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Careful of "magic" mushrooms, experts say

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Dried psilocybin mushrooms in a glass dish.
Local experts say they are seeing a rise in children and teens experimenting with “magic mushrooms,” as they hunt for new ways to get high. Mushrooms have regained popularity because those containing psilocybin are a naturally occurring psychedelic, says Alexa Lee, M.S., Executive Director of the Palm Beach County Behavioral Health Coalition. “The psilocin then causes hallucinations in the brain,” she says, and “can change how you see, hear, feel, taste, and smell.”

Using mushrooms to elicit a hallucinogenic effect has been around for some time, but it’s having a modern-day resurgence due to the potential medicinal effects. “There has been some interesting clinical research done examining the use of psilocybin for the treatment of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) among other disorders,” says Wendy Blair Stephan, PhD MPH, Health Education Coordinator for the Florida Poison Information Center-Miami at University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital. 

Stephan says mushroom extract products are rapidly emerging on the market, a scene similar to the former boom in goods containing cannabis and hemp derivatives. “Some mushroom-derived products can potentially present similar problems as cannabis edibles, in that they’re accessible over the internet, the labeling/packaging in not clear about dosage, and there’s little guidance available on how these may affect a person’s medications or health conditions.”

Even simpler than purchasing online, Stephan says children and teens are ingesting wild mushrooms that can be found right outside their front door. However, the presence of hallucinogens is less likely to be found in these mushrooms but unpleasant side effects like diarrhea, vomiting, agitation, confusion, and liver damage can occur.

“Calls to poison centers for this (for all ages) in Florida have tripled in the past 20 years,” Stephan says. In 2023 there were 78 cases of mushroom consumption reported to the poison center, an increase from 51 cases the year before. Additionally, 12 of those cases in 2023 belonged to children 18 and under in Palm Beach County. 

Whether the increase is due to accessibility or curiosity, Lee says having conversations regularly with children is key to keeping them informed and protected. “Talking with your kids about the dangers of taking any substance not given to them by a parent or caregiver, or prescribed to them by a doctor, can help keep them safe,” she says. “Teens who have 5-7 family meals per week are less likely to use drugs in the future,” Lee adds.

Furthermore, Stephan says there’s no need to wait for an emergency to learn more about harmful substances. If there is a change in a child’s behavior or suspicion that substances are being used, parents can contact the Florida Poison Information Center to learn more. “People with concerns about mushroom exposure (or any poisoning) can call 1-800-222-1222 for immediate, free, confidential help.” 

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