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Japan bans magic mushrooms

24 Jun 2002 | Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan

Japan banned the legal sale of hallucinogenic magic mushrooms Thursday in a move welcomed by U.S. military officials. 

The Japanese Health, Labor and Welfare Agency added the psychoactive substance to the Narcotic Control Law, which prohibits the possession, obtainment and ingestion of the psilocybin-containing mushrooms.

"Magic mushrooms have always been illegal for service members and Status of Forces Agreement personnel, regardless of their legal status in Japan," said 1st Lt. Chuck Pollok, Provost Marshal's Office deputy provost marshal.  "But it is still encouraging to know Japan is taking an important step to eradicate this drug from their country."

Psilocybin, the chemical that causes hallucinations among magic mushroom users, has been illegal in Japan for some time.  However, due to a bizarre legal twist, the mushrooms themselves were not previously illegal, only the psilocybin inside them, noted Maj. Robert Marshall, Station staff judge advocate.

"This legal loophole has allowed Japanese dealers to import and sell the magic mushrooms as vegetable matter without fear of repercussion," said Marshall.  "This loophole was quite ironic, since Japan has some of the toughest drug laws in the world."

In addition to the irony, Marshall noted that the open sale of magic mushrooms in Japan could have misled service members in the past. 

"This possibly may have led some service members to erroneously think that the mushrooms were legal for them to consume, but that has never been the case," said Marshall.  "Nevertheless, Japan is now in congruence with our laws."

"There have been no instances of Iwakuni Marines or Sailors testing positive for using mushrooms, even when they were legal in Japan," added Pollok.  "That's encouraging to the fact that our antidrug stances are working.  If a service member ever was caught, that individual would face serious repercussions, including brig time and a bad conduct discharge."

Stores known as "head shops" have been doing a burgeoning business in mushroom sales for years.  That all ended Thursday, much to the dismay of many on the fringes of Japanese society.

"Magic mushrooms are so easy to get," said a 22-year-old female user of magic mushrooms who identified herself only as Yuko.   "My friends and I do them before we go clubbing or sometimes for no reason at all.  I don't know what all the fuss is about, they are natural and safe."

Not so, according to Pollok.

"Magic mushrooms are essentially poisonous," said Pollok, "and the hallucinations they cause effect peoples ability to distinguish fantasy from reality.  They can also cause panic reactions and temporary psychosis, which can cause a user to act unpredictably.  The effects are unpredictable because of different potency levels and the users frame of mind."

Additionally, magic mushrooms can be confused with other poisonous varities, which have the potential to cause permanent liver damage and even death within hours of ingestion, noted Petty Officer 1st class Darrell Timpa, Branch Medical Clinic urgent care leading petty officer.

"No matter how you look at it, magic mushrooms are a losing proposition and have no place in the military," said Pollok.  "It's not worth the risk, to your career or your life."