N.S. mushroom lucrative, but potentially dangerous
Wild hallucinogens can be harmful, but easily produced indoors
December 3, 2014, 12:13 PM AST
Last updated December 13, 2014, 12:09 AM AST
“Last time we did them, I was juggling lemons for an hour and a half,” says Kevin about consuming hallucinogenic mushrooms native to Nova Scotia. “It’s the best way to pass a lazy Saturday or Sunday,” he says. “It’s cheap, compared to the movies” and the high lasts four to eight hours, although it could last 24.
Under the influence of Liberty Caps, the user is subject to mild to extreme audio-visual hallucinations, “Everything seems very beautiful and strange… you’re stuck by all the ordinary things,” says Kevin, who requested anonymity because of the illegal nature of his activities.
Liberty Caps are two types of similar-looking mushrooms, the Psilocybe semilanceolata and the Psilocybe pelliculosa. They are commonly found in grassy pastures in Nova Scotia, in areas where cow dung fertilizes the ground. These mushrooms contain a chemical called psilocybyn, which is chemically similar to synthetic lysergic acid diethylamid — LSD.
The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act classifies Liberty Caps as a schedule 3 narcotic. Those charged with possession for the first time will be subject to a fine up to $1,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or both. For a subsequent offence, those charged with possession can receive a fine up to $2,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or both.
Liberty Caps are also hard to distinguish from other species of mushrooms. A Saint Mary’s University professor says there are considerable risks in consuming mushrooms from the wild.
“Some of them are deadly, they will kill you, and some of them might make you sick and some of them will do permanent damage to liver and kidneys,” says Dr. Doug Strongman, a mycologist and biology professor at Saint Mary’s University
Strongman says he constantly receives emails from people trying to identify a mushroom they’ve found. He says the number of physical details have to be checked is so high that photography is often not good enough for identification. According to Strongman, if you’re not an expert “you can pick the wrong one and not even know it… it’s incredibly dangerous”
Bringing the caps home
“People are mostly quite wary of walking on the field and eating something that might be poisonous,” says Robert, a recently retired magic mushroom grower and dealer who also requested anonymity because of the illegal nature of his activities. Along with his friend Kevin and a third partner, they created a small mushroom-growing operation out of their living spaces.
“You can almost grow them by accident,” says Robert. He says all that is necessary is spores (can be bought online), a substrate (any substance on which the mushroom will grow), a food source (most often cow dung) and some sort of container that can retain moisture, such as a terrarium.
“I grew them in my closet,” says Kevin. Unlike growing marijuana, Robert says “there is no light, no odor, no power usage and we can conceal it way better.”
“Profit margins could be much higher than marijuana,” says Robert. “You can scale up the grow-op in a smaller space to be more valuable.” Magic mushrooms sell $20 for 1/8 ounce and $100 to $120 for an ounce, although it can go up to $200 as prices fluctuate.
A common link between marijuana and mushrooms is the user, Robert says. He estimates that at least one quarter of marijuana users have or will “experiment” with magic mushrooms. Before retiring from the business, Robert’s clientele consisted mostly of students. Kevin says he thinks it’s becoming more popular.
The Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey suggests that 0.9 per cent of Canadians used a hallucinogen in 2012, the last year the data is available for. This number is higher than the 0.6 per cent who used hallucinogens in 2011.
Robert and Kevin retired when they had to move out of their residences. They say they hope to return to growing in a near future. This time, they want to establish a operation outdoors.
A clear and present danger
Growing hallucinogenic mushrooms in a vacuum, however, does not make them safe, says Strongman.
“Hallucinations can be very real,” he says. “Anything from jumping out of windows to attacking someone… people under the influence are unpredictable.”
“The effects on the nervous system are quite wide-ranging,” he says. He explains that the same dose can have two very different effects even for the same person, and that uncertainty had kept these chemicals away from clinical research. “A lot depends on the mental state of the user at the time.”