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Fundamental #10: Decide how much to use and measure dosages carefully.
International Legal Status of Psilocybin Mushrooms
by Ananda Schouten
Oct 5, 2004 v1.0
Citation:   Schouten A. "International Legal Status of Psilocybin Mushrooms". Erowid.org. Oct 5 2004; /plants/mushrooms/mushrooms_law11.shtml.
Over the last several years, it has become clear that psilocybin mushrooms are not controlled under the United Nations (UN) Convention on Psychotropic Substances and, further, that there is no need to outlaw psilocybin mushrooms because they present a very low risk to the public health.

The following is a description of some of the key documents that show psilocybin mushrooms are not controlled by United Nations treaties and that there is no scientific or medical reason to add them:
  1. Overview of International Legal Status of Psilocybin Mushrooms, by Ananda Schouten, 2004.
  2. Letter by H Schaepe of the UN's International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) stating that psilocybin mushrooms are not controlled under UN law, 2001.
  3. A letter from the Senior Inspector of Controlled Substances (Dutch Ministry of Health) in which he explains and communicates the opinion of the International Narcotics Control Board (UN) on Psilocybe mushrooms and preparations thereof, 2004.
  4. Risk Assessment by CAM (Coordination Centre for the Assessment and Monitoring of New Drugs), 2000.
  5. Letter by H Schaepe of INCB stating that DMT-containing plants are not controlled under UN law, 2001.
  6. Important research article by Hasler et al. showing no signs of serious health risk from psilocybin use, 2004.


Overview of International Legal Status of Psilocybin Mushrooms #
by Ananda Schouten

UN & National Laws
The UN's International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has made it clear that Psilocybe mushrooms are not controlled by the UN (Schaepe 2001, Best 2004). The mandate of the INCB is described on their website as follows: "It is the Board's responsibility to promote government compliance with the provisions of the drug control treaties and to assist them in this effort." This implies that when there is doubt about how a law that has come into existence through UN drug treaties should be interpreted, a country should seek advice through the INCB.

If Psilocybe mushrooms are not controlled by the UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances, then may a signatory nation apply laws more strict than the Convention provides? Article 23 of the UN Convention states that "A party may adopt more strict or severe measures or control than those provided by this Convention if, in its opinion, such measures are desirable or necessary for the protection of the public health and welfare."

A risk analysis by the Coordination Centre for the Assessment and Monitoring of New Drugs (known as CAM, see below) from 2000 and the recent study on the health effects of psilocybin (Hasler 2004) both clearly show that such measures are neither desirable nor necessary for the protection of the public health and welfare. Several nations that wanted to ban magic mushrooms (like Germany and Switzerland) needed to create new laws [[suggested change "were required to create new laws"}, because they concluded that the existing laws that resulted from the UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971 do not apply to Psilocybe mushrooms. Since the UK has signed the UN Convention, its citizens -- including those charged for possession of mushrooms -- may expect that if the UN states Psilocybe mushrooms are not controlled by the Convention, the crown will respect this treaty.

Why plants containing illegal substances are not controlled
In the process of formulating the UN Convention of 1971 this topic was well discussed. Controlling such plants (or mushrooms in this case) would bring about a lot of problems. Wild organic material containing controlled substances can be found anywhere. Psilocybin-containing "magic" mushrooms are just one type out of thousands of such plants, some of which might grow in your lawn or be sold at the grocery store.

Many substances that are widely available in plants and foods are listed as controlled in this Convention. For instance, MMDA is the active ingredient in nutmeg. Red poppy, Papaver somniferum, contains morphine and opium. The common Phalaris grass contains DMT. Potatoes and wheat contain diazepam (Valium) and lormetazepam (Wildman 1988). These plants are cut, dried, extracted, powdered, and otherwise prepared in ways that could make them preparations under the UN Convention, if the rules were read the way that some "anti-drug" people would like to see them interpreted. If magic mushrooms are controlled, then these products are controlled as well under the current laws.

Problems with using existing laws to ban psilocybin-containing mushrooms
The Netherlands is an excellent example of the problems that arise from a ban on "prepared" magic mushrooms. Treated or prepared mushrooms are currently illegal in the Netherlands. Passively dried mushrooms are legal, because they have not undergone any "preparation". There is no way to see how a mushroom became dry. Then how dry is dry? What percentage of water needs to be evaporated, before a mushroom ceases to be a mushroom and begins to become a preparation? If a mushroom is packaged, does it then cease to be a mushroom? Is it permissible to put mushrooms on a plate? What about the fact that magic mushrooms are cooled and packed with the intent to keep them "fresh" and thus legal? The vagueness goes beyond comprehension and the absurd implications of creating these false distinctions are too broad to go into here.

