The Shroom Tragedy-By Maarten van Do

A 17-year-old French girl comes to Amsterdam on a class field trip. Along with some of her classmates she goes into a so-called smart shop, where she buys and later consumes some psilocybin mushrooms. Next thing we know, she jumps to her death from a bridge. The autopsy shows she had made a suicide attempt before.  When her parents come to pick her up though, they deny any private personal troubles, but they do declare their incomprehension for the free availability of these mushrooms in The Netherlands.

A father from Iceland comes to pick up his 18-year-old son, whose legs are broken, because he jumped from a window. The boy states he consumed mushrooms. The father also immediately denounces the Dutch drug policies. There is no Dutch journalist rude enough to ask if it’s true that the boy also used alcohol, cannabis (legal) and cocaine (illegal). The official government report on mushrooms later states that he had.

A 26-year-old Brit is also taken into hospital after consuming mushrooms along with alcohol and a space (hash) cake. He hurt himself while trashing his hotel room, cutting himself in the neck, head, torso and arms. When he threatens to jump from his window, an ambulance is called. Another time, a 24 year old man fractures his bones when he falls from 5 meters high after consuming mushrooms in combination with alcohol.

When a 29-year-old man is taken off to hospital the ambulance personal find he had used mushrooms, along with LSD, alcohol and MDMA. In the hospital the latter three drugs are found, but no mushrooms. A 22-year-old man has a psychotic fit and jumps into a canal. Again the ambulance personnel trace the fit to mushroom consumption. In hospital it is established that he did not take any.

Two more incidents are rumored to be mushroom-related, but are never cleared up. But when a Frenchman cuts up his dog in his car alongside one of the Amsterdam canals, the media portrays it being the worst mushroom-related incident up until that time, only to have to rectify later on that the man never took mushrooms.

These incidents occurred between March and August 2007. One person died. Only in 4 out of 9 cases was it established mushrooms were used. In 3 cases no mushroom consumption has been established.

More than 90% of mushroom-related incidents happen to tourists in Amsterdam in combination with the use of other drugs. Not to locals, not outside of Amsterdam. These incidents have been recorded in the CAM-report, the CAM being the governmental drug monitoring agency, ordered by the current administration. When I tried to get the report from a governmental website, it turned out to be unavailable. I had to get it from a non-governmental organisation (VLOS).

In 2000 a committee of another group of scientists, ordered by a different political coalition than the current one, came to the same conclusion as CAM did this time: “mushrooms form a negligible threat to the public health.”

In an interview on BNR News Radio, secretary of health Ab Klink said that people freaking out on magic mushrooms could go for each other’s throats. The harm done to others, not to one’s self, is actually the argument which is used by mushroom lovers to compare the health risk of shrooms to that of the legal substance alcohol. This argument is falsely used by the secretary. There is no cause to think mushroom consumption leads to murderous tendencies, not even given the known incidents. This is a fine example of the way the discussion is being pressed: the secretary of health had to put aside not only the advice of the CAM; he also had to ignore the voices coming from the police and the courts, who said that a ban would be impossible to uphold.

Also, the positions of many municipal councils, as well as several letters written by the mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen were overlooked. These letters proposed all kinds of restrictions on shroom availability, in order to prevent a complete ban. Even the shroom-traders themselves supported these proposals.

The mushroom appears to get victimized by the aggressively imposed morality of the current ruling government coalition. It appears to be the kind of politics which in The Netherlands has come to be known as ‘delusion of the day’-politics. It’s the kind of decision making in which incidents, like the widely exposed mushroom incidents, are seized upon to propose new legislation, which was not needed before. And it’s not just that. For the Dutch drug policies, which have existed for over 30 years now, are still contested internally. The current ruling government coalition has actually taken a cue from the US war on drugs, and stemming from the same kind of religious fanaticism.

So they’re not just trying to close down all the smartshops, they’re also trying for the same fate for the growshops, where people can buy supplies to grow marijuana privately. Next they want to get tough on possession of hard-drugs, which was illegal already, but tolerated out of practical considerations. But the real goal is the cancellation of the officially existing distinction between hard and soft drugs, necessary to eventually close down the legal outlets for marihuana, the coffee shops.

While the secretary argues that these shrooms are illegal in most of the rest of Europe, the European Monitoring agency on Drugs and Drug addiction (EMDD) has once again qualified Dutch drug policies as being the most effective in Europe in their annual report 2007. To impose this shroom-ban, there are about 168 (!) different types of mushrooms to be abolished. And that’s not even mentioning a countless number of substances which could be qualified as ‘drugs’, for example qat (chewed by Somalians), ayahuasca tea (drunk by Brazilians), caffeine or even alcohol (right now holding the official status of hard drug).

In an act of defiance, magic mushroom lovers took to spreading billions of shroom spores all over the country with water guns. These mushrooms can grow in one’s backyard, and the justice department would not be able to prosecute for any kind of drug possession or cultivation, since these mushrooms are so omnipresent (like marijuana growing in California and Arizona). Any kind of regulation is in fact futile. It is just proposed as some kind of symbolic politics, so that when your kids come to freak out in Amsterdam our government can say: “You can’t hold us responsible for your own behaviour,” which is something that can and should be said to many foreigners.

Really, spores are freely available, and if you want to have a good trip, it is advisable to do it in your own home, not in a completely strange environment.

At this point the proposed ban has to pass through two chambers of parliament, and as it stands, it will make the vote. But there is another race against time going on. Because the real question would be whether shrooms will be banned first, or whether this government coalition will fall before that. It’s a very unhappy coalition, at least for one of the participants (the PvdA), which is forced to accept these policies under very low electoral polls. A majority of the Dutch people support the shroom ban. Or rather, a majority don’t oppose it.

No more than 4% of the population have actually tried this non-addictive compound. So it’s easy legislation making, an indication of taking the path of the least resistance. When it comes to policies which are really urgent and important (control over health insurance tariffs, overwhelming bureaucracy in our hospitals, low pay for medical personnel, hospital funds being cut if they operate too efficiently; in short, insurance company dominance over the medical sector), this Secretary of Health would rather first like to think it over once more, before deciding if he should deal with them.



“The C.A.M. Report”, n.d.
“Risicoschatting van psilocine en psilocybine bevattende paddenstoelen (paddo’s)”. Coordinatiepunt Assessment en Monitoring nieuwe drugs, 2007.