Feb 6, 2024 - Health

Magic mushroom busts rose as psychedelics gained favor

Illustration of a mushroom surrounded by swirling ballot shapes and colors

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

While the active ingredient in magic mushrooms is gaining acceptance as a behavioral health treatment, law enforcement seizures of the substance increased nearly 3.5 times from the beginning of 2017 through 2022, according to a new National Institutes of Health-funded study.

Why it matters: The increase underscores the fast-changing legal landscape around psychedelics and suggests availability of the tightly regulated substances may be increasing.

What they found: Psilocybin, the main psychoactive component in "shrooms," was the target of 1,396 seizures in 2022 totaling 1,861 pounds, compared with 402 seizures in 2017 that netted 498 pounds, per the research published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

  • The most seizures occurred in the Midwest (36%), followed by the West (33.5%).
  • Because possession has been increasingly decriminalized at the state level, the findings may be a sign that more people are turning to psilocybin for non-medical or recreational use.
  • Psilocybin is thought to be the most consumed plant-based psychedelic, with 11.3% of people age 12 and over reporting having ever used it in 2022.

The researchers said the findings point to a need for more prevention and harm reduction efforts.

  • "While psilocybin is by no means the most dangerous drug, recreational use can come with unforeseen risks such as bad trips" said lead author Joseph Palamar, an associate professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, adding extensive media coverage may lead some people to seek shrooms outside of medical settings.

Catch up quick: The Food and Drug Administration hasn't approved psilocybin for the treatment of any condition or disease.

  • But the agency last year laid out first-time guidance for psychedelic drug trials that could lead to the mainstreaming of hallucinogenic substances as behavioral health treatments.
  • There are signs psilocybin can treat substance use disorders and depression, and psychedelics as a group have avoided some of the controversy that surrounded medical marijuana.

What they're saying: "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," said National Institute on Drug Abuse director Nora Volkow.

  • "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."
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