panaeolus subalteatus, grows wild throughout most of the Pacific Northwestern United States, and another species, Stropharia cubensis, could be found in the Southeastern Gulf of Mexico region. At about the same time, other mushroom mavens revealed that psilocybin mushrooms could after all be preserved, by methodically drying and then fast freezing them in air-tight plastic bags. The result of this expanded mushroom-consciousness was a boom in wild mushroom hunting and a brief fad for “psilocybin mushrooms” on the streets. 

Previously, acid and STP tablets used to be passed off as the less intimidating hallucinogens, psilocybin and mescaline. The new sham among beat artists was to dust store bought mushrooms with LSD and sell them as the “Flesh of the Gods.” It was from the pseudo shrooms that the Magic Fungi started gaining a bad reputation. Users reported that the trip was manifested physically in stomach cramps and an enervating sensation of being electrified. It was also said to be—uncharacteristically for genuine psilocybins—extremely lengthy, sometimes stretching over the course of a day or more. Consequently, the Sacred Mushroom vogue faded.

But while the dilettantes dropped the mushroom habit, serious mycology devotees were perfecting the techniques of home-cultivation of the mind-expanding fungi. The method devised is fairly simple, consisting basically of rudimentary sterile culture cultivation of mushroom spores and transferring “started” mycelia (the spiderweb-like intermediary stage of mushroom development, between the spore and the familiar phallic-shaped fruit— to a rye grain environment where they can bloom.

A pair of mycologists named O.T. Oss and O.N. Oeric authored the pioneer instruction book on this process in 1976, Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide. “For the first time, the ordinary layperson is able to produce a potent and pure psychedelic drug,” enthused Jonathan Ott, another psilocybin authority.

Dangers of Dealing

Home-cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms is preferable to buying them from a dealer or collecting them in the wild. The ripoff potential in street-bought mushrooms is bad enough, but wild mushroom hunting can be very dangerous, to boot, as many psilocybian species closely resemble mushrooms that are highly toxic. It cannot be too strongly emphasized that a mushroom hunt should never be undertaken without the use of a photographically-illustrated field guide. Even then, the suspected psilocybin specimen should be tested by scratching the surface, which results in a blue stain, or if the surface color is yellowish, a green or greenish-blue stain (although this does not hold true of Panaeolus subalteatus).

Cultivation past the spore stage remains a criminal offense, and must be conducted with discretion by those who value their freedom to continue sampling organic psychedelia.

In the state of Florida, however, it is not illegal to possess the psilocybin mushrooms themselves, according to a recent state supreme court ruling. The decision, which does not countermand existing federal laws against the shrooms, held that Florida's anti-mushroom statute did not clearly distinguish to a person “of common and ordinary intelligence” the difference between innocuous mushroom varieties and the psychedelic species they closely resemble. Since such a distinction cannot be made in the field without guides and testing equipment, it is unlikely that a new statute can be drafted that will meet the court's requirements.

In a state which has been a hotbed of illegal drug-dealing, federal law enforcement authorities will probably limit the effect of the Florida supreme court decision. But it's conceivable that a test case from one of the 49 other states still banning psilocybin mushrooms could make it to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the same legal reasoning might be accepted. Should that come to pass, we will be able to judge the accuracy, of Oss and Oeric's prediction: “The illicit hallucinogenic trade crumbles because of decentralization brought on by an epidemic of home Stropharia cultivation. The invasion of North America by hallucinogenic mushrooms continues, leading shortly to the metamorphosis of mankind into a symbiotic species.” 

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