European Customs

The first report ever published in a scientific European journal about usage of Psilocybe semilanceata in Europe was written by M. Carter and appeared in New Scientist in September 1976.

"Mushrooms Are Mushrooms"

The mushrooms quite suddenly emerged in the spotlight of public attention in 1976, when Judge Blomefield of Great Britain's High Court handed down a verdict of "not guilty" in the trial of a man accused of possession of psilocybin in the form of dried fruiting bodies from the species Psilocybe semilanceata. According to Carter's report, the acquittal was justified as follows: "Psilocybin is a chemical and mushrooms are mushrooms". In the wake of this decision, however, a few individuals in Britain were nonetheless sentenced for possession of psilocybin, because the British legal system is based on the principles of common law, which means that the High Court decision was not necessarily binding in cases that went to trial in lower courts after the man had won his acquittal in the High Court.

Despite its Celtic ancestry and the practice of Nature religions, England is among those countries whose population has traditionally been quite mycophobic in its attitudes toward mushrooms, which have always been thought of as poisonous, slimy and moldy. It is therefore quite remarkable that these values appear to be changing with the current younger generation. Could it be that England's Celtic heritage is making a reappearance after centuries of dormancy?

In 1978 , C. Hyde and his collaborators reported several cases of voluntary intoxications with Psilocybe semilanceata from a medical perspective, describing symptoms experienced by mushroom collectors that range from typically visionary experiences to the manifestation of acutely delirious states. The authors emphasized that the mushrooms were well-known within the hippie subculture of Manchester. Thirty to forty Psilocybe semilanceata mushrooms were considered an appropriate dose to attain a fully hallucinatory state.

According to British users, the effects of Psilocybe semilanceata include intense visuals without any of the negative feelings that may be caused by LSD. British colloquial names for the mushroom are quite poetic, such as:

- Liberty Cap

- Magic Mushroom

- Blue Legs

- Pixie Caps

Contrary to common opinion, "liberty cap" is not a new name, since M.C. Cooke mentioned it in his writings that date back to the 19th century.

Due to the widespread distribution of this Psilocybe species across England, particularly Scotland and Wales, Psilocybe semilanceata appears to be more popular in England than in any other European country, with the possible exception of Norway. This is an opinion echoed in numerous scientific and medical articles published on the subject in Great Britain. In my opinion, these publications contain the most detailed descriptions of casual use of psilocybincontaining mushrooms species by laypersons anywhere in the world.

One analysis by P.R. Mills and his collaborators described seven Scottish patients with symptoms caused by ingestion of Psilocybe semilanceata mushrooms during the fall of 1978, when the species fruited abundantly in the Glasgow area after heavy rainfall. Four of the seven men had eaten no less than one hundred mushrooms each, which meant they had taken about 50 mg of pure psilocybin a person. It is not surprising, then, that such dosages should cause visions that lasted several hours, along with marked somatic symptoms.

Mega Mushroom Festival

While there is talk about "hippies" in the report from Manchester, a 1980 newspaper article from Wales describes a "new kind of gypsy", whose exploits included a mushroom celebration near Cardiff with 100 participants. The occasion was the discovery of yet another bumper crop of Psilocybe semilanceata in that area. Nineteen of the revelers felt so seriously ill they had to seek medical treatment.

It appears that in the early days of mushroom usage in Great Britain, massive amounts of Psilocybe mushrooms were consumed on several occasions, which caused a higher number of panic reactions than elsewhere in the world.

However, it is clear from articles published in medical journals that these cases were merely "the tip of the iceberg", that is, they were a small group of users whose reactions to the acute stages of mushroom intoxication attracted attention because they included clinically relevant symptoms such as states of pathological depression with no recognition of surroundings.

In an attempt to describe patterns of usage of the Psilocybe species in the Tayside area near Dundee, Scotland, N.R. Peden and his collaborators found that the typical user was much younger there than in Manchester or Wales. The authors examined 27 patients, whose ages ranged from 12 to 24 years. I have previously cited accounts about accidental intoxications indicating that children can have abnormal reactions to psilocybin, such as cramps or loss of consciousness. Teenage use of hallucinogens and other psychoactive substances, including alcohol and nicotine can have disastrous consequences.

The results of a survey at two Scottish schools of 59 children aged 14 to 15 years revealed that 66% of them had already heard about the mushrooms' effects. Also, a paper published by R.E. Young and his research team in 1982 found that the mushroom users in the Glasgow area as a group are quite young. In 1981, these researchers treated 49 children and adults aged 12 to 28 years. These authors are correct in pointing out that the mushrooms cannot be eradicated due to their large area of distribution. At the same time, however, they demand that fungicides be sprayed on mushroom fruiting areas that are easily accessible!

