Substances | 6 min read

Are Magic Mushrooms Illegal? Health, Safety, and Legal Info

Medically Reviewed

Medically Reviewed By

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

On November 27, 2023

Written By

Amanda Stevens

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

On November 27, 2023

What you will learn

  • Psilocybin/magic mushrooms is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. This means it has no currently accepted medical use and carries a high potential for abuse.
  • The use of magic mushrooms has been illegal since the 1500s. The United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances has since set a precedent for strictly regulating magic mushrooms.
  • Many countries worldwide have criminalized the possession, sale, and transfer of psilocybin.
  • Consult the laws in your state and your primary care physician before attempting to source, forage, or consume any unknown substance, natural or synthetic.
  • Magic mushrooms have psychedelic effects and can lead to harmful effects.
  • While dependence on magic mushrooms is rare, treatment for problematic use primarily focuses on behavioral therapy and support.
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Psilocybin is the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms.”

Magic mushrooms, once ingested, have a psychedelic quality that can alter your mood, thoughts, and perceptions. The effects of psilocybin are dose-dependent and can have mild to severe effects.

Starting in the 1960s and culminating in 1970, magic mushrooms were criminalized under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I drug in the United States. Around the world, equivalent legislation was soon adopted.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, the tides are turning. More cities, states, and countries are decriminalizing psilocybin for the exciting promise of treating depression, anxiety, and other addictions.[1]

Psilocybin Drug Facts

When you ingest psilocybin, your body will metabolize it into psilocin.

Psilocin will most strongly affect your serotonin receptors. Serotonin is a hormone responsible for your overall sense of well-being and happiness. It’s a natural mood regulator.[2]

People suffering from depression, PTSD, OCD, and other anxieties will routinely be prescribed SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) to improve the user’s sense of well-being and happiness. These will prevent serotonin in the brain’s synapses from being re-absorbed by the neurons.

While its mechanism is not entirely understood, one trial found no significant difference in the administration of psilocybin versus SSRIs in depressive and anxiety patient outcomes.[3]

The hesitation to perform open-label clinical trials is largely responsible for why so little is known about psilocybin’s mechanism of action. But, in the United States, ever since the FDA designated psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy” in 2018, more research is being done.

History of Magic Mushrooms

“Turn on, tune in, and drop out” – Timothy Leary. The de-facto mantra of the counter-cultural movement, America’s cultural memory of psychedelics, extends to the 1960’s. Dosing on psychedelics was considered a mainstay (or maybe sacrament?) of counter-culture activity. Aldous Huxley wrote his famous book “Doors of Perception” after experimenting with LSD and mescaline, a psychedelic extracted from cacti.[4]

The history of magic mushroom use goes back much further than white beatniks in the 1950’s.

The pre-Columbian Aztec Indians of South America called them “teonanacatl,” which roughly translates to “god’s flesh.” They were a psychedelic meant to heighten the transcendent experience of religious and healing rituals.[5]

Spanish missionaries of the 1500s tried to destroy all records and traces of this mushroom being used for psychedelic qualities.[6] They almost completely succeeded if not for a nonconformist Franciscan friar and historian who declined to omit teonanacatl from his writings.[7]

20th Century Applications

In 1957, a photo essay in “Life Magazine” documented amateur mycologist Gordon Wasson’s journey to Oaxaca, Mexico, to find the long-lost psychedelic and experience its effects. Just one year later, in 1958, Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann isolated both psilocybin and psilocin from the mushroom varietal “Psilocybe mexicana.[8]”

However, any emerging progress on psilocybin research ground to a halt with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Psilocybin was classified as a Schedule I drug, which is defined as having a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States at the time. The right to possession, sale, and transport of legal psilocybin vanished overnight.

Breaking the legal logjam of hapless shoulder-shrugging, UCLA published a pilot study in 2004 that examined the effects of psilocybin in late-stage cancer patients.[9]

Experience of Magic Mushrooms

The experience of ingesting magic mushrooms varies by dosage amount. So-called “micro-dosing” yields a small change in mood, thoughts, and perception. So-called “heroic-dosing” yields a complete change in mood, thoughts, and perception.

While many people ingest larger doses of psilocybin for its purported euphoria, hallucinations, and distorted perceptions, there are also undesirable symptoms that ought to be considered, such as[10]:

  • Stress/Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Dysphoria
  • Disorganized thoughts
  • Lack of muscular coordination

These symptoms are associated with higher dosage amounts. In one controlled study, the sizeable majority of a group of 110 healthy adults reported the ingestion of 1 to 4 oral doses of psilocybin was enjoyable, stimulating, and non-threatening.[11] Adverse reactions such as dysphoria and stress/panic only occurred at the two highest dosage levels.

