Psilocybin: Usage trends

Last modified: Saturday, 20. June 2009 - 3:01 pm

Prior to 1957, mainstream Americans had rarely, if ever, heard of psilocybin mushrooms. It was only after pioneering ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson published his personal account that people began to take an interest in this mind-altering hallucinogen. His story detailed his experience of eating psilocybin mushrooms during a religious rite with Mexican natives in the Sierra Mazateca. Wasson’s publicity took place at a time when the “flower children” and drug culture of the 1960s was just beginning to take root. Thousands of people, ranging from scientists to thrill seekers and hippies, went to Mexico in search of the “magic mushroom.” These non-natives did not respect the mushrooms as being sacred. Also, at that time, people did not realize that psilocybin mushrooms grow natively around the world.
Abuse of the psilocybin mushroom continued and clinical studies were finding little evidence that psilocybin mushrooms have medical uses. This trend of increasing “recreational” use of psilocybin was similar to the pattern of drug use in America. In 1962, fewer than 2% of the United States population had tried an illicit drug. By 1979, 65% of high school seniors and 70% of young adults had tried an illicit drug.
In 1968, psilocybin 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 (CS A) created a schedule for drugs based on their medical uses and the probability of abuse. At that time, psilocybin was placed in the most restrictive category as a Schedule I hallucinogen.
The passing of the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the hippies in the 1960s combined with new findings about the toxicity of psilocybin caused the trend of Psilocybe mushroom use to stabilize and then subside by the 1980s and early 1990s. However, in the mid-1990s, there was a noticeable resurgence in psilocybin mushroom consumption. This is fueled in part by a social trend among young adults to try to recreate the 1960s. In 2002, psilocybin mushrooms are becoming more common at raves, parties, and on college campuses.
Scope and severity
According to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA), Psilocybe mushroom use is on the rise. In 1997, 10.2 million Americans had tried psilocybin. A study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that even though reported psilocybin use is rising, it might still be significantly underreported. One reason for this is that surveys often ask students if they use “psilocybin,” which is a scientific term, instead employing slang terms such as “shrooms” or “mushrooms.” The study indicated that the underreporting is not a case of students trying to conceal drug use as much as students not understanding the scientific terms in the survey. NHSDA showed that psilocybin use rose most dramatically among the 18-25 year olds. In 1997, 7.9% of this population surveyed reported using these mushrooms. Just a year later the figure jumped to 10.9%. This agrees with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) reports that psilocybin mushrooms are increasingly found on college campuses, in raves, and in clubs. The Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG), which follows drug abuse trends in 21 major metropolitan areas, indicates that psilocybin mushrooms are available in Boston, Baltimore, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Seattle.
Access to Psilocybe mushrooms is increasing. They grow naturally in the Gulf States and the Pacific Northwest. In other areas across the United States, the mushrooms are cultivated in laboratories or in homes with kits purchased over the Internet. Psilocybin mushrooms in the United States often sell for $20^-0 per one-eighth ounce.
Around the world there is a marked and renewed interest in psilocybin. Mushrooms are regaining the popularity they experienced in the 1960s and 1970s. Germany, Poland, Switzerland, and Scandinavia also report increased psilocybin use. In Canada, according to the 1999 Ontario Student Drug Use Survey, psilocybin use has increased significantly from 1997 to 1999. In Great Britain, 785 second-year medical students were surveyed. Seven percent of those surveyed reported using psilocybin. Combining this with other studies, researchers concluded that psilocybin use is increasing among the general university population as well.
In Japan, however, due to a loophole in the law, psilocybin mushrooms can be sold as long as they are not designated for human consumption. They are sold as “aroma pads” or for “decorative uses” and then openly eaten, especially among the college-aged people. Due to this popular trend, the Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Labor is considering making the mushrooms illegal.
Age, ethnic, and gender trends
According to the NHSDA, 18-25 year olds are the fastest growing group of psilocybin mushroom consumers. In one year, from 1997 to 1998, the number of lifetime users (the number of people who have ever used psilocybin in their lifetime) jumped up 38%. The younger age group of 12-17-year-olds remained the stable at 2.6% of the population. The age group of 26-34 indicated a slowing as the figure dropped from 7.9% to 7.1%. However, there was another sharp rise in the 35 and older population.
A 1999 NIDA-funded research project at John Hopkins University estimated that 14% of U.S. residents had an opportunity to try hallucinogens, including psilocybin. The vast majority of those who used the drug transitioned from first opportunity to first use within one year. The study indicates that the probability of making this transition is increasing, especially for hallucinogens. This study indicates that the age of first use is directly related to the age of first opportunity.
Race and ethnicity is a factor in hallucinogen use. This is especially apparent in 18-25-year-olds, a category in which whites were more than 10 times as likely to report lifetime hallucinogen use as blacks. In this same age group, Hispanic use of hallucinogens was also greater than that of blacks. This relationship exists for all age groups surveyed except in the two older age groups (26-34 and 35 and older). In this case, there was no difference in reported lifetime use between Hispanics and blacks.
In the adult age groups, males were twice as likely as females to report lifetime and past-year use of hallucinogens. In the age group of 12-17, there was no significant gender difference. The 1999 NID A-funded research project at John Hopkins University indicated that males have more opportunities to try hallucinogens, but were not more likely than females to progress to actual use once the opportunity presented itself. Research done by the National Poison Control Center determined that women in its survey at raves in the United Kingdom reported a higher consumption of psilocybin than men.
There is no single predictor of psilocybin use. Since the mid-1990s, psilocybin mushrooms have gained broader acceptance as a “natural” hallucinogen. Young people, especially the rave crowd, misinterpret a “naturally” occurring drug as a “safe” drug. Many are unaware of the adverse side effects that can come from an overdose, repeated use, or even a single exposure. The more a person views a drug as socially acceptable or safe, the more likely that person is to use the drug. Additionally, availability greatly affects a person’s decision to use. Psilocybin is now easily accessible for 18-25-year-olds who attend colleges and rave clubs. Generally, psilocybin is not the first drug that is tried by a person. Usually, alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana, which are more readily available and more socially acceptable, are tried first as “gateway drugs.” Finally, family and friends can influence a person’s decision to use psilocybin. According to the National Poison Control Center, psilocybin was accessed through friends more than any other source.

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