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Monday, 13 May, 2002, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
Japan culls magic from mushrooms
Tokyo's Shibuya district
Magic mushrooms are increasingly popular in Japan
Japan is planning to outlaw the use of magic mushrooms, closing down a legal loophole which has allowed users relative freedom in a country famous for its strict drugs laws.

Ryoichi Abe, sales person at one of the headshops in a trendy Tokyo entertainment district
The mushrooms are openly on sale in Tokyo
Although the mushrooms' psychoactive ingredients, psilocybin and psilocin, are illegal in Japan, the mushrooms that naturally produce them are not.

But from 6 June, those found in possession of magic mushrooms could face up to seven years in prison, a penalty on a par with that for cocaine possession.

Magic mushrooms can induce hallucinogenic euphoria, but may also trigger nausea and fits of paranoia and panic. They do not spark a physiological dependence.

Popular

But Japan's Health Ministry is alarmed by their soaring popularity - underlined by the increase in the number of people hospitalised for overdosing from one person in 1997 to 38 in 2000.

The entertainment districts of Tokyo are awash with "headshops", where packs of mushrooms are openly for sale, laid out in glass cabinets.

"You can find them anywhere," Hideo Eno from the ministry's narcotics division, complained to AP news agency.

"Drug abuse is on the rise and legalised magic mushrooms aren't helping," said Chikashi Okutsu, director of Asia-Pacific Addiction Institute, a Tokyo drug abuse treatment centre.

Restrictions on other drugs in Japan are so strong that it is not uncommon for customs officers to seize over-the-counter foreign cold medicines, and possession of cannabis can lead to five days in jail.

The most famous victim of this law is Beatle Paul McCartney, who spent nine days in jail in 1980 for the possession of 219 grams (7.7 ounces) of marijuana.

See also:

06 Jun 00 | World
Factfile on drugs
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