The Netherlands has long been a place with relaxed drug laws. It wasn’t long ago that you could walk straight into a smart shop and walk out with a box of psilocybe mushrooms.
Psilocybin and psilocin are the active ingredients in these mushrooms, they are what make these mushrooms psychoactive. Since December 2008 these two substances have been placed on the so-called ‘Opiumwet’ (or opium law). This means that their possession, sale are illegal. Small amounts for personal use likely result in no more than their confiscation. It however also means they fall in the same category as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. This despite the health effects never having been proven as comparable.
If you walk into a smart shop these days you will still find some legal ways around this. Truffles (or sclerotia) are still allowed. Kits for growing your own mushrooms are still allowed as well. This strange loophole in the law exists because truffles and the spores inside grow kits are technically not mushrooms. Though these truffles, spores and mushrooms are all related, it is only when they grow above ground or are dried that they are illegal.
How did we end up with such an unusual law? The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (shortened to RIVM in dutch) is in charge of assessing and monitoring the risks of drugs and advising on how to regulate them. In 2000 as well as in 2007, a year before the ban, research was conducted in the medical and social risks of the increasingly popular ‘magic mushroom’. They concluded that there is no addictive potential, and only a slight risk of toxicity. Flashbacks and panic attacks are noted as the most serious side effects. Though the users of these mushrooms are less coordinated, there is no proof that they are in any way more aggressive or inclined to disturb the public order. Most people enjoy themselves at home. The main risk was related to a lack of quality control in the legal market. In their report from the year 2000 it was already advised that some controls be introduced to inform the buyer of how much of what substance the product contains. Little was done with this advice.
Tourists were judged to be the main problem. From 2005 to 2007 the Amsterdam medical services were called out on 70 occasions due to the use of magic mushrooms. Out of those 63 were tourists. So why not just inform tourists better? Why not ban it or make it harder to get for tourists?
The final RIVM report came out in June of 2007. Just in March of that year an incident came to national attention. A seventeen year old tourist from France had consumed some mushrooms and committed suicide by jumping off of a museum. A national debate ensued where the legality of psilocybin became a dominant topic. This led to their ban just a year and a half later. All of this occurred despite the revelation that the tourist was suffering from schizophrenia and had used more drugs than simply just mushrooms.
One death not directly attributed to psilocybe mushrooms, and they are banned. Eight years prior a national institution had already warned that consumers needed to be informed better. How could this occur not long after establishing that there are little to no health or social risks attached to this drug. Meanwhile tobacco, alcohol, and fast food have been proven to be more disastrous yet are still readily available, in just about every single city, town, and roadside stop.
This overreaction of course reveals the deeply held stigma against psychedelic drugs. It is clear that many do not understand what they are, let alone how to help people use them safely. We hope to break such a dogma, advising you on how to stay safe and legal when exploring your own mind.
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