It’s getting cooler and wetter - ideal conditions for the emergence of fungi in New Zealand. Taking psilocybin mushrooms (aka magic mushrooms) comes with a number of risks, and that includes foraging for them.
While magic mushrooms grow wild here in New Zealand, it is a Class A drug. That means possession carries a maximum penalty of 6 months in prison, and/or a $1,000 fine.
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What’s the deal with magic mushrooms?
Magic mushrooms refers to mushrooms that contain the psychedelic psychoactive compound psilocybin. They are also known as shrooms, mushies, psilocin, psilocybin, cubensis, liberty caps, golden tops, or blue meanies.
They are usually eaten, mixed with food, or brewed like tea for drinking.
Psilocybin is a hallucinogen, meaning it can cause someone to see, hear, and feel sensations that aren’t actually real. The effects however vary between types of mushrooms and can also be impacted by environmental factors. You can find out more about it here.
The risks of foraging for mushrooms
Let’s start with the old saying, all mushrooms are edible, but some only once. Many wild mushrooms are edible, but some are deadly, and the differences between them may be so slight, even an experienced mycologist (mushroom scientist) can make a mistake.
New Zealand is home to a number of poisonous mushrooms, including the toxic death cap mushroom. Even the smallest bite is enough to kill or cause serious damage - death caps are responsible for 905 mushroom poisoning deaths.
Poisoning through eating mushrooms that are similar in appearance to magic mushrooms are not uncommon. The haymaker’s mushroom (Panaeolina foenisecii) and Galerina spp. are just two of the many little brown mushrooms (lbms) that have been mistaken for magic mushrooms.
Never try to identify a mushroom yourself – only an experienced mycologist can properly identify a mushroom. There have been some serious mushroom poisonings in New Zealand which could have been avoided if people had been properly informed.
Symptoms of mushroom poisoning
Symptoms of mushroom poisoning can occur rapidly, or are sometimes delayed by hours or even days after eating, when the toxins have begun to attack the liver and other organs.
Certain species can cause dizziness, drowsiness, dilated pupils, or muscle spasms. Other species cause severe vomiting and diarrhoea, and sharp abdominal pain. And some, like the death cap, can cause death.
It is very important not to wait for symptoms to occur, and to take the person to a doctor as soon as possible after ingestion. Keeping a piece of the mushroom can help with identifying the right course of action.
The National Poisons Centre has some helpful resources for dealing with mushrooms. If someone has eaten an unknown mushroom, immediately call them on 0800 POISON / 0800 764 766 for specific advice on what to do. Don’t wait for symptoms to start!
If you’re worried about your own drinking or drug taking, you can reach out to the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797, or text 8681. You'll be able to speak with a trained counsellor who can provide you with helpful information, insight and support. They’re available 24/7, all calls are free and confidential. You can also chat to the Alcohol Drug Helpline team online through the website.
Photo © Richard Tehan