According to this year’s Global Drug Survey, mushrooms are the safest of all the drugs people take recreationally.
With over 12,000 people who reported taking psilocybin hallucinogenic mushrooms in 2016, just 0.2% (20 people!) said they needed emergency medical treatment – a rate at least five times lower than that for MDMA, LSD and cocaine. Overall, 28,000 people said they had taken magic mushrooms at some point in their lives, with 81.7% seeking a “moderate psychedelic experience” and the “enhancement of environment and social interactions”. Comparatively, of the almost 10,000 LSD consumers who took part in GDS 2017, around 1% of them – 95 individuals – reported seeking emergency medical treatment, five times more than those who took magic mushrooms.
“Magic mushrooms are one of the safest drugs in the world but aren’t completely harmless”, notes Adam Winstock, a consultant addiction psychiatrist and founder of the Global Drug Survey. “Combined use with alcohol and use within risky or unfamiliar settings increase the risks of harm most commonly accidental injury, panic and short lived confusion, disorientation and fears of losing one’s mind.” In some cases people can experience panic attacks and flashbacks, he added, so his advice for people thinking about taking them is to plan “your trip carefully with trusted company in a safe place and always know what mushrooms you are using”.
Even bad trips can have positive outcomes, according to a separate piece of research carried out by Roland Griffiths and Robert Jesse at John Hopkins Medicine. In their 2016 paper they surveyed almost 2,000 individuals about their single most psychologically difficult or challenging experience with magic mushrooms. Of that group, 2.7% received medical help and 7.6% sought treatment for enduring psychological symptoms. Nevertheless 84% of those surveyed said they benefitted from the experience.
People don’t tend to abuse psychedelics, they don’t get dependent, they don’t rot every organ from head to toe, and many would cite their impact upon their life as profound and positive. But you need to know how to use them.”
The Global Drug Survey 2017 reveals the percentage of people who reported taking certain drugs in the last 12 months who also sought emergency medical treatment Photograph: Global Drug Survey 2017
Whats the riskiest drug?
One of the riskiest drugs, according to the survey, was synthetic cannabis. Over one in 30 of users in the sample sought emergency medical treatment – the highest of any drug studied except crystal methamphetamine. That rises to one in 10 among people who use the drug at least 50 times per year. These figures echo the data from the previous year’s report.
Synthetic cannabis, sold as “spice” and “black mamba”, is an umbrella term for hundreds of chemical compounds that mimic the effects of THC, the active ingredient of cannabis, in the brain. These synthetic forms are often extremely potent, cheap and odourless, which has led to them flooding the market in the US and Europe. They’ve been particularly popular in prisons in the UK, where they’ve had a “devastating impact”and have been linked to deaths, serious illness and episodes of self-harm among inmates.
Brad Burge from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (Maps) urged caution on relying on people’s self reports for data as people often take multiple drugs at the same time, so you can’t be sure which one is causing the problem. He also highlighted that seeking emergency medical treatment means different things for different drugs. With a drug such as heroin, a trip to the emergency room is a life-or-death situation requiring resuscitation and medication. With LSD or mushrooms, a patient will receive supportive psychological reassurance.
These findings indicate a need for drug policy reform, with a focus on shifting psychedelics off the schedule one list of the most dangerous controlled substances.
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