It was an average October evening in 2005 in Dun Laoghaire Co. Dublin. As eight friends gathered for what was meant to be a party at Colm Hodkinsons flat. The party however turned to tragedy. Colm Hodkinson had bought some magic mushrooms for e25 that day to share with his friends at the party. About 30 minutes After Colm and his friends had eaten the mushrooms, Colm started to feel unwell and vomited.
According to reports Colm then had a bad reaction to the mushrooms he had taken and proceeded to run up to the roof of the apartment block and jumped to his death. This was Colms first time taking magic mushrooms. He had been told they were safe to use and harmless.
Following the tragic death of Mr Hodkinson, his family campaigned to have the sale of magic mushrooms banned in any form. They meet with the then Tanaiste Mary Harney in December of 2005. And as a result of that meeting as of the 31st of January 2006 the government under the misuse of drugs act 1977 made it a criminal offence to posses or sell magic mushrooms in Ireland.
But is this not something of an over reaction by the government. The whole treatment of this substance has been vastly disproportionate to the amount of deaths it is actually responsible for in Ireland. The two drugs responsible for the largest number of Deaths in Ireland are alcohol and tobacco and these can be legally bought throughout the country.
This trend of governments across Europe banning the sale and possession of magic mushrooms based on one individual tragedy is becoming increasingly common. In the United Kingdom they implemented a similar law in 2005 when, 31-year-old man Robert McCracken jumped to his death from the 23rd floor of his apartment complex in Manchester.
Mr. McCracken became agitated after consuming some Magic Mushrooms, and had became paranoid that a taxi driver may be chasing him into his flat because of an unpaid taxi fair. Speaking at the inquest into his death his girlfriend Miss Gascoyne said “I don’t think it was suicide there was no indication that he would do something like that, it was the effect of the mushrooms”
Later that year the British government moved to make magic mushrooms a controlled substance and it became illegal from April 2005, and was classified as a class A drug.
What came as a surprise to many people this year was the decision of the Netherlands, which has the most liberal drug laws in Europe to ban the sale of magic mushrooms. This change in the law followed the death of a 17 year old French girl who was on a school trip to Amsterdam in March of 2007.
The Dutch government took this step after, according to police reports she had jumped off the Nemo building in Amsterdam. This is a famous building in the city that is a popular place for tourists to visit. Speaking after their daughter’s death the parents of the girl said that they “hold the state responsible for her death, because the sale of mushrooms is legal.”From the 1st of December 2008 magic mushrooms were made illegal in Holland.
With the sale of magic mushrooms becoming prohibited throughout more European countries the only thing governments will have achieved is to push the profits from the sale of mushrooms back into the pockets of drug dealers.
The major problem for the government is that the banning of magic mushrooms will not stop its supply or use and may lead to more problems in the long term. As Joep Oomen of the European Coalition for just and effective drug polices said “prohibition will not stop the sale of hallucinogenics, it will move towards an illegal market and users will be forced to start using things they do not want, with having no indication of the dosage and the risks.”
However although magic mushrooms have been attributed to very few deaths in Ireland, it must still be remembered that they are a drug that can be very harmful. Magic mushrooms contain psilocin and psilocybin . These compounds are psychedelics. They will cause an effect similar to a “trip” on LSD. Loss of reality may be experienced and severe anxiety and paranoia can occur.
The oldest representations of hallucinogenic mushrooms in the world are in The Sahara Desert. They were produced 7000-9000 years ago. The idea that the use of hallucinogens should be a source of inspiration for some forms of prehistoric rock art is not a new one. After a brief examination of instances of such art, this article intends to focus its attention on a group of rock paintings in the Sahara Desert, the works of pre-neolithic Early Gatherers, in which mushrooms effigies are represented repeatedly. The ritualistic scenes of harvest, adoration and the offering of mushrooms, to large masked gods covered with mushrooms, not to mention other significant details, lead archeologists to think that they were dealing with an ancient hallucinogenic mushroom cult. What is remarkable about these ethno -mycological works, produced 7,000 – 9,000 years ago, is that they could indeed reflect the most ancient human culture as yet documented in which the ritual use of hallucinogenic mushrooms is explicitly represented.
