“Let’s be adults about this. These are no longer ‘shrooms.’ These are no longer party drugs for young people… Psilocybin mushrooms are nonaddictive, life-changing substances.”
This quote by Paul Stamets – mycologist, author and leading light of the psychedelic renaissance – blew up on Twitter recently as part of a CNN feature on psilocybin’s emerging therapeutic potential.
While Stamets is better placed than most to comment on the drug’s current cultural framing, he clearly hasn’t spent much time letting loose in the UK lately. Because while, yes, mushrooms are increasingly being used for therapeutic purposes, they're also evolving into a much more casual drug choice. Many mushroom users are treating them less as self-growth substances, and more as some fun choccies to break the week's shackles. But how has this happened and what does it all mean, man? I dived into the rise of the casual mushroom user to find out.
Mr Champignon (possibly not his real name) is a seasoned promoter based in London. He's noticed a shift in casual usage, noting that mushrooms are now “very common” at raves, normally taken as chocolate edibles or drops from a tincture. “10 years ago, mushrooms used to be more associated with psychedelic trance – people into house and techno probably weren’t into them,” he tells me. “Now they think they’re great.”
Oli, 32, who also wishes to remain anonymous, says that his usage has become a lot more frequent and casual. He used to be into actual trips, he says, “But it was a very rare thing, and planned with a bigger dose at someone’s house.”
Nowadays, he says, it's a lot less ceremonious. “My mates and I started buying chocolates last year and we often do smaller amounts when we go out, normally with beers and sometimes other drugs. We took two to watch Top Gun the other week – I loved it, though we missed half because we were giggling in the toilets.”
Both Nick and Mr Champignon suggest this recent surge in casual interest has its roots in the current dilution of psychedelic culture – whether it's Netflix documentaries, Instagram dealers, psychedelic festivals, Topshop tees or Harry Styles’ Rolling Stone covers. Mushrooms are no longer just for hippies and those who wish to go on spiritual journeys. They're for clubbers, pub-goers and partiers too.
James Morsh is the director of Pr, a drugs and party information organisation. He tells me that, “Mushrooms have almost become a staple in the ‘sesh diet’ in certain social circles.” He thinks the relatively new emergence of mushroom edibles – sold in fairly plain sight on social media – is driving this new, more casual wave. “Edibles are often easier to obtain [than physical mushrooms] and easier to dose – so users can do a smaller amount if they don’t want to trip too hard.”
It makes sense that people might be taking mushrooms in more casual settings, especially when we consider the recent media coverage. While newspapers might have once told us that taking psychedelics will lead us to lose our minds and jump out a window, there’s now a lot more focus on psilocybin’s positive therapeutic benefits. Maybe mushrooms no longer seem so frightening to young people?
Charlotte (not her real name), 26, uses chocolates when she goes clubbing as a less sloppy alternative to booze. “I’m not sure I’ve been influenced by media coverage – I would have taken them before the research was widely reported in the press,” she says. “But I think my own experiences – being more open to process feelings and mental health issues – anecdotally match up with the findings.” Nick agrees that, in general, the young people he sees “aren’t as interested in the medicinal side that we read about in broadsheets.”
Amy, 33, speaking anonymously, reports that she started casually using mushrooms before knowing about the research, but that “the coverage has [since] fuelled my curiosity of them and I’m keen to learn about the positive effect on mental health, relationships and general wellbeing.”
Amy adds that she normally takes shrooms in conjunction with MDMA at house parties – usually towards the end of a night. “It helps you wind down and you don’t end up needing a Xanax or Valium. There’s no comedown effect on them either.” She also points to another positive: “The most common drugs amongst my mates is gear [cocaine] but I don’t have any desire to touch that when I’m on shrooms. That’s definitely a good thing.”
An increased lack of desire to do cocaine was cited by a few others I spoke with. Oli said that “you’re also generally nicer when you’re a bit high on shrooms – compared to just being drunk and doing packet. It’s been a positive influence on our group I think.” He says he takes two or three chocolates (each 0.5g) over an evening or more at a festival – but spaces them out. “That way you stay high but aren’t too weird.”
I managed to get hold of a couple of mushroom sellers. “The demographic of buyers has changed, particularly in the past three years,” says Harry (not his real name). “Previously they were predominantly bought by people over 40, usually hippies.”
Harry sells chocolates on what he calls a “small scale”. “Now I'm having people of all age ranges and backgrounds purchasing them. I think a lot of the younger generation (18-25) are getting into semi-frequent use due to the 'safer' nature,” he adds. I spoke to another, Maria, who told me that she’d recently had three different lads purchase larger amounts of dried mushrooms to make edibles before a stag-do.
Of course, taking magic mushrooms for a bit of easy fun is definitely not a new concept and these sorts of amounts have been typically labeled a “museum dose” in the past. But the Great British stag-do is conventionally a warren of booze and/or crudely cut stimulants – not natural mycelium that increases our connectivity.
Regardless, just because the casual shroom user might be on the rise, doesn’t mean we don’t need to handle the experience with care (nobody wants a freakout down their local beer garden.) Just like with more intense trips, set and setting are crucial, and Nick says to start with a small dose (up to 0.5g), then see how you get on. “If you take too much it can become very overwhelming,” he says.
In general though, it does seem like mushrooms are now just another part of UK sesh architecture for some. And what might the knock-on effect of that be? A nicer energy, perhaps? Less people talking over each other at parties? “People doing shrooms at raves are just happy, which makes the vibe better,” says Mr Champignon. “You don’t see people getting aggressive or flopping around. I don’t have any qualms with it.”