Home > Emerging drug trends in Europe: a case study of hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Sinclair, Hamish (2006) Emerging drug trends in Europe: a case study of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 19, Autumn 2006, p. 19.

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To mark International Day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking (26 June), the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) published a thematic paper entitled ‘Hallucinogenic mushrooms: an emerging trend case study’.1 This paper is the first in a series of reports to be published under a new EMCDDA pilot project to explore the capacity in EU member states and the EMCDDA to detect, track and understand emerging drug trends in Europe. The project is called European Perspectives on Drugs, or E-POD for short.

The detection and tracking of emerging drug trends demand a different approach to that of the traditional key epidemiological indicators2 used for monitoring the main types of drug use. While the key indicators developed by the EMCDDA since the mid-1990s provide reliable and comparable European drug data, they are not sensitive enough to detect emerging drug trends in a timely manner. The approach adopted by the EMCDDA in its E-POD pilot project was to collect and analyse information on hallucinogenic mushrooms in Europe from a range of sources (some non-conventional) and within a limited timeframe (between July and October 2005). The work of detecting and monitoring emerging trends relies largely on locally based information sources that are close to the target drug-using groups. The sources used included:

  • Targeted surveys conducted in club or dance music settings
  • Telephone helplines, including the European Foundation of Drug Helplines (FESAT)
  • Information from retail outlets (e.g. ‘smartshops’, ‘headshops’ and ‘grow shops’)
  • Information from national focal points
  • Published reports and scientific articles
  • Newspaper and magazine articles
  • Non-published (grey) literature
  • Internet websites and discussion groups
  • Personal communication with key informants.

The thematic paper highlights the growth in the marketing of hallugincogenic mushrooms by smartshops, internet shops and market stalls across Europe. This increase in availability has fuelled interest in such mushrooms and has led to an increase in their use.

Surveys in 12 EU member states indicate that, among young people aged 15 to 24 years, lifetime use of hallucinogenic mushrooms ranges from less than 1% to 8%. In Ireland, the estimated lifetime prevalance of hallucinogenic mushroom use is 5.5%. However, the 95% confidence interval around this estimate ranges from 4.2% to 6.9%, indicating that the prevalence could be as low as 4.2% or as high as 6.9%.3

The third European School Survey on Drugs and Alcohol (ESPAD) conducted in 2003 introduced a question about the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms.  Across Europe, lifetime use of hallucinogenic mushrooms by schoolchildren (aged 15–16 years) ranged from 0% to 8%. In Ireland, the estimated lifetime prevalence was 4%.4 No confidence intervals were provided for this ESPAD estimate.

As might be expected, clubbing surveys in Europe show higher levels of hallucinogenic mushroom use among clubbers than among the general population of the same age. No clubbing surveys have been carried out in Ireland.

The thematic paper notes that, since 2001, six EU countries have tightened their legislation on hallucinogenic mushrooms, apparently in response to their increasing availability and use. In Ireland, legislation was introduced in January 2006 to ban the possession and sale of hallucinogenic mushrooms in their natural state.5 Heretofore, only possession and sale of such mushrooms in their dried or prepared state was unlawful. In the UK, tighter legislation introduced in July 2005 appears to have had an immediate impact on both the availability of hallucinogenic mushrooms and on the general volume of internet sales.

The EMCDDA points to a number of additional factors which may help limit the diffusion of this emerging trend. Unlike ecstasy, which is easy to take at a party or dance scene, mushrooms must be chewed or brewed in hot water. This cumbersome route of consumption is likely to serve as a barrier to widespread or frequent recreational use of mushrooms; it may also reduce the likelihood of young people witnessing others using mushrooms and possibly copying their behaviour. In addition, the unpredictable potency and negative effects, such as nausea and panic attacks, or the lack of sociable effects, may contribute to limiting recreational use of hallucinogenic mushrooms.

The E-POD pilot project contributes to the implementation of objective 41 of the EU Action Plan on Drugs (2005–2008) which calls for the development of ‘clear information on emerging trends and patterns of drug use and drug markets’. The EMCDDA thematic paper provides an important snapshot of the current status of hallucinogenic mushroom use, its consequences and the responses in Europe, using available data sources. In order to monitor trends, it will be necessary to repeat the data- collection and analysis exercise on a regular basis in the future.

1. Hillebrand J, Olszewski D and Sedefov R (2006) EMCDDA Thematic Papers – hallucinogenic mushrooms: an emerging trend case study. Lisbon: European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

2. The five key epidemiological indicators of drug use are (1) prevelance of drug use in the general population, (2) prevalence of problem drug use, (3) drug-related infectious diseases, (4) drug-related deaths, and (5) the demand for drug treatment. Objective 39 of the EU Action Plan on Drugs (2005–2008) calls for ‘reliable and comparable data on key epidemiological indicators’ and places responsibility on all member states to fully implement the five key epidemiological indicators.

3. National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Drug and Alcohol Information and Research Unit (2006) Drug use in Ireland and Northern Ireland. 2002/2003 drug prevalence survey: first results (revised) from the 2002/2003 drug prevalence survey – Bulletin 1. Confidence Intervals. Dublin: National Advisory Committee on Drugs.

4. Hibell B et al. (2004) The ESPAD Report 2003: Alcohol and other drug use among students in 35 European countries. Stockholm: The Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs (CAN), Council of Europe, Co-operation Group to Combat Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in Drugs (Pompidou Group).

5. Connolly J (2006) Government bans sale of ‘magic’ mushrooms. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 17: 9.

Item Type
Publication Type
International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
New psychoactive substance
Issue Title
Issue 19, Autumn 2006
July 2006
Page Range
p. 19
Health Research Board
Issue 19, Autumn 2006
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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