Seizures of magic mushrooms have spiked over recent years as interest in the potential benefits of psychedelics including psilocybin rose, according to the results of a new study. The study, which was conducted by researchers at NYU Langone Health, New York City, and the University of Florida, Gainesville, was published this week by the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
The study found that more than 1,800 pounds of psilocybin mushrooms were seized by law enforcement agencies across the nation in 2022, up from the nearly 500 pounds confiscated in 2017. The researchers found that the greatest number of seizures occurred in the Midwest (36.0%), followed by the West (33.5%).
The West led with the most mushrooms seized by weight over the six years covered by the study, with 4,109 pounds or 42.6% of the total, followed closely by the South with 4,039 pounds or 41.8% of the shrooms confiscated. Seizures by weight peaked in 2021 when law enforcement agencies seized about 3,400 pounds of psilocybin mushrooms.
The authors of the study, which was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), believe the increase in seizures suggests that there has been a boost in the supply of psilocybin mushrooms nationwide.
“What I think the results indicate is that shroom availability has likely been increasing,” Joseph Palamar, an epidemiologist at NYU Langone Health and the main author of the new study, told NPR.
Interest In Psychedelics Growing
Nora D. Volkow, M.D., the director of NIDA, noted that the research was conducted at a time when the potential mental health benefits of psilocybin mushrooms had received significant attention. Numerous studies have shown that psilocybin may be an effective treatment for mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, substance use disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“We are in the middle of a rapidly evolving cultural, media, and legal landscape when it comes to psychedelics, and we need data to help shape informed and appropriate public health strategies,” Volkow, who was not involved in the study, said in a statement from NIDA. “Moving forward, we must continue to track data on the availability of psychedelics, patterns in use, and associated health effects to guide efforts in promoting accurate education and reducing potential harms among people who do plan to use psychedelic drugs.”
Although the research into the benefits of psilocybin is promising, the psychedelic drug has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Volkow is concerned that the progress in studying the drug will lead people to self-medicate with psilocybin.
“Psychedelic drugs have been promoted as a potential cure for many health conditions without adequate research to support these claims,” Volkow said. “There are people who are very desperate for mental health care, and there are businesses that are very eager to make money by marketing substances as treatments or cures.”
The authors of the new study believe that all the buzz about the research into psychedelics has resulted in changing attitudes surrounding psilocybin.
“All of the positive coverage of psychedelics might be introducing the idea of using them to a new population that never really considered using them before,” Palamar told The New York Times.
Dr. Joshua S. Siegel, a psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis who was not involved in the study, said that the new research is “an important part of the bigger picture of where we are headed as a nation” with psychedelics.
“It’s important to understand what’s happening in terms of the health care side of things,” Siegel added. “It’s important to understand what’s happening recreationally and legally.”
Although psilocybin mushrooms are still illegal at the federal level except for authorized research, the legal status of shrooms is changing at the state and local levels. Many municipalities across the country have adopted policies to effectively decriminalize magic mushrooms, and both Oregon and Colorado have passed legislation to decriminalize psilocybin and legalize supervised therapeutic use of the drug.
“The greatest overall weight in seizures was out west,” Palamar said. “And I don’t think it’s coincidental that that’s where a lot of the more liberal policies are starting to take effect.”
Although psilocybin therapy can have dramatic and long-lasting mental health benefits, there are risks associated with using the drug that should be considered. Siegel explained that while psychedelics are less deadly and have a lower risk of addiction than many other drugs, psilocybin can be destabilizing, particularly for people with serious mental health conditions.
“People can partly or completely lose touch with reality and behave in irrational and potentially dangerous ways,” said Siegel.
Officials note that the risk can be great, with the most dangerous cases potentially resulting in psychosis that can lead to impulsive behavior including suicide.
“We need to be aware that the use of these drugs comes at a certain cost,” said Volkow.