Willie Nelson’s ‘Narcotic’ Shrooms

Psilocybin Shroom
Willie Nelson and four others were issued misdemeanor citations for possession of narcotic mushrooms and marijuana after a traffic stop Monday morning on a Louisiana highway, state police said. — Associated Press, September 18, 2005

Webster's Dictionary defines a narcotic as "a drug that produces numbness or stupor; often taken for pleasure or to reduce pain; extensive use can lead to addiction."

According to Medicine.net, the word narcotic comes from the Greek word "narke" which means "numbness or torpor." A second definition from the same site acknowledges that the word narcotic has slipped into common usage and has come to mean "A drug such as marijuana which is subject to regulatory restrictions comparable to those for addictive narcotics." Wikipedia tells us that, "A narcotic is an addictive drug derived from opium, that reduces pain, induces sleep and may alter mood or behavior. The derivation of the word is from the Greek word narkotikos, meaning 'benumbing or deadening,' and originally referred to a variety of substances that induce sleep (such state is narcosis)." From there, the Wikipedia entry goes on to acknowledge that "Many police in the United States use the word 'narcotic' to refer to any illegal drug or any unlawfully possessed drug." (Actually, nearly all narcotics are legal with a prescription, unlike Willie's shrooms)

The misuse of the word narcotic by America's legal system began early in the 20th Century.  Legendary psychedelic chemist/researcher Alexander "Sasha" Shulgin told me...

The original meaning of narcotic was to define something that would cause narcosis — a numbing dopy state where there wasn't much feeling, and pain was lessened and sleep came easily. The Harrison Narcotics Act was passed into law in about 1915 give or take a couple of years, [ed: 1914] and it was basically a law making opium (and morphine) and coca (and cocaine) illegal.These were collectively called narcotics, and the term came to represent those two drugs (and their allies) for years. Illegal drugs were called narcotics, and the people who were employed by the Bureau of Narcotics were called Narks. In 1936 a super ego called Anslinger moved to put marijuana into the law and it was called by all the police, "another narcotic. " This was the status of Federal drug law until the sixties when the hippie movement took off. Clearly LSD and mescaline and STP (DOM) weren't like opium (the focal definition of a narcotic) so the Bureau of Narcotics weren't the right people to go after the users. So a new group was created, associated with the FDA, and called the BNDD or Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.The B of N and the FDA wore difference hats and competed for attention in the anti-drug fight. It all was resolved in about 1970 with the passage of the Controlled Substance Act bill and the creation of the DEA. It is quite a story.

Among the drug hip, the use of the word narcotic to describe mind-active drugs other than opiates carries with it an implicit irony. (Implicit only because irony, by its nature, can't be explicit.) On the other hand, the mainstream media, even the San Francisco Chronicle, from the drug-sophisticated Bay Area, tends to use law enforcement misnomers for illicit drugs, when reporting news around drugs. For instance, one report called the disassociative hallucinogen Ketamine a "date rape drug." There is, of course, no such thing as a date rape drug. There are drugs that were developed to be used — and are used — for other purposes that are, on rare occasions, used for date rape. And then there's alcohol, which has been the more easily available and frequently used substance of choice for date rapists since time immemorial. Unlike some other US papers, The Chronicle, at least, never reported on an LSD overdose, something that is virtually impossible to achieve, however hard some of us may have tried back in the days of heroic dose experimentation.

There are probably a dozen or so regular Chronicle culture and opinion writers who are sufficiently (intimately) knowledgeable regarding mind-altering plants and chemicals to inform the news editors about their mistakes, but who cares? No news agency will ever have a Dan Rather crisis for accepting and passing along drug misinformation. Indeed, nobody... nobody demands accuracy from the news media regarding mind-altering drugs or those who enjoy them.

Meanwhile, back to the concept of "narcotic" shrooms: As far as I've been able to decipher in one day's research, there are no opium-containing mushrooms nor are there any pharmaceutical relaxants or stupefiers that are derived from mushrooms. However, one source, who asked to be nameless, but who is associated with a company that supplies legal highs, told me that the Amanita Mascaria mushroom "can cause a kind of drunken stupor that can last a couple of hours, slowing you down until you pass out." Accoding to Ilsa Jerome, Project Coordinator for MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), "The depressant compound [in amanita] is almost certainly muscimol, a direct GABA agonist, GABA (gamma-amino-butyric acid) being a major inhibitory transmitter. Other GABA agonists include benzodiazepines, GHB and ethanol." Other compounds in Amanita, however, likely have opposite, excitatory effects, so stupefaction experiences are rare, and most experimenters report mild psychedelic effects, with some disassociative properties. And of course, Psilocybin, the drug that Willie was actually carrying, is a psychedelic (mind-manifesting drug or plant); or as some would have it, an entheogen (drug or plant that causes one to experience the god within); or a hallucinogen (drug or plant that causes one to watch The Dead for five hours without getting bored shitless.)

I asked Jerome if she was aware of any relationship between the activity of psilocybin in the brain and the activity of actual narcotics (i.e. opiates). She noted that, "There are a few studies that describe the effects of psilocybin in people, but none alongside those of opiates." But she added, "We do know that psilocybin, like LSD, mescaline and a host of obscure related drugs, acts to 'switch on' certain serotonin receptors. All these drugs share activity at 5HT2A and 5HT2C receptors; from there, actions vary, but psilocybin also acts to turn on 5HT1A and probably 5HT1B receptors. Opiates act on at least three opioid receptors, those being represented by the Greek letters 'mu', 'sigma', 'delta' and 'kappa'

In other words, "they definitely have different pharmacological activities." (Technically, Dr. Shulgin points out, psilocybin doesn't cross the blood/brain barrier and make it into the brain. Only after digestion is Psilocin produced, which does get across the brain-blood barrier to produce the psychedelic effects. