Revised January 26, 2005; August 29, 2007; May 1, 2013; and April 23, 2017.
Copyright 1998-2017 by John W. Allen.
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PSYCHOACTIVE MUSHROOMS IN THAILAND:
SOME ASPECTS OF THEIR RELATIONSHIPS TO HUMAN USE, LAW AND ART
Although many commercial resort establishments in Koh Samui,
and Koh Pha-ngan and other areas of Thailand do serve food with mushrooms
containing psilocybin alkaloids, during several recent exploratory excursions
on these islands (1989-1991), it was discovered that some restaurants served
mushroom omelettes adulterated with a more potent psychoactive substance,
presumably Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD).
Elderly men and women, as well as young children, in Thailand engage in the
practice of collecting, marketing and to some extent even consuming and/or
smoking these psychoactive fungi. Some Thai people also produce a variety
of hand-painted T-shirts with mushroom motifs.
Consumption of psychoactive fungi and sale of related goods in Thailand are
probably a result of the cultural spread of psychoactive substance awareness
that began in the late 1950's and 1960's. Thai entrepreneurs have adapted commercially
to the forces of tourist influence and preferences as they relate in this
case to psychoactive mushroom use and interest.
A Menu from the Palm Beach Resort-Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand
Since many of the more than 250 resorts, restaurants and beer gardens on Koh
Samui are owned and/or operated by German immigrants and other foreign tourists,
it may be assumed that local knowledge of hed keequai was acquired and passed
on from tourists to the Thai people. Eventually, local Samui and Thai artists
and craftsmen found that they also could increase their income by marketing
various items with mushroom motifs to tourists who had either consumed these
"magic mushroom" omelettes or purchased the hand-painted T-shirts as a curiosity.
Mushroom Stash Box-Changmai, Thailand
DYSPHORIA LEADS TO PROHIBITION OF FUNGI
Since 1986, numerous complaints from local Koh Samui native inhabitants aroused
alarm among the local Thai tourist police who were concerned about the increasingly
bizarre behaviour of some of those who consumed hed keequai. This was also
compounded by a steady increase in local emergency room treatment at clinics
and hospitals. Most tourists complained of dysphoric reactions due to the
consumption of these psychoactive mushroom omelettes which, as suggested above,
were probably laced with "LSD".
These dysphoric reactions were apparent in many individuals who, after having
ingesting these alleged "magic mushroom" omelettes, reported to casualty
in order to alleviate their discomfort.
Mushroom Hankie-Nathon, Koh Samui, Thailand
Interviews with several individuals who were unknowingly served an "LSD" laced
omelette claimed that they experienced acute hallucinations and intense paranoia
which lasted from 12 hours to as long as 2 days (JWA unpublished notes 1989-90).
Since the normal duration for a psilocybin intoxication is from 3 to 6 hours,
it can be assumed that most of these unpleasant experiences were not due to
the consumption of omelettes containing psilocybin mushrooms, but rather due
to the consumption of an "LSD" laced omelette. One individual in 1986, reported
that he experienced 6 hours of intense paranoia after consuming a "magic mushroom
omelette blended with ganja [Cannabis].
In the mid-l980's, the tourist police began to take note of the occasionally
strange incidents caused by the ingestions of the psychoactive omelettes.
They also noticed an increase of young people who were reporting to casualty
in order to alleviate the distressing symptoms associated with ingestion of
the so-called "magic mushrooms." Subsequently, in December of 1988, the Thai
government banned the use of hed keequai in Thailand.
Mushroom Hankie-Nathon, Koh Samui, Thailand
As noted above, some individuals who consumed a "magic mushroom" omelette
reported terrifying and frightening experiences while under their influence.
