The Guardian has something of a history of doing that, and its readers will often joke in comments threads about their fun times with all sorts of drugs. But this weekend, the Fairfax Weekend magazine has a story by a young man who talks about cancelling a planned trip with LSD with mates, and the general tone is to suggest that its use by smart young people can be pretty normal and fun if done carefully enough.
I doubt that this is a good idea.
It's true - the writer does talk about bad trips, and how he got into one by taking cannabis and LSD together; but there is no getting around that the overall effect on young people reading the article could be to think that it can be a fun drug to take, and why not give it a try.
It's true, I reckon: LSD is having something of a sympathetic come back, with even Nature reporting a couple of studies indicating that its use is "not linked" with psychosis - although I have to say that, to me, these sound like dubious types of studies.
And as I made it clear in comments to my recent post about Cary Grant's use of it (under proper medical supervision) that I wouldn't fundamentally have a problem with medical use if it is well assessed as safe and likely being of value to people with serious depression or other mental illness that is not responding to other drugs.
Call me cautious (I say "sensible"), but I don't see any wisdom in using the drug recreationally, given the Russian roulette game it seems to be as to whether a particular trip will be terrifying instead of ecstatic. And besides, isn't it just common sense that any chemical which is obviously playing with your brain chemistry in a really powerful way for 12 hours or so, and which (if you use it enough) can cause flashbacks for weeks or months after, is not a healthy thing. Too unnatural - too much interference with a system which, left alone, should be enough to keep you happy and balanced.
So what about natural hallucinogens? Going back to The Guardian, they recently gave prominence (as they would) to a survey which indicated that magic mushrooms were the type of drug leading to the least number of emergency hospital admissions.
But look at the headline they use "Study finds mushrooms are the safest recreational drug".
Of course, if you do have to go to hospital for eating the wrong type of mushroom, it can be very, very serious: the Washington Post has a story today about 14 people struck down after eating "death cap" mushrooms in California in December (yes, including 4 young men who thought they were magic mushrooms.) Every autumn in Canberra there are people sickened or killed from eating them, too, although I think most people who do eat them mistake them for normal, edible wild mushrooms. It's a sad fact that they apparently taste pretty great. What a design fault. *
So eating wild mushrooms for hallucinogenic effect is not without its lethal risks, and it seems it is still a case of Russian roulette when it comes to whether the trip will be bad, or not:
More than one in 10 said the bad trip put themselves or others in physical danger, including from violent behavior, and 2.7 percent received medical help. There were also mental consequences: “Three cases appeared associated with onset of enduring psychotic symptoms and three cases with attempted suicide.” However, despite all of that, “84 percent of respondents reported having benefited from the experience, with 76 percent reporting increased well-being or life satisfaction.”Again, call me an old fuddy duddy, but a one in ten risk of a really bad experience, possibly with very long effects, is not good odds for recreational drug use; and as such, a headline such as appeared in The Guardian that indicates an element of safety in taking mushrooms is not a wise thing.
When you think about it, what's tolerated in terms of the implicit downplaying of safety concerns with use of certain illicit drugs would not likely be tolerated in regards to some legal drugs. Can you imagine the reception that The Guardian would get if it ran a story that drink driving laws were too tough now - the increased risk of driving with a .08BAC is not so bad as to warrant the highly inconvenient level (to people's enjoyment of a night out) of .05BAC? I don't think that would fly. (OK, I know - drink driving represents a danger to others as much as to the drunk driver himself. Not a perfect, comparison, but still...)
So, yes, I am bit sick of this type of reporting, and wish the media would stop doing it.
* It just occurred to me - does Japan have the same problem, because there is quite a culture there for people going out and picking wild vegetables of various types, and mushrooms are a widely loved food. I see that, yes, it does:
The incidence of mushroom poisoning was studied statistically from 2001 to 2010 in Japan. The total incident of mushroom poisoning was 569 cases, which involved 1,920 patients and 10 deaths. The average incident was 56.9 cases per year, involving 192 patients and 1 death. On regional differences, the mushroom poisoning was more frequent in the northeastern part of Japan. The rate of total incidents for each type of poisoning, which were classified according to symptoms caused, 54.6% in the type of gastro-intestinal disorder, 11.6% in the type of neurological symptoms, and 2.4% in the type of intracellular disorder (violent vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration and hepato-nephrosis, or rhabdomyolysis, or erroneous perception, etc.), respectively. Two species of poisonous mushrooms with gastro-intestinal disorder, Lampteromyces japonicus and Rhodophyllus rhodopolius caused the majority (52%) of all poisonings in Japan.