This is a baffling and incomprehensible proposition - to acutely endanger all residents of a certain area by exposing them to poison, simply because there were a few mild cases of mushroom intoxications, with symptoms that soon disappeared. If anyone is to blame, it is the users for their carelessness and recklessness. Fortunately, these crypto-schizophrenic proposals were never implemented.

On the other hand, there are interesting statistics available from the poison center in London, about reported cases, where medical attention was required following ingestion of Psilocybe semilanceata. The numbers below show how many people received therapeutic treatment in Great Britain in a given year:

1978 33

1979 47

1980 96

1981 142

The average age of the mushroom collectors was between 15 and 19 years. Reports mostly came in during September and October of each year, which corresponds to the mushroom's fruiting period. Cases that were reported during other months of the year had been caused by ingestion of dried mushroom material.

In 36% of these individuals, the mushrooms caused significant visual distortions and visions. Five people acted aggressively without experiencing perceptual alterations. Dosage varied from half a mushroom (effects?) to up to two or three pounds. If the latter amounts have been reported truthfully, those individuals ingested about 1 to 1.5 g of pure psilocybin, assuming an alkaloid content of 0.1 % in fresh mushrooms. However, in cases where whole mushrooms had generally been eaten according to the Mexican tradition, liquids removed via stomach pumps largely contained whole mushrooms. Failure to carefully chew the mushrooms before swallowing means that only a fraction of the available amount of alkaloids is extracted from the mushrooms and absorbed by the body.

Panic Reactions

In cases when intoxications were caused by eating 'normal' amounts of mushrooms and the ingestion of potentially deadly species could be excluded, pumping the patients' stomachs turned out to be a procedure that was both too drastic as well as unnecessary. In younger, hyper-suggestible patients, the procedure can precipitate extremely aggressive behavior. In addition, it often doesn't work, because the mushrooms tend to clog the pumping apparatus.

Therefore, panic reactions after ingestion of Psilocybe semilanceata is a condition that, in some cases, may be aggravated or even induced by improper treatment of the patient at hospitals and clinics. After evaluation of the statistics on Psilocybe semilanceata usage in Great Britain, J. Francis and V.S.G. Murray emphasize that there has not been a single fatality among some 318 poisoning cases - in fact, no severe somatic symptoms were noted, nor have there been incidents of misidentification of the mushroom species. According to the authors, intoxication can be a quite unpleasant experience for the individual. Panic reactions pose the only significant hazard, which may endanger the individuals as well as their surroundings for the duration of the mushrooms' effects.

As an ideal treatment, they proposed that patients be moved to a darkened, beautiful room, and that they be watched until the effects have subsided. If necessary, tranquilizers such as diazepam should be administered.

R. Watling mentions a non-fatal case in Scotland, where Inocybe geophylla (Sow. & Fr.) Kumm., a mescaline-containing species, had been mistaken for the Psilocybe species.

In the 1980s, Psilocybe semilanceata was named as the mushroom species that caused by far the largest number of intoxications in Great Britain. Today, usage of this psychotropic species in that country is not quite as popular anymore as it was 10 years ago. Also, mushroom eaters are no longer prosecuted.

By comparison, a short report by a medical student from Manchester was not convincing. The report claimed that a 24-year old patient suffered from severe depression with somatic side effects for three months ("persistent psychiatric symptoms") and that these symptoms had been induced by ingestion of Psilocybe semilanceata. At the time, the patient was experiencing personal stress and had also taken other substances as well. Despite the wide distribution of psychoactive mushrooms around the world, there have been no reports of similar episodes.

The usage of Psilocybe semilanceata in Norway was first described during the fall of 1977, in Sandnes, near the Rogaland area. Up to that time, the Norwegian literature had depicted Psilocybe semilanceata as merely a small, inedible mushroom known to grow in grass interspersed with other, similar, species. Apparently, the experiences in England and the United States inspired the use of these mushrooms in Norway, as well as in other European countries. However, it is also possible that a report published in 1976 about the discovery of psilocybin in Norwegian collections contributed to subsequent usage of the mushrooms.

Knowledge about the mushrooms spread quickly around Norway, especially in the fjord areas, were the species fruits most abundantly. Daily and weekly papers as well as underground magazines dealt with the mushrooms at length. Only a small number of panic reactions were known to have occurred in Norway, with some individuals requiring temporary clinical attention. Nonetheless, in December 1981, the mushroom species was classified under Norwegian narcotics law as an "absolutely forbidden substance". The same classification applies to the potentially dangerously addictive drugs of the heroine type, as well as to the pure hallucinogens, such as LSD, mescaline and psilocybin, all of which are pharmacologically completely different from any of the heroine-type drugs. By contrast, Figure 57 illustrates that other European nations have attitudes similar to those found in British Columbia, which form the basis for my own analytical work with mushroom materials.

Compared to Norway, there is less information about usage of Psilocybe semilanceata from other countries. The year 1981 has been named as the starting date of usage in Finland; by 1984, there had only been one patient who required medical attention.

