Shroom seizures up 369%

New research on federal drug busts sheds light on wide availability of magic mushrooms

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According to the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA), 62.8% (177 million) of Americans 12 and older used alcohol at least once in 2022. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 18% (48.2 million) of Americans used cannabis at least once in 2019. 

No such numbers exist for psychedelics, though. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) asserts that, in 2021, marijuana and psychedelic usage among young adults reached an “all-time high.” But specific data on the rates of use are lacking. 

That gap of knowledge is exactly what led Joseph Palamar to start investigating. His recent paper, published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, illuminates how prevalent psychedelics are and how quickly their use is growing. 

Palamar is an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at New York University (NYU) Langone. He specializes in drug use epidemiology, focusing largely on the use of substances such as MDMA, ketamine, GHB, methamphetamine, cocaine and other “party drugs.” 

Palamar and his researchers decided to take a look at drug seizures by law enforcement — specifically seizures of psilocybin shrooms between 2017 and 2022. He expected that the number of psilocybin seizures by law enforcement to have increased over those five years, but the sheer number surprised him.

There were just over 400 seizures in 2017 compared to just under 1,400 in 2022 with most of those seizures in the Midwest (36.0%), followed by the West (33.5%), according to the study. Between the first three months of 2017 and the last three months of 2022, the number of seizures increased by more than 360% with “significant increases” across the country.

Palamar says the results weren’t really all that surprising. With the increased interest in psychedelics as they are decriminalized and more widely used, it makes sense that police seizures of this federally illegal substance are increasing. 

“The greatest weight of shrooms seized was in the West, which happens to have the most liberal laws surrounding psychedelics,” says Palamar. “I believe some of the big seizures in the West could have been instances of people thinking they’ll get away with large growing and distribution operations while it may still be illegal to sell the product.”

One example is the arrest of Denver’s mushroom rabbi, Ben Gorelick, and the seizure of his temple’s sacrament in 2022 (Weed Between The Lines, “Struggle of the sacred tribe,” June 9, 2022). When police raided Gorelick’s grow facility, they found 31 different strains of mushrooms growing in large quantities. Gorelick was arrested at the time for first-degree felony possession with intent to manufacture or distribute a controlled substance (although he was cleared of all charges by the Denver District Attorney’s Office in December of the same year). 

Examples like this account for a significant portion of the 368.9% increase in psilocybin seizures across the U.S., according to Palamar. Still, the trend suggests that the use of these substances is proliferating quickly across the country. 

Palamar hopes that this research can help shed light on how prevalent the use of psilocybin is throughout the U.S. It could also offer researchers a new route of tracking the use of other psychedelics like mescaline, ibogaine and LSD. 

“It’s doubtful that police were specifically searching for shrooms in many of these cases,” Palamar says. “I believe drugs like fentanyl are the big concern for most people right now.”