Magic mushroom users eager to talk

Lindsay Shaw was surprised to find scant research despite the high number of people who report using the hallucinogenic fungi that grow wild on B.C.'s West Coast.

300 responses in one day after U Vic researcher put out call for details

Masters student Lindsay Shaw wants to know how and why people use magic mushrooms — the hallucinogenic fungi that grows wild in West Coast fields and lawns, as well as home grow-kits. (Jonathan Woods)

For University of Victoria masters student Lindsay Shaw, finding subjects to interview for her research project has been easy.

Shaw wants to know how and why people use magic mushrooms — the hallucinogenic fungi that grows wild in fields and lawns of coastal British Columbia but is illegal to possess.

The second-year masters student at UVic's Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research has found no shortage of people who want to talk about their experiences with psilocybe semilanceata. 

When she put out a request for volunteers to answer a survey about their use of magic mushrooms, her email inbox filled with more than 300 responses in just over a day. 

People strike up conversation in the grocery store when they learn the subject of her research and she has been contacted by people from around the world who are eager to share their stories. 

Shaw became curious about the topic after reading surveys of university-age recreational substance users that said 93 per cent had taken magic mushrooms at least once. As well, 27 per cent said they used them in the previous month.

"When I was reading these results they seemed relatively high," Shaw told On the Island host Gregor Craigie.

Few other studies

But despite its apparent popularity, she found specific research on recreational magic mushroom use was scarce.

"There have been reports of people using them in therapeutic and medicinal ways, perhaps micro-dosing … to treat anxiety or headaches," she said. Others might use them for party drugs or in an outdoor setting. 

"But we actually don't know what the users are using these recreational substances for," Shaw said.

Magic mushrooms in a grow room at the Procare farm in Hazerswoude, central Netherlands. (Peter Dejon/Associated Press)

Transformative experiences recounted

Shaw expects to have results of her survey within a few months, but she has been struck by the overwhelming positive  and sometimes transformative experiences with magic mushrooms that people have  described to her.

"I think it was presenting a unique opportunity for a lot of people," Shaw said of her study. "I think it says something to me about the prevalence and also there aren't venues for people to talk about their magic mushroom use."


With files from CBC Radio One's On the Island.