Holland's psychedelic fungus dealers have a message for UK citizens: Buy our drugs.
"Customers of ours are being scared by your police and customs," complained one supplier, who asked for his name to be withheld over email. "They are wrong. But no one dares to confront the authorities with their misunderstanding."
While magic mushrooms have been illegal in the Netherlands since 2008, after a tragic accidental death soured the scene, their subterranean cousins, magic truffles, managed to escape the ban. Despite the fact they're the same species, contain the same psychoactive chemicals and have the same effect on the brain, they're not technically "mushrooms"—which, as any mycology nerd will tell you, refers only to the part of the fungus you can see—and so the head shops of Amsterdam have been doing a roaring trade in them ever since.
Which is great news for the Dutch. But can they really be legally shipped to Britain? Or could it be that anonymous internet drug dealers aren't actually all that trustworthy?
Buying magic truffles is easy enough. Unlike shopping for illegal drugs on the so-called dark net, there's no need for pesky crypto-currencies or anonymizing web browsers. A quick trip to any site selling truffles opens up a world of brand names and bumper deals.
"Utopia," "Pandora," and "Atlantis"—fancy names for products that are all essentially just hunks of mold–can be ordered in quantities ranging from pocket-size ten gram portions all the way up to two kilogram dealer starter kits. There are "Fun Packs," "Party Packs," and even "Family Packs," for the families that like to sit in a room together, gently rubbing their own skin and talking about the boundaries of perception for the better part of a weekend.
Buried within the pages of product descriptions, recommended doses, and rapturous customer reviews ("The best thing I've ever bought!"), there are one or two suggestions that, legally speaking, things might not be entirely above board.
"We find Magic Truffles very special," writes one supplier. "You probably do to [sic]. Unfortunately not everyone agrees with us. To avoid any uncomfortable situations, we will send the Magic Truffles discreetly..."
"Uncomfortable situations" like, for instance, getting locked up for a decade or so for conspiracy to import class A drugs?
"We do not know which products are legal in other countries," is how one site's FAQ dismisses such concerns. "Fortunately Magic Truffles do not look suspicious at all. Unknowing people will never know that this refers to 'drugs'." And, writes another supplier, "We don't usually have any problems shipping within the EU."
The courts aren't exactly bursting with people being disciplined for possession of psychedelic sclerotia. In fact, the only examples of truffle-related crime I can dig up have to do with the very expensive edible variety. Reassured, I take a party pack of Psilocybe tampanesis (a.k.a. "philosopher's stones") to the online checkout, pay, and wait to see what happens.
In a few days, a bulky parcel arrives at my door, a brightly colored container within. A handful of earthy little tumors, none of them larger than a baby's fist, spill out. They look cute. Truffles, biologically speaking, are just very frightened fungi: They take on the form as a survival tactic, to avoid fires and other natural hazards. They seem like harmless little things. But, legally, what sort of damage could they do?
"In the UK, fungus of any kind which contains psilocin or an ester of psilocin is controlled as a class A drug," says Kirstie Douse, Head of Legal Services at the drug law charity Release. "Psilocin is the active substance in psilocybin mushrooms. The 'magic truffles' are a fungus, so there is absolutely no difference between the legality of these and 'magic mushrooms.'"
That drug dealers are out of touch with the law shouldn't be a surprise, but it does seem a little irresponsible to offer so little warning when the consequences for customers could be dire. In the UK, mere possession of a class A drug can land you "up to seven years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both."
As various criminologists have suggested, the word of the law is often irrelevant. In many cases, the only thing that really matters is how likely you are to get caught. From what Tony Saggers, Head of Drugs Threat at the National Crime Agency, tells me, magic truffles do not seem to feature very high up on the list of police priorities.
"A wide range of illicit drugs are acquired from the Netherlands to transport to the UK via a range of means," says Saggers. "We are aware of the trade from the Netherlands of mushrooms and truffles containing psilocybin. However, current intelligence suggests that this is sporadic, on a small scale, and not facilitated by organized criminal networks."
That said, according to Saggers, anyone unlucky enough to have his or her truffles sniffed out will still be crushed by the full weight of the law.
"The NCA works with Border Force and a range of international partners to combat the trafficking of drugs to the UK, including the use of parcels and the postal system," he says. "Despite demand being low for psilocybin, compared with drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, heroin, and synthetics, the NCA and our partners would treat any discovery of this drug being imported as a crime and deal with those identified as being involved accordingly."
Ali Kucuksen, one of the Truffle Brothers, Holland's foremost psychedelic fungus suppliers, offers a very different perspective. Whether or not the average border official is even capable of recognizing these obscure growths as illegal drugs is, he says, possibly irrelevant. The big secret is that they don't seem to care.
"Within Europe, the knowledge that we have an excellent psychedelic replacement available is slowly spreading," says Kucuksen. "Mostly our parcels arrive on time in the right place. It seems that some governments have no problem with the consumption of this harmless product; it's just that they don't want it out in the open. We simply try to be the best in making people happy with a good product, and especially with providing good information about the product for a safe trip. After all, it is a recreational drug."
Are the forces of law and order secretly conspiring to let magic truffles into the country? Or are they just ignorant of the facts? Without going out and waving my stash under a cop's nose, it's hard to tell. What is clear is that Britain's attitude towards psychedelic drugs is changing significantly and, in one way or another, the law is going to have to catch up.
According to government figures, the number of people reporting psychedelic drug use has risen by 175 percent in the last couple of years. As the possible therapeutic benefits of such drugs—in treating PTSD, depression, addiction, and even helping the terminally ill come to terms with their mortality—become known, their continued prohibition seems increasingly strange.
If you buy magic truffles today, you will be breaking the law. But perhaps it's a law that deserves to be broken.
Follow Charlie on Twitter.