Glastonbury Festival was awash with rain yesterday, turning fields to mush and drenching the masses. But spirits remained high, and it wasn't just the power of the music played by Paul McCartney and Oasis.
Festivalgoers, as well as thousands of other people around Britain, have turned on and tuned in to the all-natural hallucinogenic kick of "psilocybe". The magic mushroom is back.
Last week, NME, the music bible, pronounced that 2004 is "the third summer of love" thanks to the resurgence of the "'shroom", previously out of favour for decades. Fans of the magic mushroom praise them as a natural alternative to ecstasy, which is declining in popularity. Yesterday an overdose of ecstasy was blamed for the death of a 24-year-old man at Glastonbury.
A curious loophole means fresh magic mushrooms are legal, whereas the sale or possession of dried or cooked mushrooms are prohibited. This weekend there were several stalls around Glastonbury as well as wandering vendors selling numerous varieties - Mexican, Colombian and Hawaiian. Small-time dealers made hundreds of pounds within hours of the festival kicking off on Friday.
Dreadlocked Mary "the Mushroom Seller" took £600 from the sale of Yorkshire-grown liberty cap mushrooms and others on the first morning alone. "It's a good living for the weekend," said Mary, who tours the summer festivals selling her wares. The use of mushrooms is extending beyond the 900-acre site to towns and cities around the UK.
LSD fuelled the first summer of love in 1967; ecstasy and LSD the second in 1988. NME has hailed the rise of the mushroom as the spark for the third summer of love.
This week it published a "top tips for top trips" guide to magic mushrooms in its Glastonbury edition, although it did add the rider that they are best consumed in a familiar environment.
Concern has been raised about the use of mushrooms because of their unpredictable effects. Professor John Henry, a drugs expert at St Mary's Hospital in London, warned that vomiting, an increased heart rate and flashbacks could result.
"You can't predict what is going to happen," he said. "You may have a nice trip where all the lamp-posts are wailing at you or a horrible one where the lamp-posts are threatening you. People respond in different ways and the same person may respond differently depend-ing on their mood - scared out of their wits or running over a cliff. You can also have terrible flashbacks weeks later."
A spokesman for Avon and Somerset police said: "The advice we always give is that for your own benefit don't try anything new here. If you're in an area you don't know, with people you don't know, be very careful. "
The NME's editor, Conor McNicholas, defended the paper's mushroom guide: "A minority of young people will at some stage of their lives experiment with drugs. You have to talk in a way that young people will relate to - you don't want someone coming on like your mum or dad and being told not to do things."
Certainly, 'shroom fans were much in evidence at Glastonbury. Chris Coul, an electrician from Slough, said: "They're a nice natural buzz. There is no aftermath which you get from chemicals. Pills are a cheap, quick, synthetic buzz. For the same price, mushrooms give you a mind-altering high."
Lucy Scones, 23, had stocked up with 80g of Hawaiian mushrooms from London's Camden Market before heading to the festival to beat the price mark-up. "They're perfect for the festival; with a good crowd and your ego hit by the mushrooms, the magic can happen."
The trade in fresh magic mushrooms is thought to be a multi-million-pound business and growing rapidly. Chris Territt, business manager of supplier Psyche Deli, said his staff has doubled in the past few months to cope. Online orders had doubled as a direct result of people stocking up for Glastonbury.
His company checked with the Home Office last year to establish the legal position and was told fresh mushrooms and growing kits were acceptable.
Mushrooms were also easily available in London last week. At one café in east London they were dispensed from a fridge in tin trays. A 20g bag of Mexicans costing £10 was said to be enough for two potent trips. The stronger Colombian strain cost £15.
A Home Office spokesman confirmed the mushrooms were not illegal: "If they're fresh it's not a problem."
Additional reporting Louise Jury, Genevieve Roberts and Sophie Goodchild
The potent mind-altering effects of magic mushrooms have been known for about 7,000 years. Rock paintings found in Algeria from that time show the harvest, use and adoration of the fungus, which was later called the "flesh of the gods" by the Aztecs.
Although the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act bans psilocin and psilocybin - the two main active ingredients found in the mushrooms that result in a trip for their user- the gathering and possession of fresh mushrooms is not a crime in the UK.
However, deliberately drying, altering or freezing them would lead to them being treated as class-A drugs. Both substances disrupt the balance of brain chemicals, which regulate sensory perception.
Eating the mushrooms in their raw form slowly and on an empty stomach leads to a more intense trip but, the taste of the raw fungus is not that appealing. Some people put them on pizzas, French bread, or omelettes to better handle the flavour. One danger in using or picking magic mushrooms is that if you cannot identify them accurately you may eat a poisonous species. Since the plant is considered hallucinogenic, side-effects could include severe anxiety, paranoia, loss of reality or mental health problems. They can also lead to stomach pains, sickness and diarrhoea.
There are four basic types of magic mushrooms for sale legally in the UK. They are usually sold in 10-gram bags and range from £10 to £15 in price.
Macca hits the right note
It was going to take something special after a Glastonbury day when the rain and the grey skies had persisted for more than a dozen hours and every highway and byway had turned to a sticky brown adhesive. But special was what Sir Paul McCartney provided, in a performance that lifted the great festival up from a wet Saturday evening and took it on beyond the high that Oasis had provided the evening before on the same platform.
It was the introduction to The Beatles' classic "All My Loving" that signalled this was going to be a historical Glastonbury moment.
Sir Paul had begun, predictably enough, with a Wings track, "Jet". He then told his audience that he was struggling to "drink in'' the vast assembly before him.
It was when he sat down at the piano for "Maybe I'm Amazed" that the scale of the occasion became apparent.
"Hey, it's great to be at Glastonbury ... standing at the confluence of the ley-lines tonight and tonight we have come here to rock you!" Macca told the crowd.
An acoustic version of "Blackbird", eccentrically introduced as an anthem for African-American womanhood, led into "We Can Work It Out", with everyone singing along.
Appreciating the scale of the occasion, Sir Paul dedicated tracks to John Lennon and George Harrison and even a few bars of "Yellow Submarine" to Ringo Starr.
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