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  • Posted February 6, 2024

Surge in Police Seizures of 'Magic Mushrooms' Mirrors Rise in Psilocybin Use

Police seizures of “magic” mushrooms have more than tripled within the past five years, the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse reports.

The total weight of psilocybin mushrooms seized by law enforcement increased from 498 pounds in 2017 to 1,861 pounds in 2022, according to a new report published Feb. 6 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

To put those seizures in perspective, a typical dried mushroom dose in clinical trials for psilocybin therapy runs between 2.5 grams (.08 ounces) to 6 grams (.2 ounces), according to a 2022 analysis in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.

These seizures come in the midst of a surge in public interest regarding the use of psilocybin for therapy and recreation, researchers said.

“While psilocybin is by no means the most dangerous drug, recreational use can come with unforeseen risks such as bad trips,” said lead researcher Joseph Palamar, an associate professor of epidemiology at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. 

“Research studies suggesting its effectiveness in treating mental health issues and extensive positive media coverage may lead some people to seek 'shrooms' outside of medical contexts,” Palamar added. “People who use psilocybin outside of medical supervision need to be educated about risks associated with use.”

In 2018 and 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted breakthrough therapy status to research using psilocybin as a treatment for depression.

However, no psilocybin-based medications have yet been approved by the agency, and it remains illegal at the federal level, researchers noted.

Oregon and Colorado have passed ballot measures decriminalizing psilocybin, as have individual cities around the nation like Denver; Oakland, Calif.; Detroit and Washington, D.C.

For the new study, researchers analyzed data on drug seizures maintained by the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy.

There were 1,396 individual seizures of psilocybin mushrooms in 2022, more than triple the 402 seizures that occurred in 2017, researchers found.

Most seizures occurred in the Midwest (36%), followed by the West (34%), results show.

However, the West represented nearly 43% of the total weight of all seizures, with 4,109 pounds of magic mushrooms confiscated in Western states during the five-year period of the study.

Seizures peaked in 2021, with 3,400 pounds of mushrooms confiscated in that year alone. The authors noted that it's not known whether the mushrooms were seized in normal or dried form, which prevents weight measures from being directly translated into possible doses.

These seizures jibe with research suggesting that psilocybin is the most consumed plant-based psychedelic drug in the United States, with more than 11% of people ages 12 and older reporting ever having used psilocybin, researchers said.

“We are in the middle of a rapidly evolving cultural, media and legal landscape when it comes to psychedelics, and we need data to help shape informed and appropriate public health strategies,” NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow said in a news release.

“Moving forward, we must continue to track data on the availability of psychedelics, patterns in use and associated health effects, to guide efforts in promoting accurate education and reducing potential harms among people who do plan to use psychedelic drugs,” Volkow added in a NIDA news release.

Psilocybin research has focused on using psychedelics as part of structured therapy under the supervision of a clinician and in a controlled environment.

However, most people using psychedelic drugs do so outside of therapy, either for recreation or based on the believe that “shrooms” will improve their well-being or aid in spiritual growth or self-exploration, researchers said.

“Bad trips” from psilocybin can cause intense fear, anxiety and confusion, researchers noted. Users' thinking and perception can become distorted, and they might unintentionally place themselves in physical danger as a result.

Psychedelic drugs also can cause side effects like increased blood pressure and heart rate, agitation, confusion, vomiting or nausea, the researchers said.

“Most national surveys and studies don't capture self-reported data on psilocybin use specifically, so these findings help shed important light on an area where we've been largely left in the dark,” said co-researcher Linda Cottler, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida.

More information

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about psilocybin.

SOURCE: National Institute on Drug Abuse, news release, Feb. 6, 2024

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