Psilocybin mushrooms (or 'shrooms') have been in widespread use since prehistoric times; they appear in mesolithic rock paintings in North Africa and as 'mushroom stones' in Mayan temple ruins. The fungi were re-discovered in Mexico in 1957, and chemically analysed by Albert Hofmann. Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert from Harvard then started using them to promote 'the psychedelic experience'. Shrooms are now cultivated in large quantities all over the world. They are non-addictive and non-toxic but can produce nausea, dizziness, vomiting, loss of appetite, coldness, numbness, muscle weakness, swellings, fear and severe psychological distress – and can be mistaken for other fungi which are poisonous.
If you make it through all these hazards, your potential reward is heightened perception (of particular colours and sounds), surfaces that seem to ripple and shimmer, synaesthesia and perhaps an experience which you will regard as charged with spiritual significance.
A 1962 experiment sent 10 trainee priests to church on psilocybin and 10 on a placebo. Nine of those on the drugs reported a spiritual experience whilst nine of the control group reported none. The effects of the experiment (known as 'the Miracle of h Chapel') may have been long-lasting; 25 years later half the placebo group had left the ministry, compared with just two of the drugged group.
A cap of good acid costs a few dollars and for that you can hear the Universal Symphony with God singing solo and the Holy Ghost on drums.
There have been reports of dogs becoming addicted to hallucinogenic cane toad venom.
A 1995 article in the Lancet first raised the suggestion that fungal hallucinogens in old books might have been a source of academic inspiration for years, without anybody realising it. 'The source of inspiration for many great literary figures may have been nothing more than a quick sniff of the bouquet of mouldy books,' wrote Dr R. J. Hay, one of England's leading mycologists.
Other experts have since confirmed the basic premise, though they say that it would take a fairly concentrated exposure over a considerable period of time for someone to breathe in enough of the spores of hallucinogenic fungus to seriously affect their behaviour, and there are no studies to tell how much or how long. But the fungus is definitely there, and it’s definitely hallucinogenic. After Hay's article was published, the story was spread by the indefinite closure of the library in Las Cruces, New Mexico, after a fungus outbreak.
It’s not just fungal spores: when books start to decompose, the decaying pages release chemicals, including volatile acids, which make the books decay even faster. Cambridge University have launched a project to analyse the mix of gases released by books in their library. The research is designed to help conservators at libraries to spot which books are most in need of preservation.
There are web-based book-sniffing communities, which are divided into two quite distinct varieties of sniffer: those who like the smell of musty old books and those who love the virgin smell of a freshly-printed book or comic which has never been opened before.
A pervasive myth says that the popular children's song 'Puff the Magic Dragon' is about smoking marijuana, or even heroin. However the writers have always claimed that it is nothing more than a song about a magic dragon called Puff - if there is any subtext, it is perhaps that it is about the innocence of lost childhood.
The song is ultimately based on an Ogden Nash rhyme 'Really-o Truly-o Dragon'. A 19-year-old Cornell student called Leonard Lipton wrote his own version which he passed on to his friend and fellow student Peter Yarrow, who then added his own lyrics and melody.
Yarrow claims: 'Even if I had had the intention of writing a song about drugs – which I may have had at a later – I was 20 years old at Cornell in 1959 when it was written and I was so square at that , as was everyone else. Drugs had not emerged then. I know Puff was a good dragon and would never had had drugs around him. Now you've heard that from the mouth of the dragon's daddy.'
Eating fish heads can make you hallucinate.
This is called ichthyoallyeinotoxism.
In 1999, art critic Robert Hughes was in a car crash. While in intensive care, he had a hallucination that the Spanish painter Goya attached a metal brace to his leg and forced him to crawl through a metal detector.
Hughes subsequently became obsessed with Goya and wrote a biography of the man.
Dogs can be poisoned by eating the faeces of drug users.
A shipment of cannibis received by Howard Marks could have got every single person in the UK high at the same time.
Magic mushrooms grow in the grounds of Buckingham Palace.