Further evidence in support of the idea that the relationship between Man and hallucinogens is an ancient one comes from the ancient populations of the Sahara desert who inhabited this vast area when it was still covered with an extensive layer of vegetation. The archeological findings consist of prehistoric paintings which the author in Algeria. This could be the most ancient finding up to the present day, and shows culturally how important these hallucinogens were to ancient civilisations.
Magic Mushrooms have long been compared to cannabis as being a “gateway drug” that leads users on to harder drugs. Jennifer Brennan from the Ana Liffey Drug project said that she thinks “the prospect of the government relaxing any law that controls illegal drugs is a bad idea” she also said that “recovering addicts have enough problems trying to stay clean without legal hallucinogens being available”. The organisation based in north inner city Dublin is a project that works with people, experiencing addiction to minimise the harm that problematic drug use causes. Mrs Brennan finished by saying that she “supported the Irish government’s decision to ban magic mushrooms”.
This is a view that has angered the many owners of Head shops throughout Ireland, these shops had made a good trade from the selling of magic mushrooms. The Manager of the Nirvana head shop on Capel Street, Dublin John McDonald said that he “thinks the government making magic mushrooms illegal was a complete over-reaction”. Mr McDonald added that “he knows that the availability of mushrooms have no connection to the use of harder drugs in Ireland.”
Although government policy has lead to magic mushrooms being branded as a harmful drug there has been new research conducted at the John Hopkins University in America. That may change the way the medical community looks at hallucinogenic mushrooms. The researches argue that therapeutic potential can be found in hallucinogenic drugs. And that their use in the treatment of medical problems such as, depression, drug addiction and chronic pain should be re-examined.
The study involved 30 middle-aged volunteers who had religious or spiritual interests. The volunteers attended two eight-hour sessions, two months apart, where they were given psilocybin the active ingredient in magic mushrooms at one session and the non-hallucinogen Ritalin at the other; they were not told which drug was which. The study reports that in more than 60 per cent of cases the experience with psilocybin qualified as a full mystical experience based on established psychological states. Eight out of ten of the volunteers reported moderately or greatly increased well being or life satisfaction.
Figures from the Irish Health research board from 2005 show that there were 59 deaths that were directly because of alcohol consumption in that year. Hallucinogens are the cause of so few deaths in Ireland that they are bracketed with barbiturates hallucinogens, cannabis and other chemicals. And in 2005 these combined substances resulted in only 6 deaths.
Further statistics from the office of Tobacco Control in Ireland; show that smoking is thought to be the cause of approximately 6,000 deaths in Ireland every year. And that around 30 per cent of all cancer deaths in Ireland are attributed to smoking. Figures on the cost to the state to provide health services for smokers from the OTC state that it cost’s 1 billion euro a year.
The problem with figures like these is it shows how in relation to one incident the government moved to make hallucinogenic mushrooms illegal. Rather than addressing the larger problem of alcohol and tobacco related deaths in Ireland. If the statistics from the Health Research Board is looked at over an eight-year period from 1998 to 2005 alcohol has been connected with 24 per cent of all drug related deaths while hallucinogens have been connected with only 2 per cent of fatalities.
While it is a tragedy when anybody dies suddenly dies when taking drugs. The Irish government should focus more on educating people about drugs and there dangers rather than their regulation. As mushrooms are now banned in Ireland, because in the governments view, they expose the citizens of Ireland to an unacceptable risk, then according to this mentality alcohol and tobacco should also be made illegal as they contribute to the deaths of thousands of people every year in Ireland. However the fact the these drugs are so social acceptable makes it inconceivable that such laws will ever be passed in Ireland, regardless to the problems these legal drugs continue to cause in Irish society.