Toxic threat for fungi drug pickers

By Mike Dinsdale

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Health officials and police are warning of the dangers of toxic fungi as magic-mushroom season spawns in Northland, with serious concerns that people could be poisoned if they pick the wrong type.

Magic mushrooms contain an hallucinogenic called psilocybin, which can cause mind-altering effects for up to eight hours and leave people indulging in risky behaviour.

Many people did not realise the drug in "magic mushrooms" was Class A, which meant the law treated it in the same way as LSD, heroin or methamphetamine.

Kerikeri police have already had to warn one man caught picking magic mushrooms in a public place this week.

"They're toxic to the body and have serious repercussions for your health," Kerikeri police Senior Sergeant Peter Robinson said.

But the main problem with magic-mushroom season was that people often took the wrong type of fungi, which might well be highly toxic, said Leo Schep, a toxicologist with the National Poisons Centre at the University of Otago.

The centre had already had two calls about magic mushrooms in the past two weeks and was expecting more and Dr Shep said some of the other fungi sprouting at the moment could be "pretty deadly".

"That's our biggest concern, people picking the wrong mushrooms and getting poisoned," he said.

Ross Bell, executive director of the New Zealand Drug Foundation, said magic mushrooms were neither addictive nor toxic, but the effects depended on the dose, which was hard to control.

"The risks are around what the hallucination is going to make you do - people can freak out quite a lot - and you can think you have a magic mushroom, but instead you're ingesting a highly toxic wild mushroom," Mr Bell said.

The Northland District Health Board has not had any specific admissions this autumn for magic-mushroom consumption, but in 2010, a Northland teenager became so psychotic after taking them he had to be strapped to a hospital bed by his hands and feet.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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