- Both fresh and dried mushrooms are eaten raw, cooked or they're boiled up into a mushroom tea. But be warned - they don't taste very good.
- Dried mushrooms are smoked in a rolled cigarette or pipe.
As with all other drugs, no-one ever really knows how strong they're going to be; it depends on the size and age of the mushrooms and how they've been stored. Fly Agaric is much stronger than Liberty Cap, so it's impossible to predict how many mushrooms will bring on hallucinations; they affect different people in different ways. Remember, once a "trip" has started, it can't be stopped.
Magic mushrooms are similar in effect to acid as they contain chemicals that can trigger hallucinations. They're wild mushrooms (fungi) from two main plant groups: the psilocybe group and the amanita species. Both types grow wild in the UK, but the most common is the Liberty Cap, which contains the hallucinogen psilocybin. Far harder to find is the Fly Agaric, which contains ibotenic acid - another hallucinogenic chemical.
A small pale yellow to light brown fungus with a slender stem and conical cap. Liberty Cap mushrooms grow abundantly in early autumn on open grassland, parks and roadside verges.
A larger bright red mushroom with white spots and a thick white stalk that grows in undisturbed woodland and is found in early autumn. Once picked, the mushrooms are usually dried to preserve them. The Liberty Cap is dried whole and the pale cap darkens to brown or black. The dried cap of the Fly Agaric is cut into sections and the dried lumps turn brown. Once dried, both types are difficult to distinguish from other mushrooms.
The mushroom effect
How people are affected depends on their own tolerance and the strength of the mushrooms. There's usually no effect for the first half an hour. Some users have been known to eat more because they haven't started hallucinating straightaway, but this can lead to real trouble. The effects usually peak after about three hours, and the whole experience can last for nine hours or more. Provided too many mushrooms aren't taken, a mushroom "trip" generally follows certain lines:
- users will feel happy and euphoric; they may get the giggles and find everything hilarious
- they feel detached from the world, and on a different wavelength to everyone else
- people become excited and engrossed in whatever they're doing
- some begin to see and hear things that aren't really there (hallucinate). Sounds and colours may become distorted or intense and things may change shape (the psychedelic effect)
- users may lose track of time
- some people say they feel things on their skin that aren't there
- some experience a spiritual journey and a sense of spiritual enlightenment.
Set and setting
When taking any hallucinogenic drug the set (how people feel when they take it) and setting (where and with whom they take it) are very important in determining whether or not the experience is a bad one.
- If you're worried or anxious, mushrooms can give you a scary shock. So, if you're going to take mushrooms, take them with people you feel comfortable with, in a place where you feel in control - don't take them at a big party or at a club with lots of strangers around you.
- Be aware of your mind-set. If in doubt, don't take mushrooms - you could spin off into an hallucinogenic paranoia.
THE MORE YOU TAKE, THE GREATER THE CHANCE OF TERRIFYING HALLUCINATIONS
There are no legal restrictions on Fly Agaric mushrooms. Liberty Caps are not illegal if they're raw. But once prepared for use in any way - even by just drying them - they're regarded as a Class A drug. The penalty is a fine and prison for possession, and possibly life imprisonment, a fine and seizure of drug-related assets for supplying.
Avoiding the nightmare
You may be able to avoid a nasty experience on mushrooms if you try to stay in control. This is a fine line, so stick to the guidelines:
- don't take too much. A few too many mushrooms can have a very profound effect. You can't be sure of their strength or the way you'll react
- don't mix mushrooms with other drugs. You can't predict the effects of a drugs cocktail - and if they're bad, they'll be really bad
- know what you're taking. Try to find out where the mushrooms came from, although this isn't always possible. As with all drugs, never accept them from a stranger, even if they seem like the genuine article.
If you take mushrooms when you're not in the right frame of mind, you could end up having a very nasty time:
- feelings of paranoia can make you hysterical
- the hallucinations can be terrifying and impossible to stop
- you may start to panic and become completely out of touch with everything and everyone around you. You'll be overcome with fear, you can no longer control the drug - it now controls you.
Ancient peoples are known to have taken mushrooms to experience altered states of consciousness and gain spiritual enlightenment. A group of mushroom statues found in Guatemala and thought to date as far back as 500 BC, has been interpreted as evidence that ancient peoples once worshiped the mushroom. For centuries, South American Indians have been taking a related drug - mescaline - derived from magic mushrooms. Aldous Huxley described taking mescaline with South American Indians in his book The Doorways of Perception (1935). It wasn't until the 1960s that Western cultures, especially college students, began to use mushrooms recreationally as a natural and milder alternative to acid.
If something goes wrong
If your friend is paranoid, anxious and starts to panic take her to a quiet room and try to reassure her. Offer her some water, and keep talking to her. Don't let her wander off. If your friend begins panting (hyperventilating), get her to breathe normally by copying you.
Your friend may begin to see or hear frightening things that aren't really there - this is known as hallucinating and may cause your friend to panic. Talk to him and reassure him that the things he can see or hear are imaginary and will soon pass. Stay with your friend until the trip is over.
stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhea
If you or a friend experience the above symptoms after eating poisonous mushrooms, call an ambulance or go to the nearest hospital. If one of you has vomited, give the doctors a sample of the vomit and of the mushrooms you've taken, if there are any left, to help them counteract the effects.
Try to get your friend to lie in the recovery position and call an ambulance. Keep checking his breathing and be ready to resuscitate.
If your friend is breathing, place her in the recovery position. Call an ambulance. Tell the medical staff what your friend has taken - it could save her life.
- Be prepared to resuscitate your friend if she stops breathing.
- If your friend vomits while unconscious, check that she's still breathing.