The Intoxication Season at Kew Gardens review: 'Not enough drugs. Refund please'

A few of us had expected experimentation to be on the cards

Sarah Lamptey
Wednesday 08 October 2014 14:39

"From everyday to Class A, mind-altering plants and fungi arrive at Kew this autumn."

The arrival of Kew Gardens’ 'Intoxication Season’ comes at a time where I’m personally reassessing my approach to drugs. I was led by the teaser of regulated experimentation, and tempted by the surrounding controversy - never had an online purchase been conducted with such speed.

I went to Kew Gardens to explore mind-altering natural plants, but ironically, this weekend’s drug of choice was coffee.

The world’s greatest morning pick-me-up could tuck me back into bed when it came to it as a talking point. But perhaps it was the kind we’ve never heard of, from somewhere high in the South American mountains where a sniff would send me spinning? Bypassing food experimentalists Bombas and Parr's guarana tasting (wasn’t that the stuff in Whole Foods?), I headed to a talk - less a wild session of caffeine-injecting, more an informative and concise fact file: the global coffee market is worth $174 billion?! Two billion cups are drunk daily and it's the second most consumed beverage in the world. (I wondered what the first was for quite some time, the shame. Water!).

Onto the Robusta and Arabica testing. We discussed deforestation and the impact of external influences on farmers’ livelihoods while we sipped the goodness. Even when it comes to something as seemingly harmless as coffee, we have a responsibility to determine the impact of what we’re consuming, their vibrations being felt thousands of miles away.

Next to the tent was another; was this the mystery-shrouded den of experimentation, darkened and herbs abound while a white coat with a scribbly clipboard was serious and encouraging? Of course not. Instead, two ladies in mackintoshes were hot under the collar about the mad world of fungi.

The last stop was the Princess of Wales Conservatory, where The Drugs lived. It was a bit like going to the zoo and not being able to tickle the monkey. Visitors to Kew Gardens have apparently gone up by 20 per cent since the exhibition launched, and I wasn’t the only one who had gotten the wrong end of the pipe (sorry). My favourite messages in the Comments Book were “Not enough drugs. Refund please” and "Cheaper in Brixton x”.

My hopes were dashed for regulated experimentation, but the trip was certainly thought-provoking. What impressed the most was the contrasting approaches of different cultures towards the same subject. Alcohol is prohibited in many of the cultures in which the use of plant substances is commonplace. Here we drink with abandon, yet there are three million alcohol-related deaths globally. Then there are the Dutch and their weed. I didn’t expect to be plied with Class As and left to go running around the flower beds, but I suppose I predicted a lick of a mushroom or a chew of a leaf in the name of science.

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