The police force, which is already overloaded with work preventing citizens from getting hurt, is put in the untenable position of having to sort out all this vagueness. Should the police inspect if there is enough water in magic mushrooms or how they are packed? This seems absurd, but it is the direct result of a ban based on existing laws. Without a clear set of common-sense rules for what is legal and illegal, there is more loophole than law. The police departments in the Netherlands find themselves unable to enforce these laws. Vague rules about how dry a mushroom is before it is no longer fresh or arguing about whether something was 'dried naturally' or 'prepared into a dry state' results in a squandering of valuable and costly court time and prosecution of many unnecessary cases. If a nation deems it is actually important to ban something, it should do so by making a law that is fit to the task.

Problems with prohibition of Psilocybe mushrooms
When magic mushrooms are sold through legally operating, tax-paying retailers, they sell them in a clearly recognisable form. In the underground and unlicensed markets, disguising products is an important part of avoiding prosecution. Lawful vendors can be prevented from producing cleverly disguised 'magic' chocolate bars, 'magic tea', and many other unrecognisable forms that may be easily mistaken for candy by children or by unsuspecting adults. Legitimate, licensed retailers selling psilocybin mushrooms want to prevent dangerous accidents that might anger the community or police. They also provide a levelling force by not selling to minors, and by potentially offering information about safer use.

Another benefit of regulated sales is that poisonous mushrooms or other less-desireable psychoactive mushrooms like Amanita muscaria will not be sold to those seeking "magic mushrooms".

A. muscaria can be problematic because their effects and toxicity profile is so different from the psilocybin containing "magic mushrooms". While overdoses of psilocybin can be extremely frightening and disturbing, overdoses of A. muscaria carry a much higher risk of physical health problems. For doctors and patients in emergency situations, it is important that the two substances not be confused because of misbranding on the illegal-market.

Health and Social Risks Associated with Psilocybin Mushrooms
In 2000, the CAM (Coordination Centre for the Assessment and Monitoring of New Drugs) published a risk assessment report (CAM 2000) that found "There is no risk for the individual health when magic mushrooms are used." "The risk of the disturbance of public order / peace is therefore assessed as very low." "Compared to other drugs... Psilocybe mushrooms score very low on the scale of risk assessment." Research with pure psilocybin has found no serious physical health risks and minor risks to mental health from the use of psilocybin. In 2004, a paper was published by Hasler et al. (Hasler 2004) that confirmed that there was little risk of physical injury from taking psilocybin: "Our study provided no cause for concern that psilocybin is hazardous with respect to somatic health."

In order to keep this document up to date, please send related info or info that can add to the completeness of this compilation of documents to: Mr. Ananda Schouten Sjamaan@xs4all.nl or corrections@erowid.org.

References #
  1. Schaepe H. Letter by H Schaepe of the UN's International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) stating that psilocybin mushrooms are not controlled under UN law, 2001. mushrooms_law13.shtml
  2. Best W. A letter from the Senior Inspector of Controlled Substances (Dutch Ministry of Health) in which he explains and communicates the opinion of the International Narcotics Control Board (UN) on Psilocybe mushrooms and preparations thereof, 2004. mushrooms_law12.shtml
  3. Wildmann J, Vetter W, Ranalder UB, Schmidt K, Maurer R, Mohler H. Occurrence of pharmacologically active benzodiazepines in trace amounts in wheat and potato. Biochem Pharmacol. 1988 Oct 1;37(19):3549-59. See also a PubMed search on potato and benzodiazepine.
  4. CAM Risk assessment report concerning magic mushrooms (psilocin and psilocybin), 2000. mushrooms_health1.pdf
  5. Hasler F , Grimberg U, Benz MA, Huber T, Vollenweider FX. Acute psychological and physiological effects of psilocybin in healthy humans: a double-blind, placebo-controlled dose-effect study. Psychopharmacology, 2004; 172(2):145-156. Abstract & Text
Notes #
  1. What is the INCB?
    The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is part of the United Nations and is there to see to it that countries follow the treaties on drugs and to explain and advise countries or national authorities how they should interpret the UN treaties. Since the INCB is there for governments, it only communicates through them and not directly to the public. This is why its letters are often communicated by other authorities. For a full description, see their website: www.incb.org
  2. What do the UN treaties mean?
    The signatory countries to the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971 have agreed to a certain level of standardization in their domestic drug laws. Most drug laws, like Britain's Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971, are almost an exact copy of the UN treaties. And this is not without reason. Governments are bound by the treaties they sign to try to keep their domestic laws in compliance with the international agreements. For more information about these, see the U.N. Convention at http://www.incb.org/e/conv/1971/cover.htm and http://www.unodc.org/unodc/un_treaties_and_resolutions.html
  3. What is the CAM?
    The Coordination Centre for the Assessment and Monitoring of New Drugs (known as CAM) is part of the European Union's early warning system. It makes risk assessments of new drugs in order to advise what would be the best way to deal with them. Their risk assessments have lead to the ban on GHB, 4-MTA and various other drugs. The CAM consists of experts out of every related ministry, from Justice to Health. Their risk assessment on magic mushrooms is the only one that has been made worldwide. The original Dutch document and English abstract can be found here: Original Dutch Risk Assessment. The English translation can be found here: English Translation