Criminalization of Psilocybin Around The World

President Richard Nixon perceived the counter-cultural activity of the hippie movement as a threat to his reelection. His administration couldn’t outlaw hippies, but they could associate them with banned substances (like psilocybin and psilocin) and then outlaw them.

Thus began their campaign to associate psilocybin and other drugs with disrupting civil order and polite society.[12] The culmination of this campaign, and the inclusion of psilocybin, was the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

It was listed as a Schedule I drug, with a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical uses.

Following this legislation, the United Nations (of which the US was a member country) hosted the Convention on Psychotropic Substances in 1971.[13] They didn’t have the authority to outlaw psilocybin in other countries, but they delegated that responsibility to the representatives once they returned home.

In the years following, 184 out of 195 countries adopted the treaty outlawing psychotropic substances.[14] Most world countries have still not fully legalized the possession, sale, and transfer of magic mushrooms.

The United Kingdom

Before 1971, the United Kingdom had an incomplete and ineffective set of drug laws.[15] The “Dangerous Drugs Act” of 1920 outlawed the possession, sale, and transfer of opium, cocaine, morphine, and heroin.

Following the UN convention, the British parliament passed their version of the United States’ “Controlled Substances Act” (CSA) of 1970 with their “Misuse of Drugs Act” (MDA) in 1971.[16]

It had two major flaws:

  • It banned psilocin, but not the fungi containing them.
  • It only banned dried (prepared) mushrooms rather than fresh mushrooms.

Magic mushroom sales flourished in the intervening years until 2005, when a crackdown by parliament added all strains of mushrooms to the MDA. If you’re caught with magic mushrooms, you could receive up to a life sentence in prison.

Netherlands

In 1953 and 1976, the Netherlands amended the “Netherlands Opium Act” of 1928.

In 1953, they increased the maximum penalty for drug crimes, and in 1976, they distinguished between drugs like heroin (hard drugs) and psilocybin (soft drugs).[17]

Since 1976, the Dutch government has taken a markedly tolerant approach to regulating psilocybin. While they did add “psilocybin” and “psilocin” to the prohibited substances list, they didn’t add the fungi that contained those substances.

Following incidents involving harm to users, including a notable case in 2008, the Dutch government changed its policy to ban the sale of fresh psilocybin mushrooms, though this did not represent an overall reversal of their tolerant drug policy.

A loophole in the most recent enforcement allows psilocybin to be sold as “truffles,” the underground part of the mushroom, which is turned into psilocybin-rich liquid and sold in bottle form.[18]

Samoa

Building on the legislation from 1955, the “Narcotics Act of 1967″ has been the basis for the legal status of psilocybin in the country for many decades.

It is listed as a “First Schedule” Class-A narcotic. It grows in pastures throughout the country and is believed to have come to the island through imported cattle.[19]

Its use in rural areas, along with “health-related concerns and possible implications in overdosing-related deaths,” led to a tightening of regulations in 2018.[20]

Decriminalization of Psilocybin

Since the 1970s, many countries have reversed course or begun to reverse course on Psilocybin regulations. Many countries have kept the restrictions on the books but have ceased to enforce the laws.

Currently, the possession, sale, and transfer of psilocybin (or its derivatives) is fully legal in countries like Nepal and Brazil.

Following the Dutch decriminalization model, countries like Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Austria have made selling psilocybin illegal, while the transfer and possession of the substance is legal. This model focuses most of the resources of regulating a country’s drug trade on the import/export agents and less time punishing everyday drug users.

Instead of jail time or prison sentences, magic mushroom users are given clean needles or diverted to treatment programs for substance use disorder. Drug traffickers get harsher sentences.

The United States

In a surprise move in 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) designated psilocybin as having “breakthrough therapy” potential. This cleared a legal hurdle to begin developing and reviewing the substance as a possible treatment for a clinical diagnosis.

In 2020, Oregon was the first US state to decriminalize psilocybin; Colorado followed suit in 2021. Individual cities and counties in Washington state, California, Michigan, and Massachusetts also have decriminalized psilocybin.[21]

In 2023, the FDA issued a clarifying guidance document for sponsors who wanted to clinically investigate psilocybin to treat psychiatric disorders.[22] In the same year, the city of Eugene in Oregon opened the first licensed psilocybin service center under the state’s new law.[23]

However, the discrepancy between state and federal law means that users could still face mandatory sentencing laws if they run afoul of federal authorities.

Australia

In 2023, Australia approved the controlled clinical use of psilocybin for the treatment of certain conditions, such as major depressive disorder, under specific circumstances.[24]
You still need a doctor’s note, but magic mushrooms are becoming more available.

Outside of a clinical setting, the possession, transfer, and sale of psilocybin is illegal in Australia. The “Therapeutic Goods Administration,” an Australian governmental agency that regulates drug use, shocked many international observers when they legalized both MDMA and Psilocybin for clinical trials and use.

