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Japan Outlaws Use of Hallucinogenic Mushrooms - 2002-06-06


The Japanese government plugged a legal loophole Thursday, and outlawed the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Until now, users of the mushrooms openly purchased them despite Japan's strict drug laws, among the toughest in industrialized world.

The Japanese Health Ministry outlawed hallucinogenic mushrooms Thursday. Due to a legal twist, users had been able to buy and eat the so-called magic mushrooms with impunity.

When Japan overhauled its drug laws in the 1990's, it banned the psychoactive drugs psilocybin and psilocin, but not the mushrooms that naturally produce them. But under the new regulations, people who consume the mushrooms face up to seven years in prison, a penalty on par with cocaine possession.

Japanese men in their late teens and early twenties are thought to be the most frequent users of the mushroom. Until Thursday, they purchased them in shops in Tokyo's entertainment districts or over the Internet.

This Tokyo vendor says he will lose his customers because of the new law. He adds that the mushrooms sold well at his shop.

The ban reflects government concerns that the mushrooms could lead people to experiment with other types of drugs. There are also worries about the effect on users' health. Medical experts say they sometimes trigger nausea, seizures and paranoia.

Restrictions on other drugs are severe in Japan. Customs officials often seize foreign-made over-the-counter medicines and marijuana possession can lead to a jail sentence.

British rock musician Paul McCartney is the most famous victim of Japan's strict drug laws. He was arrested in 1980 when he arrived in Japan with a bag of marijuana and spent nine days in jail.