Illicit Market for Psilocybin Comes Out in the Open – But Are We Ready?

Psilocybin trips are not just a variant on cannabis highs.

Decriminalization efforts across various states and the legalization of psilocybin and other psychedelics in two U.S. states have fired up the illicit markets to sell consumable versions of psilocybin.

Psilocybin-infused gummies, chocolates, honey, tea, and other assorted cannabis-like concoctions are readily available out in the open in places like the Shroom House magic mushroom shop in downtown Portland, Oregon, where there have been lines out the door despite the sales not yet being legal. The Oregon Health Authority will begin accepting applications for psilocybin manufacturer licenses on Jan. 2, 2023.

But while the alternate-lifestyle consuming public may think that magic mushrooms are no big deal – the thinking being that they are basically a different sort of high than cannabis – the reality is far different.

While very strong cannabis can create some of the same “trippy” moments described while experiencing a psilocybin trip – bendy street signs, spongy sidewalks, or talking clouds, for example – a psilocybin trippy experience can be much stronger and last much longer.

And there are other problems with an unregulated psychedelic product, such as how much is the right dose, and what specific psilocybin mushroom is inside your gummy?

Dosages of mushrooms vary depending on the species, its state of preservation, if they are fresh or dried, and other factors. Adjusting the dosage of mushrooms is always imprecise. Plus there are more than 180 varieties of mushrooms that contain psilocybin and psilocin, at varying levels of concentration.

While an actual physical overdose is unlikely, taking too many magic mushrooms could lead to serious psychological symptoms, such as intense panic attacks, extreme paranoia, delusional thinking, and other just bad juju.

As more under-the-table illicit market psilocybin products make the rounds, the “magic” of magic mushrooms has been coming under more scientific scrutiny. There are still issues with how it works, how that effect can be different from one person to another, and how there may be interactions with other psychiatric drugs to consider before a consumer slices off a bit of that magic mushroom chocolate bar just purchased from the dude hanging out by the local cannabis dispensary.

The concerns also arise from the possibility for a dangerous health surprise, such as the case of a 15-year-old who developed symptomatic acute kidney injury after ingesting magic mushrooms he grew from a spore “grow kit.” About two days after eating the mushroom, he experienced nausea, abdominal discomfort, and lower back pain.

Emergency room doctors have taken steps to handle psilocybin “poisoning” cases, noting that the entire poisoning episode usually subsides in 6-8 hours. “Some symptoms may take up to several days to fully resolve. Benzodiazepines may be used for sedation and treatment of panic attacks, hallucinations, and seizures. Psychiatric consultation and evaluation may be needed for persistent psychotic symptoms.”

Doctors are standing by for the inevitable rush of ER admissions when small children begin eating psilocybin gummies and chocolates purchased from the illicit market, just like what happened in the early days of cannabis legalization in Colorado.

Back then, the number of children’s hospital visits and regional poison control case rates for marijuana exposure increased between the two years prior to and the two years after legalization, according to an investigational report in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Almost half of the patients seen in the children’s hospital in the two years after legalization had exposures from recreational marijuana.

Dave Hodes

David Hodes is a business journalist based in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. He has contributed feature articles to several cannabis and psychedelics publications, as well as general business/lifestyle publications, on a variety of topics. Hodes was selected as 2018 Journalist of the Year by Americans for Safe Access. He is a member of the National Press Club, and the deputy booking agent for the National Press Club Headliners Committee.


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