According to the study – in which almost 150,000 people took part – only 0.2 per cent of the 12,000 people who had taken psilocybe semilanceata (AKA mushrooms) in 2016 said they needed emergency treatment afterwards.
This is at least five times lower than the results for MDMA, LSD and cocaine.
“Magic mushrooms are one of the safest drugs in the world,” says Adam Winstock, founder of the Global Drug Survey and consultant addiction psychiatrist.
Winstock says the main risk comes from people picking and eating the wrong mushrooms.
“Death from toxicity is almost unheard of with poisoning with more dangerous fungi being a much greater risk in terms of serious harms,” he says.
Magic mushrooms are illegal in the UK and Winstock points out that they aren’t harmless:
“Combined use with alcohol and use within risky or unfamiliar settings increase the risks of harm most commonly accidental injury, panic and short lived confusion, disorientation and fears of losing one’s mind,” he says.
Common side-effects include panic attacks, flashbacks, stomach pains, disorientation and nausea.
“Magic mushrooms can distort colours, sounds and objects,” explains drugs advice website Frank. “They can make you feel as if your senses are mixed up so that, for example, you think you can hear colours and you can see sounds.
“Some people can feel more emotionally sensitive or more creative or feel enlightened. They can also speed up and slow down your sense of time and movement. They can make it feel like you’re dreaming when you’re awake.”
Winstock’s advice is to plan “your trip carefully with trusted company in a safe place and always know what mushrooms you are using.”
The study – which is the world’s biggest drug survey – found that 28,000 of the participants had taken magic mushrooms at some point in their lives.
81.7 per cent claimed to do so for a “moderate psychedelic experience” and the “enhancement of environment and social interactions”.
Outside of recreational use, however, magic mushrooms have been shown to help combat anxiety and depression in clinical trials.
The survey found that around one per cent of LSD users had sought emergency treatment afterwards.
“LSD is such a potent drug,” says Winstock. “It’s so difficult to dose accurately when tabs you buy vary so widely. It’s easy to take too much and have an experience beyond the one you were expecting.”
One of the most dangerous drugs, according to the study, is synthetic cannabis, which is also known as “spice” and “black mamba.”
Magic mushrooms? My mother almost died from eating just one, accidentally. Picked in north coast paddock. I was almost orphaned. Beware.
— Liv (@mmechomski) May 24, 2017
More than one in 30 people who’d taken it had had to have emergency medical treatment – this was higher than any other drug except crystal methamphetamine.
Although this was in line with findings from the previous year’s study, experts are warning people to be cautious with the results.
According to Brad Burge from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, the trouble with people’s self reports is that often they’re taking more than one drug at once so they can’t be certain which one caused them to need emergency help.
What’s more, it’s important to note that this treatment can mean very different things depending on the drug: whilst someone who’s taking magic mushrooms might mainly need supportive psychological reassurance, someone who’s taken heroin is more likely to be in a life-or-death situation.
“There is no known lethal dose for LSD or pure psilocybin,” Burge told The Guardian.
He and Winstock are both calling for drug policy reform.
“Drug laws need to balance the positives and problems they can create in society and well crafted laws should nudge people to find the right balance for themselves,” says Winstock.
“People don’t tend to abuse psychedelics, they don’t get dependent, they don’t rot every organ from head to toe, and many would cite their impact upon their life as profound and positive. But you need to know how to use them.”