Skip to main content

In a country known for some of the toughest drug laws in the industrialized world, Japanese dealers of hallucinogenic "magic" mushrooms tout their wares quite brazenly.

Sidewalk vendors hawk mind-altering fungi on the streets of Shibuya, Tokyo's hip fashion centre, while magazines run advertisements for Hawaiian toadstools and peyote cacti.

Thanks to a bizarre legal loophole, psychedelic substances have mushroomed into a major money-spinner and shops with names such as Herb on Air, Whoopee! and Psychedelic Garden are sprouting all over Tokyo.

Story continues below advertisement

"You can't be punished for possession," a Justice Ministry official said. "Magic mushrooms are not listed in the drug law."

A Tokyo customs official confirmed the loophole that lets dealers import vegetable matter that would be considered Class A narcotics in many countries.

"The plants themselves aren't illegal," he said. "There's no law prohibiting their import."

In a society not known for recreational drug use, such laxity is the exception to the rule. Even some over-the-counter cold medicines such as Sudafed are routinely seized by Japanese customs officers because they contain stimulants.

"Japan is no paradise for druggies, that's for sure," said a mushroom user who did not want to be identified.

The 26-year-old office worker described how she painstakingly raises her own mushrooms at home using a spore-growing kit imported from Amsterdam.

"My mushrooms were 10 times better than the stuff you can buy in Shibuya," she said. "That's mostly because the dealers dry them with a hair dryer that effectively zaps most of the psilocybin out."

Story continues below advertisement

Psilocybin, the chemical that gives the mushrooms their hallucinogenic properties, is specifically outlawed under drug laws, as is mescaline from peyote cactus.

But unlike hemp, the fungi and cacti themselves get off scot-free.

"If you know it's a magic mushroom and eat it, that's illegal. If you don't know what it is and eat it, that's fine," said the branch manager of a head-shop chain who identified himself only as Mr. A.

"It's all right to show and sell them, just not to encourage people to ingest."

He said that about 20 people a day, from junior-high students to pensioners, buy mushrooms imported from Europe and Hawaii at his basement bazaar in Tokyo's Shinjuku district. The shop also stocks pipes, T-shirts and books on alternative culture.

Dealers know they walk a fine legal line. Police made their first fungus-related arrest in 1998, nabbing a man in the city of Osaka for selling 2,000 bottles of capsules containing powdered mushrooms worth about $120,000.

Story continues below advertisement

But putting him in handcuffs took some wrangling. The man was arrested not for hawking hallucinogens, but for flouting a law requiring people who sell pharmaceutical products to have a licence, a police spokesman said.

Report an error
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter