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Illegal magic mushroom retail chain expands to Kitchener | CBC News

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Another illegal magic mushroom dispensary has opened in Waterloo region in response to a growing demand for mushrooms containing psilocybin, a naturally-occurring hallucinogenic substance.

FunGuyz opened on Friday at the corner of Victoria and Park streets in Kitchener, Ont.

The company has another location in Cambridge that’s been open for a few months already.

The locations in Waterloo region are just two of 17 FunGuyz locations across the country, according to the company’s website; they include shops in London, Windsor, Montreal and Ottawa and six in Toronto. 

The website also lists a location in Detroit. 

‘Everything from microdosing capsules … to chocolate bars’

“We offer everything from microdosing capsules for people who are beginners … to chocolate bars and whole mushrooms, gummies and edibles,” said Ryan Waters, a spokesperson for FunGuyz.

Microdosing psilocybin – the practice of taking doses that are too low to produce hallucinations in order to improve one’s mood, creativity or productivity – has become popular in recent years, and more people are seeking out psilocybin-assisted therapy for a range of mental health conditions. 

But the drug is also associated with several adverse effects, according to Health Canada, including so-called “bad trips,” in which users can have frightening experiences that include paranoia, loss of boundaries and a distorted sense of self. 

Impaired judgment while “tripping” can lead to risk-taking behaviour, resulting in traumatic injuries or death, and those with cardiac diseases can be harmed by short-term effects of the drugs, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate.

The production, sale or possession of magic mushrooms is illegal in Canada unless Canadians access psilocybin through a Health Canada clinical trial, the agency’s Special Access Program (SAP) or by getting an exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA).

This FunGuyz location opened up on Friday. It’s Kitchener’s first illegal magic mushroom shop. There’s another location in Cambridge that has been open for months. (Aastha Shetty/CBC)

‘Notoriously difficult to get access’

Waters said FunGuyz sells the product illegally because, otherwise, “it is notoriously difficult to get access to it.”

“If you were a customer or a patient trying to access it, the legal hurdles and everything else that’s involved with it makes it way too difficult,” he said.

“As you’re aware of with cannabis, it took the better part of almost two decades of legal fighting in order for that to be overturned. So the judicial system lacks and they’re very slow to follow with… change.”

FunGuyz asks customers to sign a waiver and show valid photo ID if they want to buy any of the products. They do not sell to anyone under the age of 19, Walters said.

Comparisons to cannabis legalization

CBC News reached out to Waterloo Regional Police Service for a comment about the latest FunGuyz location, but they have not yet responded.

Andy Hathaway, professor of sociology at the University of Guelph, said there are a lot of lessons to learn from cannabis when it comes to the potential legalization of magic mushrooms.

“It’s somewhat reminiscent of the early days before cannabis legalization, where there were a lot of outlets, retail outlets, operating – some above board with the full knowledge of police, some not so much,” he said.

“There was certainly a heavy push to shut them down as we approached the date of legalization, which, of course, [is because] the illicit outlets were presenting a threat to the business interests of the government and the corporations that were providing for the legal market… If indeed there is going to be a change in policy for mushrooms, one could argue that this is somewhat similar to the situation as it was for cannabis a few years ago.”

There may be some benefits to legalization, especially when it comes to consumer safety, Hathaway said.

“Whether you’re talking about club drugs or cannabis or mushrooms, the more underground it is, the less reassurance you get that you’re actually getting what you’re paying for,” he said.

“And in some cases, that can lead to some very dangerous substances being sold. So yeah, I think from a public health perspective, it makes sense to at least have a quasi legitimate business model in place.”

Dr. Dominique Morisano, a clinical psychologist and adjunct professor at the University of Toronto and the University of Ottawa, said there isn’t much evidence that microdosing on psilocybin really works.

Potential medical uses of magic mushrooms

“We just don’t know enough yet,” she said of the drug’s effects. “I think we need to be studying these things in big populations.” 

But she said larger doses have made a difference for some of her clients, adding that psychedelic-assisted therapy has shown promise in treating moderate to severe depression, substance use disorder, and existential distress in people who are nearing the end of life.

WATCH | Advocates say more people need access to psilocybin to treat mental illness 

Could magic mushrooms be the future of mental health treatment?

A handful of Canadians have legally used magic mushrooms, or psilocybin, to treat mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression and cope with dying. Advocates say it could revolutionize mental health treatment, but researchers want to find out whether a psychedelic trip is needed to see benefits from the treatment.

Meanwhile, some doctors across the country are seeking exemptions from certain laws governing controlled substances, which would allow them to use psilocybin for patient care.

“Why do we live in a country right now where the government is only allowing access to this substance in a less safe manner?” asked Nicholas Pope, an Ottawa-based lawyer who is currently part of a large constitutional challenge to strike down the law that prohibits psilocybin for medical purposes.

“How does that all line up with the objectives of the substances act, which are health and public safety?”

Pope called the current restrictions on psilocybin an “absurd and wrong” situation, where patients who could benefit from the drug are unable to while some enjoy it recreationally.

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