As the temperatures get colder and the days get shorter, the first frost of the year also brings with it something a little less than legal.
Psilocybe semilanceata, or as they’re more commonly known as magic mushrooms, are a type of mushroom that grows around Newfoundland in the colder parts of the year, most commonly found during the first frost of the winter season. Although the mushroom is not specific to the province, the legalities surrounding the consumption and distribution are the same as anywhere else in Canada.
Sgt. Geoff Green – the RCMP’s drug and organized crime awareness co-ordinator – says although the drug is not as mainstream as some other substances that are used more commonly in Newfoundland, the consumption of this particular drug can have risky side effects.
“It’s not like you see it every day, but there was a select group of individuals who were involved in it – it’s not as common as some of the other drugs we see out there these days. Especially in areas where there’s farmland and those types of environments, where the mushroom tends to grow,” he explained. “Cold, damp weather is when you see it most, so September, October, November, that’s when you see more people into it. Sometimes you’ll see people out in cow fields picking around at the ground, well, that’s sometimes what they’re doing, they’re looking for these mushrooms.”
Green says there are approximately 180 different types of mushrooms that contain the toxin found in these particular fungi. He also noted it can be rather difficult for an untrained eye to distinguish between one type and another, which can result in some dangerous situations if one were to consume the wrong kind – whether that be due to an individual’s reaction to the toxin, or simply because the particular mushroom that was consumed was in fact a different species altogether.
These mushrooms are classified as a schedule III drug under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, meaning the possession or consumption of these mushrooms can result in a person facing criminal charges and possibly jail time.
As a dual offence, possession can see a person tried by an indictable charge, which could ultimately result in one facing up to three years in jail. Under a summary conviction, a first-time offender can expect a possible six-month jail sentence or a $1,000 fine. With repeat offenders, those numbers can be doubled, resulting in one to two years behind bars.
“Personally, I’ve charged people in the past for being in possession of it. To be honest, you don’t see much trafficking of it here, but it does go on, and there have been people charged in the past for that,” Green said.
The Compass spoke with an individual who has used magic mushrooms in the past. In order to protect the individual’s identity, they preferred to remain anonymous.
He explained that the feeling he received from the drug was intense, but not something he found himself seeking out again after taking them.
“I don’t take them often – it’s not like a regular thing for me. To be honest, I didn’t eat any at all last year, and it might be the same again this year, so there was definitely no sense of addiction, or anything like that,” he said, adding with a chuckle that the flavor was nothing to write home about. “We were just having some beers, and decided to give them a shot. It was intense – I haven’t hallucinated, even though people say that that happens. Everything was just a lot more in my face, and everything was funny.
“I didn’t feel like my life was in danger, but I also don’t want people to think it’s harmless. It’s still a drug, and it’s still illegal, you know? It was an interesting experience, but not something I’d do more than, maybe, once every one or two years.”
Green also explained to The Compass that mixing mushrooms with other drugs, most commonly alcohol, was usually how such drugs were consumed, adding that the mixture of the two drugs increased the risk factor significantly.
“Most drugs that we see that are used recreationally, they’re usually taking something else with it – like alcohol,” the officer said. “We have situations where we’re dealing with a sudden death due to overdosing, and the toxicology report shows that the combination of various drugs was what ultimately killed that person.
“What happens is, whatever effect that this drugs gives, will sometimes be enhanced by the other drugs that are in the system, and that can be hard on the body. It’s very dangerous – any doctor can tell you how dangerous that is.”
While Green said the RCMP are not actively searching fields looking for people on mushroom gathering expeditions, they are always on alert for drugs of this nature, and don’t take the possession of the drug lightly, especially when the opportunity if the opportunity is there for the drug to fall into the hands of young people.
“When you’re dealing with these mushrooms, you could very well pick a mushroom that can kill you easily,” Green warned. “We have dangerous mushrooms in this province, and even if you buy what you think is these magic mushrooms, there’s still a chance that there’s a mushroom mixed in there that’s a lot more deadly and dangerous. That’s always a big concern when it comes to these things.”