To understand why magic mushrooms are illegal, we need to look at the history of mushrooms in Canada and the United States.
Where did shrooms first come from?
Some historians cite North African and European cave paintings from as early as 9000 BCE that may depict magic mushrooms. Aztec rituals used a hallucinogenic substance they called the flesh of the gods which very well could have been shrooms. So while we can assume ancient civilizations were tripping balls, we definitely know it spread to the United States and Canada in the 20th century, thanks to an executive at JP Morgan bank on vacation. Gordon Wasson was a successful banker and major mushroom enthusiast, and was travelling through Mexico when he learned about shrooms. He wrote about his experience in Life magazine with an article entitled “Seeking the Magic Mushroom.” Thus a drug was named and inserted into Western consciousness.
In the late 50s, in an effort to study the drug, American scientists enlisted the help of Swiss scientist Albert Hoffman, commonly known as the father of LSD. He was the first person to extract the psilocybin from the shrooms Gordon brought back from Oaxaca and designate it as the chemical fuelling the psychedelic experience.
What was the Harvard Psilocybin Project?
In the summer of 1960 counterculture and psychedelic icon Timothy Leary read the life article and magic mushrooms and decided to head down to Mexico to try some magic mushrooms firsthand. There he had a mushroom taking experience that permanently altered his life, claiming that he learned more about his brain and self five hours being phased in he had through 15 years of academia.
When he returned to Harvard University, he created the Harvard psilocybin project, which conducted experiments based around psychedelic drugs fuelled by Leary’s beliefs drugs lead to higher states of consciousness.
How did mushrooms become a popular psychedelic?
Alan Ginsberg heard they were giving out free drugs and linked up with Leary. He became such a fan of psychedelics he told famous friends like writer Jack Kerouac and jazz musician Charles Mingus, who quickly spread the word and the fungus in the 1960s.
In the mid 1960s Larry got sacked from Harvard, but began distributing psychedelics throughout the country during the height of the hippie movement. In 1970 magic mushrooms were made illegal in the US. After this, writer and ethnobotanist Terence McKenna released his book “Psilocybin Magic Mushrooms Grower Guide” in which he states that growing your own shrooms is only slightly more complicated than selling or making jelly and delivers a step by step guide on how to do it. Ever since then shrooms have become a permanent fixture in the American hallucinogenic landscape.
When did shrooms become illegal in Canada?
In 1986 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that mushrooms are a drug and people who harvest or use them can be charged. Farmers in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island acted as somewhat of a catalyst for the Supreme Court decision because there were wild magic mushrooms growing on their property that psychedelic experience seekers would come to harvest. The farmers and local legislators tried several different strategies to try and warn the shroom harvesters off, including tightening up trespassing laws and introducing heavy fines and jail terms.
Who was Barry Dunn?
Barry Dunn was a man approached in a bar by undercover mounties who sold a one pound bag of mushrooms to them. His lawyer argued that the Food and Drug Act outlawed the chemical psilocybin, but not the whole mushroom. The lawyer stated that, because the Food and Drug Act dealt with only manufactured drugs that selling magic mushrooms was not a criminal act.
The courts in British Columbia ruled in Dunn’s favour, but the crown fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada where the 1986 ruling made magic mushrooms illegal just like cannabis and it meant that Barry Dunn could be tried for possession. The Supreme Court also said that farmers who unknowingly have magic mushrooms growing on their land are not guilty of possession. All they need to do is destroy the mushrooms as they find them.
Are shrooms legal in the US now?
In 2018 researchers from Johns Hopkins University confirmed that magic mushrooms can have some major medicinal uses, including helping people treat PTSD, depression, anxiety, and even helping people quit smoking. In 2019, on heels of this research and the larger push for cannabis legalization, Denver, Colorado decriminalized magic mushroom use. Oakland, California decriminalized plants and fungi. There are more efforts underway in other states to try and make mushrooms legal.
Are mushrooms being studied in Canada?
Because shrooms could be a game changer in the treatment of some forms of mental health issues, researchers in British Columbia are experimenting with the use of magic mushrooms to treat patients with depression and anxiety. The use of the psychedelic drug is having a profound effect on some people who are taking part in various experiments throughout the country. Mushrooms could be the next frontier in mental health.