Too Much Magic Isn’t Good For Anyone

If you or a loved one have dabbled into the realm of magic mushrooms and/or are battling and substance use disorder, we’re here to help. There are resources and treatment options available to help you address and overcome any harmful substance use.

 

Frequently Asked Questions About Magic Mushrooms

What is a type of drug that can be potentially dangerous?

Many types of substances have some level of potential harm or adverse effects. For example, CNS depressants can slow your natural breathing, and some hallucinogenic substances can lead to psychosis or dependence. Whenever possible, avoid any potentially harmful or addicting substances unless otherwise advised by a physician.

What are the effects of eating magic mushrooms?

What are the effects of eating magic mushrooms?Magic mushrooms have multi-layered effects: those that are intended and those that are not. The intended effects would be a distorted reality, hallucinations, and an altered sense of time. Unintended effects could include a bad trip, mood changes, anxiety attacks, confusion, and more.

Are magic mushrooms addictive?

While magic mushrooms are not considered physically addictive, they can be psychologically addictive. This substance is a Schedule 1 controlled drug and is classified as having a high potential for abuse.

Ascendant New York Editorial Guidelines

Here at Ascendant New York, we understand the importance of having access to accurate medical information you can trust, especially when you or a loved one is suffering from addiction. Find out more on our policy.

Sources

[1] DE;, N. (n.d.). Psilocybin: From ancient magic to modern medicine. The Journal of Antibiotics. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32398764/

[2] Biochemistry, serotonin – statpearls – NCBI bookshelf. (n.d.). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560856/

[3] Analysis of psilocybin-assisted therapy in Medicine: A Narrative Review. (n.d.-a). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8901083/

[4] Guardian News and Media. (2012, January 26). The doors of perception: What did Huxley see in mescaline?. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/jan/26/doors-perception-huxley-mescaline-reading-group

[5][6][7] DE;, N. (n.d.-a). Psilocybin: From ancient magic to modern medicine. The Journal of Antibiotics. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32398764/

[8] Psilocybin. American Chemical Society. (n.d.). https://www.acs.org/molecule-of-the-week/archive/p/psilocybin.html

[9] The therapeutic potential of psilocybin – PMC – National Center for … (n.d.-c). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8156539/

[10] Psychedelics. Psychedelics – Alcohol and Drug Foundation. (n.d.). https://adf.org.au/drug-facts/psychedelics/#wheel

[11] FX;, S. E. M. F. (n.d.). Acute, subacute and long-term subjective effects of psilocybin in healthy humans: A pooled analysis of experimental studies. Journal of Psychopharmacology (Oxford, England). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20855349/

[12] Baum, D., Sullivan, J. J., Arian, A. A., & Lee Friedlander, J. C. (2016, March 31). Legalize it all, by Dan Baum. Harper’s Magazine. https://harpers.org/archive/2016/04/legalize-it-all/

[13][14] United Nations. (n.d.). UN, United Nations, UN treaties, treaties. United Nations. https://treaties.un.org/pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=VI-16&chapter=6

[15] Teff, H. (n.d.). Drugs and the Law: The Development of Control. Online Wiley Library. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1468-2230.1972.tb01330.x

[16] Participation, E. (1979, January 31). Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Legislation.gov.uk. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1971/38/contents

[17] Albrecht, H.-J., & Kalmthout, A. van. (n.d.). Current trends in Dutch opium legislation (from drug policies in Western Europe). Current Trends in Dutch Opium Legislation (From Drug Policies in Western Europe). https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/current-trends-dutch-opium-legislation-drug-policies-western-europe

[18] Magic mushroom droplets increasingly popular recreational drug in Amsterdam’s nightlife. NL Times. (2023, April 16). https://nltimes.nl/2023/04/16/magic-mushroom-droplets-increasingly-popular-recreational-drug-amsterdams-nightlife

 

[19][20] Reform zeroes in on Pulouaitu and tagamimi. Samoa Observer. (n.d.). https://www.samoaobserver.ws/category/samoa/11408

[21] Makin, S. (2022, August 1). Restrictions on psilocybin “magic mushrooms” are easing as research ramps up. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/restrictions-on-psilocybin-magic-mushrooms-are-easing-as-research-ramps-up/

[22] Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. (n.d.). Guidance for industry. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/regulatory-information/search-fda-guidance-documents/psychedelic-drugs-considerations-clinical-investigations

[23] Eckert, T. (2023, May 8). Eugene is home to Nation’s first-ever licensed Psilocybin Service Center. KLCC. https://www.klcc.org/politics-government/2023-05-06/eugene-is-home-to-nations-first-ever-licensed-psilocybin-service-center

[24] Wertheimer, T. (2023, June 30). Australia legalizes psychedelics for Mental Health. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-66072427