Doctors at the hospital in Ban Nathon and in many of the clinics on Koh Samui,
most likely, were unable to make a correct diagnosis of the patients symptoms,
thereby resulting in the improper treatment of their patients. For example,
patients who experienced dysphoric reactions after consuming an adulterated
mushroom omelette, would, in their discomfort, claim that they had eaten an alleged
"magic mushroom" omelette. Attending physcians would then proceed
to perform a gastric lavage on the patient. Peden, Pringle & Crooks (1982)
"found that emptying the stomach has no effect on the duration or intensity
of the [mushroom] experience once psychological manifestations had properly
commenced." Therefore, assuming that the patient had consumed an "LSD" laced
omelette, a gastric lavage would only aggravate the already agitated person
instead of alleviating his uncomfortable condition (for a detailed account
regarding treatment procedures for this type of mushroom poisoning, see Allen,
Merlin & Jansen 1991). Eventually many Thai newspapers and tourist guide
books began to issue warnings against the use of hed keequai.
Mushroom Wallet-Changmai, Thailand
One popular Thai magazine reported that a youth had run his motorcycle off
the road and into a ditch while under the influence of psychoactive fungi;
another tourist took off all of his clothes and ran naked through the streets
with furious hilarity (Angsanakul 1987). While these two incidents may have
resulted from a mushroom intoxication, it appears that other incidents may
have been caused by a more potent hallucinogenic substance.
JWA interviewed employees at several resorts on Koh samui and learned that
neither the managers nor the waiters who serve these alleged hed keequai
omelettes were actually aware of the exact contents. One manager claimed that
the cook was the only person who knew what was in these omelettes.
Mushroom Hand Bag-Nathon, Koh Samui, Thailand
Recently two news items from local Bangkok newspapers regarding the prohibitions
and penalties concerning the illicit use of hed keequai were brought to the
attention of JWA by Dr. Prakitsin Sihanonth, Head microbiologist at Chulalongkorn
University in Bangkok, Thailand.
The first news item is not dated; however, Dr. Sihanonth believes that it
appeared in print sometime in 1990. An English translation from Thai follows:
"Hed keequai implies (mushroom growing on buffalo dung), and is common throughout
Southeast Asia. It has been identified as Psilocybe cubensis and is known
in English as `magic mushroom'." Furthermore, this news item indicated that
"hed keequai is popular among foreign tourists and is served in omelettes
at resort restaurants on the islands of Koh Samui and Koh Samed." The Thai
article also reported that "once the fungus is consumed, hallucinations would
appear and the effects confuse the spirit in a manner similar to smoking ganja
According to the article:
". . . the Ministry of Public Health in Bangkok reported that the analysis
performed by the Department of Scientific Medicine found that hed keequai
had an effect on the nervous system and the mind; sometimes causing nausea,
vomiting, hallucinations, and confusion of the spirit. Those who ingest these
fungi are unable to control the direction in which they are going and, finally,
may go crazy [ben baa].
". . .A public announcement from the Office of the Committee of Food and Drugs
stated that the Ministry of Public Health announcement (#98, December 1988)
which indicates the various names and kinds of narcotics (proscribed in 1979),
listed hed keequai in the 3rd schedule on narcotics in the same classification
as ganja [cannabis]. Public Thai law states that it is forbidden to produce,
sell, import, export or possess [psychoactive fungi] unless the Minister of
Public Health receives permission from the Committee of Food and Drugs.
". . .If found guilty of breaking this Thai law, the punishment includes a
fine of 150,000 baht [approximately $6,000 U.S.] and/or imprisonment for 15
years (Unsigned 1990)."
A second article referring to psychoactive mushrooms recently appeared in
a local Thai newspaper (Unsigned 1991). An English translation of this article
". . .Dr. Charoen Boonchai, head of the Public Health in Surat Thani province
reported that those who cultivate, sell, or keep for sale [psychoactive mushrooms],
will upon conviction be imprisoned for 5-20 years and fined 200,000-500,000
baht [$8,000-$20,000 U.S.]". According to Dr. Boonchai, "hed keequai effects
the nervous system as does ganja [Cannabis]. If consumed in large quantities
it may cause one to go crazy [ben baa] resulting in death."
It should be noted that there is no indication in either medical or mycological
literature that anyone has ever died from the ingestion of psilocybian mushrooms
(see Allen, Merlin & Jansen 1991).
Although Thai law prohibits these psychoactive fungi as illegal, both Samui
and Thai natives farmers, including women and children, continue to harvest
and sell hed keequai to tourists and many restaurants still offer `magic mushroom'
omelettes to their customers.
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