Are Magic Mushrooms Legal In The UK?
Recent scientific enquiries have found that psilocybin, a compound found in so-called “magic” mushrooms, has the incredible power to grow new brain cells, enhance brain plasticity (ability to rewrite) and relieve treatment-resistant depression.
Some notable researchers are even claiming the psychedelic compound is on the verge of revolutionising psychiatry and mental health care.
Sounds great right?
But unfortunately, psilocybin and mushrooms containing psilocybin are illegal in the UK – like much of the world – and is designated as a class A drug.
This article will tell you all you need to know about the legal status of magic mushrooms and psilocybin in the UK, as well as a few legal loopholes that you can use to reduce your risk should you wish to experiment with psilocybin yourself.
What are magic mushrooms?
Mushrooms are the reproductive organs of a fungus. Magic mushrooms are those that contain the psychedelic compound psilocybin. The mushroom itself is actually the fruiting body of the organism, while below ground you’ll find the lumpy mycelium, which we call truffles.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of species of magic mushrooms. The genus psilocybe is one of the most common subsets of psilocybin mushrooms, and includes psilocybe cubensis – arguably the most well-known species of magic mushroom – as well as psilocybe semilanceata, also known as liberty caps.
A number of magic mushroom species grow wild in the UK sprouting out of cow pats, forest floors and in damp grassy fields, usually around September/October time.
What is psilocybin?
Psilocybin is the main psychotropic compound in “magic” mushrooms. Due to its potent mind-altering effects, it’s been consumed by humans in the form of mushrooms for thousands of years in various cultures around the world, particularly in ceremonial situations for spiritual and religious reasons.
It was first isolated in 1959 by the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, who also discovered LSD.
In general, the effects include euphoria, visual and mental hallucinations, changes in perception, a distorted sense of time, and perceived spiritual experiences. It can also include possible adverse reactions such as nausea and panic attacks.
In recent years, a number of studies have now shown psilocybin to have powerful antidepressant effects. One recent study found just two doses of psilocybin combined with a handful of psychotherapy sessions can produce significant antidepressant effects that last at least a year.
Although the sample group had only 27 participants, 75% of them responded favourably to the treatment, with 58% considered to be in remission.
The compound is also being investigated for its potential benefits for treating anorexia, obesity and post-traumatic stress disorder as well as various addictions.
Are magic mushrooms or psilocybin legal in the UK?
Any fungus that contains psilocin or psilocybin is controlled in the UK. Therefore, magic mushrooms are illegal in the UK and their cultivation, possession or sale is controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
Magic mushrooms are classed as Class A drugs in the UK, meaning the most severe punishment for possession is up to seven years and an unlimited fine. However, sentencing this harsh is extremely unlikely.
In fact, if you were caught with a small amount for personal use – say up to 5 grams – you’d probably get away with a caution.
It’s a different story if you get caught growing them, though. Technically, a life sentence is the maximum sentence for supply of any Class A drug, including magic mushrooms. In practice, however, longer sentences are only used for major traffickers, and rarely, if ever, for cases involving only mushrooms.
In fact, I’ve struggled to find any reports of people receiving any sort of punishment for growing magic mushrooms. But that could be because it’s so rare.
In reality, if you are growing a small amount of magic mushrooms, like one or two grow boxes worth, you have little chance of getting caught and an even smaller chance of getting sentenced to time in prison. The most likely result is you’ll get a fine.
What about magic mushroom spores and grow kits?
Magic mushrooms may be illegal in the UK, but did you know that magic mushroom spores and grow kits are completely legal?
That’s right, microscopic magic mushroom spores contain no psilocybin, so they are not outlawed under the Drugs Act 2005 which made “fungi containing psilocybin” a Class A drug.
Therefore, magic mushroom spores can be easily bought online for “research purposes”, but you’ll be breaking the law if those spores happen to germinate and grow.
Many online shops that sell spores also sell grow kits separately – all you need to do is inoculate the growing substrate with spores and pretty much wait (there’s slightly more to it than this, but not much).
Medical use of psilocybin in the UK
It’s been over a year since Boris Johnson agreed to reschedule psilocybin and other psychedelic substances in order to allow research into them. However, nothing has changed in the months since.
Earlier in 2022, three world-renowned British psychiatrists wrote to Sajid Javid, the health secretary, and Kit Malthouse, the crime and policing minister at the Home Office, urging a rethink on psilocybin laws.
“There has been no recent review of the evidence for psilocybin’s current scheduling [and] there is not and never has been an evidential basis for psilocybin’s current scheduling,” the letter stated.
They argue that the Home Office’s refusal to downgrade the compound “is inconsistent with the precedent set by cannabis-based products for medicinal use in 2018”.
Up until 2005, due to the way the law was written, only dried magic mushrooms were outlawed. This led to more than 400 shops around the country selling fresh mushrooms with no repercussions.
However, the government’s Drugs Act 2005 closed the loophole by banning magic mushrooms regardless of whether they are dried, packaged or fresh.
All was not lost, however, as magic mushrooms grow abundantly in the UK countryside. This means if you were to pick the mushrooms directly from the ground with, say, your mouth, before swallowing them immediately, it could be argued that, technically, you wouldn’t be breaking the law.
I’m not sure anyone’s ever tried doing this in front of a police officer, but it makes me smile to think about it. If only because it highlights the absolute stupidity of outlawing a common, naturally growing fungi.
Where is psilocybin legal?
There are a few places in the world where you can access magic mushrooms or psilocybin without the threat of punishment.
In The Netherlands, for example, psilocybin truffles are legal because their laws only restrict the sale and possession of mushrooms (the fruiting body of the fungi), not the truffle (the below-ground mycelium part of the fungi).
The possession of personal amounts of magic mushrooms is decriminalised in Austria, Italy, Spain and Portugal.
Jamaica and the Bahamas allow the sale and possession of psilocybin-containing mushrooms. As a result, Jamaica in particular is home to a huge number of legal psychedelic retreats.
Oregon in the U.S have decriminalised possession of small quantities of most drugs, including magic mushrooms.
In South America, Brazil permits the sale and possession of magic mushrooms.
In Asia, mushrooms are uncontrolled substances in Nepal and The Philippines (surprisingly).
Are magic mushrooms dangerous?
Psilocybin mushrooms are incredibly safe. In fact, according to the world’s largest annual drug survey, out of all common recreational drugs, psilocybin mushrooms, alongside ketamine and cannabis, pose the smallest risk of needing medical treatment.
Having said that, psilocybin should not be taken lightly. It’s a powerful psychotropic compound and can have strong effects on your perception and state of mind. Unpleasant trips are not uncommon, nor is anxiety and nausea during the come-up.
However, that’s about as bad as it gets.
Psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms are considered Class A drugs in the UK, meaning the most severe punishment for possession is up to seven years and an unlimited fine.
This is despite recent studies showing psilocybin to have powerful therapeutic potential to treat mental health disorders like depression, PTSD and addiction.
With renowned British scientists calling for the laws around magic mushrooms to be reformed, and figures in government appearing to listen, psilocybin may soon be accessible for medical use in the UK.
Let’s hope so.