Psilocybin: Legal consequences

Last modified: Saturday, 20. June 2009 - 3:03 pm

Legal consequences of Psilocybin

Under the Controlled Substance Act, psilocybin is a Schedule I drug. This means that psilocybin has a high potential for abuse, has no accepted medical use in the United States, and lacks acceptance as being safe for use under medical supervision. Schedule I drugs are subject to the tightest controls. While Psilocybe mushrooms are not specifically listed in the federal law, the two primary psychoactive chemicals, psilocybin and psilocin, are listed. Because the substances are illegal to possess, so are the fresh and dried mushrooms. Cultures at the mycelium stage when psilocybin becomes present and cultures at the mushroom stage are also illegal. Because spores do not contain psilocybin, they are legal according to federal law. However, at least one state, California, has passed a law making spores illegal to possess.

Legal history

For thousands of years Native Americans in Central and South America have used Psilocybe mushrooms in rare and sacred religious rites and ceremonies. Today, natives in these countries and in the United States use psilocybin legally in practicing their religion. Non-native Americans were not aware of the hallucinogenic effect of Psilocybe mushrooms until 1957, even though they grow naturally in many parts of the country. But in 1957, a researcher published his personal experience of eating Psilocybe mushrooms during a religious rite in Mexico. His favorable account was printed in the popular Life magazine. This account brought a great deal of interest to the Psilocybe mushrooms.
Though there was virtually no scientific research done on the drug’s side effects prior to the magazine’s story, over the next decade thousands of Americans and Europeans were willing to experiment with mushrooms. Scientists, psychologists, and researchers also started experimenting with synthetic psilocybin and Psilocybe mushrooms. As use of psilocybin increased, scientists began to see that the drug had few probable medical uses and had a high potential for abuse.
Psilocybin was legal in the United States for about a decade, but in 1968 it was made illegal. In 1970, in response to the epidemic proportions of drug use, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act was passed. The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) listed psilocybin as a Schedule I hallucinogen, which is the most restricted drug category.
In 2002, psilocybin is once again gaining popularity. It is found at raves, on college campuses, and in clubs. Psilocybe mushroom seizures at raves are becoming more common. In the past, policing efforts were more difficult because if mushrooms were ground to a powder it was difficult to identify them as Psilocybe mushrooms. A new DNA test for mushrooms has helped solve this problem. Also, Psilocybe mushrooms are fairly easy to cultivate. In 1999, Orange County, California law enforcement officers seized Psilocybe mushrooms valued at one million dollars from a college student’s apartment. As the spores are not illegal except in a few states such as California, they are fairly easy to access. But once the spores become mycelium or mushrooms, they are illegal to possess. This little window of “legal” status makes law enforcement more difficult.
The United Nations standard on psilocybin allows for possession of fresh mushrooms, but not dried mushrooms. Most countries that are members of the United Nations follow this standard. However, Japan allows dried mushrooms to be sold legally.

Federal guidelines, regulations, and penalties

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 and 1988 set forth federal mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. According to the Federal Trafficking Penalties, first offense penalties for anyone who manufactures, dispenses, distributes, or possesses psilocybin is imprisonment for up to 20 years. If a death or serious injury is involved there is a mandatory minimum sentence of not less than 20 years, but not to exceed a life sentence. Individuals can also be fined up to one million dollars. In the case of a second offense, offenders can receive up to a 30-year prison sentence. If a death or serious injury is involved, there is a mandatory minimum life sentence. Individuals can also be fined up to two million dollars.

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