Magic Mushrooms Face Ban in Netherlands

The Associated Press
Tuesday, August 7, 2007; 4:07 PM

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- The famously liberal Netherlands has been swinging toward the right, cracking down on immigration, religious freedoms and the freewheeling red light district. The next possible target? Magic mushrooms.

The death of a 17-year-old French girl, who jumped from a building after eating psychedelic mushrooms while on a school visit, has ignited a campaign to ban the fungi _ sold legally at so-called "smartshops" as long as they're fresh.

Regulation of mushrooms is even less stringent than Holland's famously loose laws on marijuana, which is illegal but tolerated in "coffee shops" that are a major tourist attraction.

Gaelle Caroff's parents blamed their daughter's death in March on hallucinations brought on by the mushrooms, although the teenager had suffered from psychiatric problems in the past. Photographs of her beautiful, youthful face have been splashed across newspapers around the country.

In May, Health Minister Ab Klink ordered the national health institute to perform a new study on the risks of mushrooms. Depending on the conclusions, which are due next month, he said he would either recommend that mushroom sales be limited to those over 18 or impose a total ban.

A 1971 U.N. convention on psychotropic substances banned psilocybin, the main active ingredient in mushrooms, in its purified form. But the legal status of mushrooms themselves was long unclear. Over the last six years, they have been outlawed in Denmark, Japan, Britain and Ireland. It is also illegal to sell psilocybin-containing mushrooms in all U.S. states, but the status of spores, homegrown and wild species varies from state to state.

Peter Van Dijk, a researcher at the Netherlands' independent Trimbos Institute of Mental Health and Addiction, said in an interview last week that the mushrooms themselves are not a health threat because they are neither addictive nor toxic.

However, people who take them may hurt themselves or others, he said. The risks grow if mushrooms are combined with alcohol or cannabis, or if people already have psychiatric problems.

"They really shouldn't use mushrooms because that can trigger psychosis," he said.

A study published in January by Amsterdam's health services said the city's emergency services were summoned 148 times to deal with a negative reaction to mushrooms in 2004-2006. Of those, 134 were foreigners, with Britons forming the largest group.

Dutch government data suggest most mushrooms sold in smartshops are eaten by tourists. Since Caroff's death, other dramatic stories involving foreigners have been reported in the Dutch press:

_ A 22-year-old British tourist ran amok in a hotel, breaking his window and slicing his hand.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Associated Press