A Comprehensive overview of Psilocybin’s legal Status
By Jeff Lebowe
Psilocybin is the active psychotropic compound found in mushrooms of the Psilocybe genus, frequently referred to as “Magic Mushrooms” or “Shrooms.” The genus comprises over 200 mushroom species, which can be found growing naturally on every continent, except Antarctica. These mushrooms are among the most commonly known and universally recognized psychedelics. Despite the promising research regarding their safety and efficacy as treatment for psychological conditions, and their long — not to mention safe — history of use by indigenous peoples, they are illegal in a majority of countries.
But there are a few loopholes. Psilocybin, the molecule, and fungi of the Psilocybe genus are not synonymous in the eyes of the law. Prohibition of the psilocybin molecule was catalyzed by the UN 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, a meeting of the United Nations in Vienna that aimed to suppress the rising popularity of many psychedelics, like psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, and mescaline, in the 1960s.
The convention placed psilocybin in Schedule I, the most restrictive category that’s defined as having serious risk to public health, with no therapeutic value. Interestingly, it neglected to define the legality of psilocybe mycelium (a mushroom’s root network) or spores, which contain low levels of psilocybin.
Neglecting to ban both psilocybin (the molecule) and the spores/mycelium of psilocybe mushrooms was likely an unintentional oversight, however it created a loophole allowing cultivators to legally order spores, while allowing other businesses in countries (like the Netherlands) to legally sell mycelial clumps, otherwise known as magic truffles.
The treaty also included Article 32, a clause allowing countries to exempt certain traditional uses of psychedelic plants from prohibition. This passage was eventually adopted by numerous UN member countries, including Canada and Mexico, to allow clearly determined groups who usepsychotropic substances of plant originin magical or religious rites to continue using such substances.
But the treaty left the prosecution of these substances up to member countries, all of whom applied their societal standards around drugs on the people. Authoritarian governments, like China and Iran, applied the death penalty to those found with psychedelics, while progressive governments, like Portugal and the Netherlands decriminalized personal possession. The numerous discrepancies between local and international laws have become a convoluted mess in need of change, and in fact the climate has changed so much — thanks to dozens of studies showing psilocybin’s safety and efficacy as a treatment for psychological conditions — that a total reclassification of psilocybin may be in order.
Until then, we devised a list of the legal status and loopholes of psilocybin around the world, so you can make your next travel arrangements accordingly. Just kidding. But we do think it will help you make informed decisions and assessments about the world at-large.
The United States
The US follows the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, which lists psilocybin and psilocybin containing mushrooms as Schedule I substances, meaning that they’re technically considered drugs with high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, and extremely unsafe even under medical supervision.
That said, it’s legal to purchase Psilocybe mushroom spores and legal to grow Psilocybe mushrooms in New Mexico. (There is even a recognized religious group in the Land of Enchantment that uses mushrooms for sacramental purposes). Recently, several high-profile initiatives proposing various forms of decriminalization have taken place on the city level, including Denver, Oakland, Chicago, and Santa Cruz. These measures have all been passed through a city council vote, some by a margin as narrow as 1 percent, like Denver, and are all considered major milestones in the fight for the awareness and acceptance of psychedelics .
In Denver and other cities that recently passed reform laws, it is still illegal to possess — and certainly to sell — psilocybin mushrooms. It’s now, however, law-enforcement’s lowest priority. In other words, this policy is actually a redirection in city resources rather than an acceptance of psilocybin’s medical applications.
Oakland’s policy is “one step further” than Denvers, in that city law enforcement is required to completely cease investigations and prosecutions of anyone in possession of psychedelic mushrooms and peyote, the sacred mescaline-containing cacti.
Chicago, the largest city to introduce a decriminalization policy, implemented a policy that makes prosecution for shroom-related crimes the lowest priority for local law enforcement. In many ways, it mirrors Denver’s model. Unlike Denver, however, this measure passed unanimously with all 50 city council members voting in favour of decriminalization. That in itself is wildly historic.
Santa Cruz is the latest city to introduce a decriminalization policy. It is still illegal to possess, use, or cultivate naturally occurring psychedelics, though city law enforcement has redirected resources from investigations, arrests, and prosecution, just like Oakland’s model. Notably, Santa Cruz city council specified that this resolution only applies to personal use, and that anyone found in possession of a “commercial” amount of psilocybin mushrooms will still be subject to severe federal penalties, due to psilocybin’s classification as a Schedule I narcotic.
