Occurrence and use of hallucinogenic mushrooms containing psilocybin alkaloids
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Occurrence and use of hallucinogenic mushrooms containing psilocybin alkaloids

In some parts of the world mushrooms have had a central role in religious ritual ceremonies. Ethnomycological studies among the Indian tribes of Mexico - the Aztecs and the Chichimecas - revealed the mushrooms to be hallucinogenic. Chemists from a leading Pharmaceutical company took over, isolated and described the mushroom alkaloid psilocybin, that upon dephosphorylation after collection of the mushroom or in the human body, form psilocin that is the active hallucinogenic compound. For a long time psilocybin/psilocin was expected to become a constituent of psychedelic drugs useful for treatment of specific psychoses. As the effect of psilocybin/psilocin resembles that of LSD the isolated compound, as well as mushrooms containing the compound, became popular among recreational users of hallucinogenic drugs in Western America, and from there the habit of using these mushrooms have spread around the world. Psilocybin/psilocin is legally prohibited in many countries which usually treat the compound as a narcotic drug. Some countries also prohibit the use of some or all psilocybin-containing mushrooms. In this respect, the legal situation differs between Nordic countries. Although psilocybin-containing mushrooms are not what Nordic mushroom pickers are trying to find as food or food supplement, there is a risk, admittedly small, that these mushrooms accidentally will be collected. At the present situation, this may be a legal problem in some Nordic countries. This document aims at identifying when this might be the case without going into legal interpretations.

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Author(s):
Nordic Council of Ministers

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It is no longer possible to view mankind’s contacts with mushrooms solely in terms of food gathering and food production. Historical texts, anthropological literature, and present day drug culture shows that mushrooms have been used, and still are used to allow the human mind to transit natural borders. This is discussed by Stamets (1978) in the book "Psilocybe Mushrooms and their Allies", where he splits the history of the hallucinogenic fungi into four periods of time. The first phase, constituting the historic era, corresponds the period when hallucinogenic mushrooms were used in traditional and cultural settings by various populations around the world - most notably the indigenous tribes in Mexico. The second phase was a time of confusion, before the mushrooms mentioned in the early texts were identified. This period lasted from the early 1900s to the 1950s. The third phase consisted of mycological and ethnomycological expeditions proposing to taxonomically identify the hallucinogenic mushrooms and to become acquainted with the indigenous groups who used them. Also the elucidation of the chemistry of the active compounds and their role in medicine belongs to this period, which therefore makes this period the gold era of hallucinogenic mushroom research. Finally, the last phase, still ongoing, is characterised by making use of the mushrooms in recreational settings.