Denver has passed a bill legalizing the use and possession of psychedelic mushrooms, Rolling Stone reported May 8. Passing this bill makes Denver the first city in the United States to decriminalize the use of “magic” mushrooms, which have been illegal since 1968. Edible drugs have had a fascinating history in the United States.
Psilocybin is the active drug found in the psychedelic mushrooms that are illegal in most of the nation. Psilocybin is a hallucinogen which, according to users, causes users to see vivid colors, feel exaggerated emotions, and have spiritual experiences. Although the mushrooms have been said to treat anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder in some cases, its most common use is as a recreational drug. However, mushrooms are not the only edible psychedelic food item that can be found—and edible drugs come in many forms, chemical compounds, and recipes.
Legal Mushrooms – Early History of Psilocybin Use in North America
Psilocybin mushrooms have been in use by the Aztecs for religious purposes for hundreds of years. “One example is the 1502 inauguration of Montezuma,” said Dr. Alyssa Crittenden, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “During the celebration, prisoners were slaughtered and their hearts offered to the pantheon of gods as sacrifice. Afterwards, covered in blood, the Aztec revelers ate mushrooms to give themselves visions and revelations as they danced.”
However, the Aztecs kept the mushrooms secret for fear of their spiritual effects diminishing if they fell into the wrong hands. A 1957 article in Life written by Wall Street banker R. Gordon Wasson introduced Americans to the hallucinogenic fungi. In a matter of years, it made its way to the counterculture. “In the 1960s and ’70s, […] hippies became vegetarians and sought ethnic foods that were unheard of in the United States, such as tofu, seaweed, curry, hummus, and even burritos,” Dr. Crittenden said. This hastened the spread of use of psychedelic mushrooms and edible marijuana. By 1968, just 11 years after Wasson’s article in Life appeared, psilocybin became illegal due to its widespread abuse. It has been illegal virtually everywhere in the United States ever since.
Edible Marijuana in the 21st Century
It’s easy to forget that edible marijuana is nothing new. Dr. Crittenden pointed out that marijuana brownies have been popular since the 1950s; the chocolate of brownies features such a strong flavor as to mask the taste of marijuana. “One of the oldest recipes for cannabis-infused food is from India called ‘bhang,'” she said. “It is marijuana mixed with milk, almonds, and garam masala, and is widely consumed during the Hindu religious festival of Holi that celebrates the deity Shiva.”
Today, edible marijuana has diversified beyond chocolates and garam masala. Marijuana restaurants have popped up all over the world, including two in New York. “The first is a Filipino restaurant in the East Village,” Dr. Crittenden said. “Here, cannabis-infused bone marrow is one item on the menu.” At the other, in Brooklyn, customers can enjoy a five-course meal of cannabis-infused dishes “including a ribeye steak, dessert, and cocktails.”
As marijuana legalization gains traction throughout the United States for both medicinal and recreational purposes, edible drugs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. And now, with the state of Denver legalizing the use and possession of “magic mushrooms,” psilocybin appears to be the second in a line of once-illegal edible drugs that could inch its way toward widespread acceptance in the United States.
Dr. Alyssa Crittenden contributed to this article. Dr. Crittenden is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she is also an Adjunct Associate Professor in the School of Medicine. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California, San Diego.