While these four progressive cities are leading the movement for psychedelics reform, activists in over 100 additional localities have also initiated similar measures. Even political figures such as Andrew Yang and Alexandria Oscatio-Cortez have declared support for the responsible use of psychedelics. Just remember that it is still technically illegal to possess these mushrooms in all states. Penalties can range from fines and probation to severe financial penalties and jail time. Draconian laws and years of War on Drugs misinformation campaign aside, it’s estimated that nearly 30 million Americans use psychedelics.
Canada’s laws around psilocybin (the molecule) are mostly congruent with the UN Psychotropic Substances Act in the USA. Canada’s version does classify the substance as Schedule III drug, which is defined as posing somerisks to public health in some situations. Therefore, penalties for shroom-related crimes are lesser in Canada than the US. It’s legal to purchase spores, pre-inoculated grow kits, and pick fresh mushrooms found in nature. Keep in mind that it’s illegal to possess dried mushrooms, however laws are loosely enforced throughout the country.
Laize-affair law enforcement has also spurred the creation of many businesses offering shrooms online in Canada in various forms, from chocolates and candies, to mushroom tea and liquid psilocybin extracts. The low enforcement priority is also perhaps influenced by a clause in the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (Section 56 [J]), which exempts substances from illegality for the purpose of research, clinical trials, or if medically necessary. This clause was cited during a keystone legal battle that ultimately set the precedent for cannabis decriminalization and legalization in Canada.
So, why doesn’t this clause apply to mushrooms? A group of therapists from Thera-Psil are on it. They have appealed to Health Canada to exempt psilocybin from prohibition for those with a medical condition and plan to take Health Canada to court if their appeal is rejected.
Dr. Bruce Tobin, the leader of the campaign, claims thousands of Canadians could benefit from medical psilocybin and that the substance can treat a broader range of conditions than cannabis. There are many Canadians who agree with Tobin, and while there are no reliable statistics on mushroom use (or on how many get into trouble for mushrooms in the country), a recent petition launched on April 16, 2020 for federal decriminalization of psilocybin mushrooms has garnered over 7000 signatures, including the signature of Paul Manly, a member of parliament.
The United Kingdom
The British Misuse of Drugs Act is consistent with the UN Psychotropic Substances Act in regards to psilocybin, placing it in the most restrictive category — Class A — along with methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin. This designation is considered “absurd” by many, including professor Matthew Hickman, an expert on drug deaths from Bristol University, who believes that politics, and the need to adhere to UN rules rather than scientific data, are responsible for the restrictive classification.
Up until 2005, the sale of Psilocybe mushroom mycelium and spores was fully legal in the UK. This all changed in a 2005 amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act that made possession, sale, and cultivation of Psilocybe fungus illegal. The UK now has more restrictive laws regarding hallucinogens than most other countries (perhaps a rebound effect) and stiff penalties — up to seven years in prison for possession and up to life in prison for those caught with amounts that warrant intent to distribute.
Although all drugs are technically illegal in the Netherlands, the Dutch are world-renowned for their more logical, research based, and tolerant policies on drugs. They classify mind-altering substances in two categories: either “hard drugs,” such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine; or “soft drugs,” like cannabis, peyote, salvia, and psilocybin mushrooms — until 2008.
This policy serves to separate those who use soft drugs from people who use hard drugs. With heavy regulation (rules on the quantity sold, no selling to minors, and no alcohol sold from the same premises), it tolerates the sale of drugs in the “soft” category, while cracking down on anything classified as “hard.” In 2008, psilocybin mushrooms were reclassified as a “hard drug,” despite much protest from the public. Somehow, this designation does not extend to mycelium or spores. Many smart shops across the country specialize in ethnobotanical and entheogenic products and act as the beneficiaries of loopholes in the Dutch Opium Act, which is the basis for all Dutch drug policy, and the UN Psychotropic Substances Act. Some examples of these entheogenic products are: magic truffles, psilocybin mushroom spores, inoculated grow kits, liquid peyote extracts, and chemical variants of psychedelic molecules like 1P-LSD, which bears a chemical structure close enough to elicit effects similar to LSD.
