For a place where magic mushrooms are legal, it almost seems as though no one has noticed. New Mexico, USA has one of the few loopholes that explicitly allow for the growth of psilocybin mushrooms, free from prosecution by state law. Of course, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) continues to insist this substance is illegal (Schedule 1) in any and all forms, making most interactions with psilocybin a federal crime.
Natural psychedelics arrived in New Mexico long before humans
Like many other states and jurisdictions, New Mexico has had to find some compromise between what constitutes ‘cultivation of a drug’ and the natural growth that preceded mankind to the land. Given the climate, there are a number of psilocybin-containing mushrooms that are native to New Mexico, or have since been introduced purposefully and accidentally.
Along with a handful of Gymnopilus species (‘Laughing Gyms’) and the widespread Panaeolus cinctulus that contain psilocybin, only one Psilocybe species is naturally found in New Mexico. Psilocybe mescaleroensis was brought to the attention of the scientific community by the amateur mycologist Lee Walstad. With the help of the mycologist Gaston Guzman, he named the species after the psychedelic that helped place New Mexico on the map: Mescaline.
For all the mushrooms that may find the state too dry, cacti flourish in the arid environment. A few of these are special, being first documented nearly 6000 years ago by Native Americans a little farther south of the current border. Particularly the Peyote (Lophophora williamsii) and San Pedro (Echinopsis pachanoi) cacti, which produce a potent hallucinogen not unlike psilocybin.
A ‘loophole’ in the drug laws of New Mexico
The evolution of New Mexico’s drug laws took an unexpected turn in 2005. An appeals court decided that “growing was not illegal” while avoiding the laws that implicated the act of ‘cultivation’. It harkens back to a 1999 ruling that suggested: “growing marijuana does not constitute manufacturing under New Mexico’s law against drug trafficking”. This makes the growth and possession of fresh psilocybin mushrooms legal in the eyes of the state.
Drying or preserving the fungi immediately makes the mushrooms illegal, as a product of, or means to, ‘cultivation’. Because of this, New Mexico is one of the few places where magic mushrooms are rarely dried by those who dabble. Fresh and frozen fungi are a more common find, compared to elsewhere, in fridges and freezers of the state. However, these mushrooms remain elusive and difficult to even find, let alone buy. Anecdotes suggest that local mushroom cultivators may grow some Psilocybe on the side, though they’re mostly for personal use and primarily among friends.
This law differs from the one that ‘allows’ for the production and sale of psilocybin in Amsterdam. The Netherlands banned only magic “mushrooms”, and not the species or substance. In New Mexico, it appears the line falls not on the interpretation of the words and more so on the intent of the mushroom growth. Little information exists about the growth of ‘magic truffles’ (or sclerotia of some Psilocybe species) in New Mexico, often distributed and sold fresh where they’re legal (See Amsterdam).
The home of the Heffter Research Institute
Whether the citizens of New Mexico take advantage of the loophole in their state drug laws on psilocybin, the state has at least one claim to fame in the psilocybin world. One of the leading funding agencies for psilocybin research, incorporated in New Mexico long before the 2005 loophole, is the Heffter Research Institute.
Founded over 25 years ago by David E. Nichols, along with Dennis McKenna and others, the institute is named after the famed chemist Arthur Heffter. He was the first to isolate and characterize mescaline in 1897, from the peyote cacti of New Mexico. It would be the first, naturally-occurring psychedelic to be isolated in its pure form. The institute honoured his name to revive psychedelic research that had been largely dead for the twenty years previous.
After a decade of funding research into MDMA and ketamine, primarily in Russia, they shifted their focus to psilocybin. Often in collaboration with the nearby University of Arizona, they’ve funded research into obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and end-of-life anxiety. In the period of 2011-2014 alone, they provided over $3M in funding to those pursuing research on psychedelic substances.
For those seeking a ‘magical’ vacation destination, New Mexico falls far short of what might be expected. However, the state holds a special place in psilocybin history, with the future as bright as those creative enough to adapt to the local laws.