There are additional countries where the mushrooms are being used and collected, more or less sporadically: The Netherlands, Austria,

Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, and recently Russia near the St. Petersburg area. The mushrooms have even been found in Siberia. In some areas, where the mushrooms thrive in abundance, a more comprehensive mode of usage can be observed, without attracting much additional attention over a longer period of time.

Costly measures, such as the deployment of helicopters over pastures in the Jura Mountains of Switzerland to flush out mushroom collectors have rarely been used and were quickly abandoned.

Switzerland is another country where Psilocybe cubensis is being cultivated and used without attracting much attention. Below is an account provided by a Swiss friend about his first ever experience with this species:

Intense, kaleidoscope-like colors are being generated. I begin to dive in and out of other realities, followed by the painful loss of ego, death and life. Suddenly I find myself inside a wooden box. My body is a black mass full of low-level pain. I have the black plague. I was put inside the box, because I was thought to be dead, but I am still alive. I am being carried to and placed on top of cart so that I can be transported to be burned. Few others are being given such a box. At first I am in despair, but then I know that the end is near, anyway. Death is a liberation for me. I remember: I see my house in the city center of Metz, where I used to live until now. Then came the plague. My years of selfish dedication of helping sick, degenerate, stinking, hungry and dying people.

I provide comfort and companionship, as well as medication that remains ineffective. I continuously make house calls, there is no end in sight. I become ill myself. At first I deny this fact, but now I am inside this wooden box, in a state of semi-consciousness. I know that the end is here.

I know that I am a physician named Claudius Vinzen and that the year is 1427.

I wake up in the reality of winter, 1990. Metz, where is Metz? Later on, I locate the city on a map of France and until this day, I have been trying to verify if this physician lived there during the Middle Ages. I am reminded of my long years of professional work with criminal and drug-addicted youngsters. I sense the common elements of these two realities (karma?), the sacrifices of selfless helping.

Such deeply moving experiences do not appear to be unusual (compare to reports of experiences with Psilocybe semilanceata in Chapter 3.1) and should always be studied in all seriousness.

Only France seems to engage in elaborate activities designed to locate collectors of psychotropic mushrooms. Despite its grand mycological traditions, France is a country that has a rather absurd prohibition against the exhibition of Psilocybe and Stropharia species (European Stropharia species do not produce psilocybin) at scientific conventions. As a consequence, French mycologists have been avoiding the use of the genus Psilocybe. Nowadays, at mycological conventions, Psilocybes are exhibited under the old name of Geophila (Quelet), which appears to have gotten around the problem of breaking the law.

According to my personal communications with mycologists, the usage of Psilocybe semilanceata in Italy began in about 1980/1981 and has been rising steadily since then. At the same time, there have been no clinically relevant cases, nor any legislative action on the matter. Towards the late 1980s, usage of psychoactive Psilocybe species began in the former Czechoslovakia, for instance, around the region of Brno. It appears that Psilocybe bohemica is used more often in this country than Psilocybe semilanceata, as the former species is quite common there.

Very little is known about European usage of mushroom species from other genera. In the mid-1980s, Spanish youngsters near Barcelona were observed using Panaeolus mushrooms.

The well-known booklet authored by Oss and Oeric about the cultivation of Psilocybe cubensis has been translated into several European languages and published in different countries. It is almost certain that the book is being used as a cultivation guide in Europe, however, there are no available data about the success rate of these experiments. In many cases, commonly occurring contaminants probably prevent fruiting of this subtropical species on rye substrate.

I won't risk making predictions about the extent of future usage of indigenous European psychoactive mushroom species, nor am I able to predict which species may or may not gain in popularity. However, it is possible to speculate that the increased geographic distribution of species such as Inocybe aeruginascens and Psilocybe cyanescens may lead to more unintentional intoxications, which, in turn, may result in creating a generally deeper knowledge base about the attributes of these mushrooms.

Figure 57 - A letter from the "Central Bureau of Substance Abuse" in the former East Germany, detailing some legal restrictions on psychoactive plants. At the time (1983), Psilocybe mexicana was not a controlled substance and no restrictions applied to its use.

Figure 58 - Woodcut entitled "Cooking Witches" by Baldung Grien (1514). Such cultural practices undoubtedly included familiarity with psychotropic mushrooms, even though such knowledge was considered pagan at the time. The practice of "witchcraft" was maligned and accused witches were persecuted, tortured and executed, as the Christian Inquisition was desperate to suppress pagan beliefs and wisdom.

Figure 58 - Woodcut entitled "Cooking Witches" by Baldung Grien (1514). Such cultural practices undoubtedly included familiarity with psychotropic mushrooms, even though such knowledge was considered pagan at the time. The practice of "witchcraft" was maligned and accused witches were persecuted, tortured and executed, as the Christian Inquisition was desperate to suppress pagan beliefs and wisdom.

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