In the Netherlands, similar to countries like Jamaica and the British Virgin Islands where psilocybin containing products are legal, there is also a thriving industry built around psychedelic retreats. These retreats offer customers a psychedelic experience in a relaxing and therapeutic setting, often under the guidance of a professional therapist. Interestingly, many of these companies (at least in the Netherlands) operate on a sliding scale, charging different amounts based on income to allow a broader range of customers access to their services.
Psilocybin (the molecule) along with all forms of Psilocybe fungi are technically illegal in Mexico. But, authorities often turn a blind eye to psilocybin possession for personal use. Exceptions are made (and legally defensible citing Article 32 of the Psychotropic Substances Act) for numerous indigenous tribes who employ the use of mushrooms and peyote in religious rites and ceremonies.
Since the early ‘60s, a flourishing industry has existed around psychedelic retreats in Mexico. This psychedelic tourism is likely the result of an article published in the late 1950s by R. Gordon Wasson, who is credited with introducing psilocybin to the “modern” western world by way of famous shaman, Maria Sabina.
People of all ages, races, and economic classes travel to Mexico to experience a traditional indigenous psilocybin ceremony. It’s hosted by shamans who claim the ceremony “heals the heart” and invokes drastic positive changes in behaviour and outlook. Interestingly these claims are congruent with the results of numerous scientifically rigorous studies, like one double blind study at Johns Hopkins University that showed 80 percent of participants suffering from depression or anxiety enjoyed considerable relief for up to six months from just one dose of psilocybin.
Austria decriminalized the possession of psilocybin mushrooms in January 2016. Offenders caught in possession of personal use amounts undergo a free therapy instead of a trial. Cultivation is technically legal as long as the mushrooms are not intended for commercial distribution or consumption. Grow kits and spores can be legally purchased, but the sale and possession of large amounts of dried mushrooms are still illegal.
Psilocybin (the molecule) is technically illegal in Brazil, likely due to forced adherence to UN policies. But psilocybin mushrooms, along with other psychedelic substances like Ayahuasca, are legal to possess, cultivate, and distribute.
Brazil has some of the most tolerant policies worldwide in regards to controlled substances after fierce legal battles fought in the early 1990s over the rights of indigenous people to conduct Ayahuasca ceremonies. Many of the same legal precedents set around Ayahuasca apply to psilocybin, too. It’s not surprising considering mushrooms also have a rich history of indigenous use in Brazil — ever heard of the mushroom strain called “Amazonian?” Currently, it is both easy and (relatively) safe to buy shrooms in Brazil, with the majority of sales taking place through specialized websites.
The British Virgin Islands
Although the British Virgin Islands are still classified as a “British Overseas Territory” and, for the most part, subject to the legal policies of the UK, psilocybin laws are much more relaxed in the BVI. The psilocybin molecule is technically illegal in the BVI, but naturally growing Psilocybe mushrooms are legal to pick and possess. And, several species can be found in abundance. The sale and cultivation of mushrooms for commercial purposes is prohibited. But, laws are loosely enforced and they are openly sold throughout the country, with some smaller islands like Tortola. This little island is famous for its psychedelic full moon parties and quickly building a reputation as a psychedelic tourism destination.
Jamaica is one of the few countries in the world where both Psilocybin (the molecule) and Psilocybe Mushrooms are fully legal to cultivate, possess, and sell. This policy has undoubtedly contributed to the thriving tourism industry of the island, and there are several businesses offering world-renowned psychedelic retreats that are excellently complemented by the beauty of the island and its relaxing atmosphere.
Cambodia is a prime destination for ethnobotanists, people who study plants or fungi for religious uses, and mycologists, those who study mushrooms. Several species of psilocybe were first documented in this South Asian nation, and some of the largest psychedelic mushrooms on record have been found growing here. Despite their natural occurrence psilocybe mushrooms (and the psilocybin molecule) are illegal in Cambodia. Penalties are much less severe than neighboring Thailand, as people allegedly avoid charges through bribing officers — or so they say.
It is easy for tourists to obtain mushrooms (along with many other drugs) via roadside vendors, markets, and bars. If you are traveling in Cambodia (and bear the obvious hallmarks of a tourist) it is highly likely that you will be offered drugs, and if they’re not trying to set you up in some way, it’s likely mushrooms will be among the substances offered. The most popular form of sale and consumption in Cambodia is “trippy shakes” that offer both physical refreshment, mental rejuvenation, and relaxation — in a picturesque, tropical setting no less!
