‘HIGH’-RISK RETREATS - Hundreds of Americans swarm Ja for mushroom drug sessions
Hundreds of Americans are flocking Jamaican shores annually to get a high from magic mushrooms in pricey rural retreats, but the naturally occurring hallucinogen presents dangers and local authorities warn that importation of the fungal drug is illegal.
Magic mushrooms are also marketed to Jamaicans on Instagram for $1,500 per gram, and can be purchased in shops or on the streets of Negril and other resort towns.
Several mushroom retreat centres currently operate in Jamaica.
One such operation is run by Eric Osborne, founder of MycoMeditations, who told The Gleaner that more than 600 people have visited his retreats.
Osborne said that he has been studying mycology – the study of fungi and their biochemical properties – for more than 20 years and is well aware of the stratospheric highs that magic mushrooms can drive.
Visitors to his high-flying retreats are mostly from the United States, but also include travellers from Australia and European nations where the cultivation, manufacture, possession, use and supply are illegal. Retreats run for one week, with 15 persons per group, with costs ranging from US$2,300 to US$10,500.
MycoMeditations is registered with the Companies Office of Jamaica.
Osborne operates retreats in Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth, and Bluefields Bay in Westmoreland. Later this year, he intends to open an outpatient day service in Kingston for locals.
He ran a gourmet mushroom farm in the United States for almost 10 years but was busted by the authorities for his involvement in underground psychedelic work there.
“I was reported to the authorities, arrested, lost my farm. That’s not the reason why I came to Jamaica, but it kind of expedited my move here.
“I was incarcerated for just a week but it was long enough,” said Osborne, who was placed on probation for two years. His felony charge was reduced to a misdemeanour, he said.
A visitor to the island for almost two decades, Osborne runs a farm that hires eight Jamaicans. Fifty per cent of his retreat staff are also locals, he said.
Psilocybin mushrooms, also known as magic mushrooms or simple shrooms, are illegal in more than 50 countries. Checks with local officials did not ascertain whether the use of the mushrooms in Jamaica was outlawed by statute.
Magic mushrooms contain psilocybin, a natural occurring psychoactive and hallucinogenic compound. Psilocybin is classified as a Schedule I drug under the United Nations 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, which are flagged as not approved for medical use and which present the potential for abuse, especially if not administered under medical supervision. LSD and heroin also fall under this category.
As at February 2018, there were 184 state parties to the convention, including Jamaica.
The convention had suggested a scheduling system so that countries could classify drugs into different categories of harm; limit their use to scientific and medical purpose; and impose import and export restrictions. Although psilocybin is scheduled, the mushrooms themselves are not.
Wonder fungus has dangerous side effects
But magic mushrooms can cause a range of mild to serious side effects, including nausea, nervousness, paranoia, panic, hallucination, and psychosis. Effects can be felt 20 to 40 minutes after using the drug and can last up to six hours, The Gleaner understands. Some research suggests that the high from magic mushrooms may extend for up to 12 hours.
“We always start them pretty low just because it’s kind of an assessment dose, we want to see what their initial response is but we also want our clients to get the most out of every session,” said Osborne.
The mushroom rave has caused 40 per cent of retreat participants to suffer ill effects, Osborne admitted, insisting that few have neared the risk of self-harm.
He said that he could “only think of a handful of responses that could have become dangerous or really problematic” having dispensed 3,000 doses of the mushroom ‘medicine’ in the last five years.
“Its safety, if managed properly, is comparable to nothing else that we know of, but it is extremely important that we ensure the public knows that this medicine ... is extremely unpredictable and it is essential to have someone with you that understands the process,” Osborne told The Gleaner.
“It can make you think you are dying. It can make you think that you have absolutely lost your mind. It can also make you realise that you are connected to God and the universe and everything. There’s lots of beautiful epiphany that can come from it,” said the American, who revealed that he screens participants for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and psychosis.
Osborne, who is not a clinical physician or psychiatrist, claims that the drug has helped people with suicidal depression, extreme anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, amid other problems.
However, Sanniel Wilson-Graham, chief plant quarantine/produce inspector in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce Agriculture & Fisheries, informed The Gleaner that it was illegal to import magic mushrooms and that a no-objection notice would have to be issued by the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
Cynthia Lewis-Graham, director in the Standards & Regulation Division of the Ministry of Health and Wellness, confirmed that psilocybin mushrooms were not endemic to Jamaica.
“Should the mushroom be imported into the island without the requisite permit, the importer would be in breach of the Jamaica Customs Act,” she said.
“If the product is being imported for medicinal use or for clinical research, an import permit from the Ministry of Health and Wellness would be required. This import permit is only issued when the requirements for safety, quality and efficacy of use are met.”