High Expectations for the New Year
How psychedelic mushrooms in the UK are thriving in the mild winter
Photo by Mike Kempenich (Flickr)
by Malin Håkansson
Anyone who stayed in Aberdeen during this winter holiday will have noticed that we’ve had a rather mild winter this year, with no snow and rarely any frost. The milder climate during the turn to the new year has led to a couple of changes in some natural growth cycles; it has, for instance, allowed magic mushrooms to appear on more than double its usual Autumn days.
Magic mushrooms contain psychoactive ingredients such as psilocybin. These substances create a natural high and were popularized in the 1970s as a legal alternative to LSD, but as of 2005 they are banned and are now an A class drug. Picking up these magic mushrooms is a criminal offence that can be punished by 7 years of prison, but growing them is not a crime. Regardless, an increasing amount of people are using them; more than 200,000 people in the UK reported using them during 2017-2018. Magic mushrooms can also be viewed from a different angle: the 2017 global drug study found magic mushrooms to be the safest recreational drug and more recent studies suggest that they can be used in a therapeutic manner to help treat depression. This suggests that further studies on these fungi could have pharmaceutical benefits, making this extended period of magic mushroom presence in the UK something scientists can use to their advantage.
But why are these fungi staying so long this year? Mushrooms appear and disappear in cycles controlled by the weather around them. This year’s late frost had extended the fruiting in fungi such as Liberty Caps, a predominant species of magic mushrooms. Fungi have different growth rates during different temperatures. Liberty Caps are produced at temperatures below 15°C during the day and below 10°C during the night, with a stop of the fruiting season as the temperature drops below 0°, meaning that they have survived well in the mild climate this winter brought us. Fungal ecologist Prof Lynne Boddy states that this delay of the first frost is due to climate change, something which is less positive. He also mentions that until the 1970s their fruiting seasons were a lot more consistent, but now, the dates for fruiting are much earlier in the year, extending the autumn season for the fruiting.
This prolonged presence is giving people more time to hunt for magic mushrooms and allowing potential scientists to further their research. And as climate change continues to affect the world around us, we might see more than just magic mushrooms changing their presence around us.