The Czech Republic
Psilocybin (the molecule) is illegal in the Czech Republic. But, Psilocybe mushrooms are decriminalized and cultivation is allowed for personal use. Depending on the circumstances, minor offenders may be required to attend addiction therapy classes, while jail time is reserved for the possession of large quantities with the intent to distribute.
Psilocybin (the molecule) and dried Psilocybe mushrooms are illegal in Iceland, as part of the nations required adherence to UN policies. Like many countries where certain species (like psilocybe semilanceata) of the mushrooms grow naturally, however, picking and possessing fresh mushrooms is allowed. During the fall season (September-October) it is common to see Icelanders taking advantage of this policy and picking mushrooms from the roadside, mulched garden beds, and fertile landscaped areas where they grow.
Psilocybin (the molecule) and Psilocybe mushrooms are both illegal in India. But, the rapid population growth in recent years combined with a lack of communications infrastructure and law enforcement resources have resulted in police departments, particularly in rural areas and smaller cities, not knowing shrooms are prohibited. Law enforcement is also typically unable to identify or confirm if a mushroom contains psilocybin. In certain areas of the country (such as Vattakanaland Kerala) mushrooms are quite prevalent and easy to obtain either online, or through cab drivers, markets, and roadside vendors.
Psilocybin (the molecule) and Psilocybe mushrooms are illegal in Israel when intended for consumption. But spores and grow kits are legal for research purposes. Israel has recently become a world leader in exploring the medical applications of psychedelics. It was the first nation to approve an MDMA therapy program aimed at treating PTSD, which affects over 10 percent of the population, likely due to mandatory military service and the serious conflict in the Middle East. Scientists in Israel are also exploring the safety and efficacy of psilocybin as a treatment for a broad range of conditions — from depression to anxiety— through its ego-dampening effects.
Psilocybin (the molecule) is illegal in Italy, as it is consistent with UN policy. Psilocybe mushrooms, on the other hand, are decriminalized. Although the mushrooms are decriminalized, potential administrative sanctions, such as the loss of your driver’s license or required therapy or counseling, can be applied to those caught with shrooms. Grow kits and spores are legal to buy, sell and possess, however.
Psilocybin (the molecule) and Psilocybe mushrooms are illegal in Laos. Laws are loosely enforced if caught possessing small amounts. But, severe penalties — as in, life in prison or execution — can happen if one is caught with large amounts. So, if you’re charged with intent to sell, Laos has laws similar to Thailand. Mushrooms can be found growing naturally in abundance, however, and are often sold to tourists in either dried or “shake” form.
Portugal decriminalized the possession of all drugs in 2001. Penalties still exist for the production and distribution of psilocybin mushrooms, and individuals caught with personal amounts may be required to undergo rehabilitation or therapy.
Currently, psilocybin (the molecule) and Psilocybe mushrooms are legal in Samoa. Unfortunately, there are government plans to make both illegal.
Psilocybin (the molecule) is illegal in Spain. But, the personal possession and consumption of Psilocybe mushrooms is decriminalized. The cultivation and sale of mushrooms is still illegal and punishable with prison time. The legality of spores and grow kits is ambiguous and prosecution is dependent on law enforcement’s ability to prove intent.
Although the mushrooms are technically illegal, their use is quite popular in certain areas of the country, like Barcelona and the island of Ibiza, which is a mecca for recreational mushroom use. There are also Multiple organizations in Spain offering psychedelic retreats.
Prior to 2017, the Thai legal structure automatically assumed that anyone caught with shrooms had intent to distribute, and therefore enforced extremely harsh penalties, including the death penalty. Thankfully, these laws were amended in 2017, and new drug classification was put into place.
Naturally occuring drugs like cannabis, kratom, and Psilocybin mushrooms were changed to Category 5 where lighter penalties are applied, such as a fine or short prison sentence. Drugs like cocaine and heroin, which are in Category 2, still bear the penalty of death or life in prison.
Although mushrooms are illegal, they are extremely prevalent in Thailand, with vendors on certain islands like Koh Samui and Koh Phangan who sell “happy shakes,” or shroom milkshakes and fruit smoothies. The proprietors of many bars, shops, and markets throughout Thailand will often offer cannabis and mushrooms to tourists before the customer even has the chance to ask!
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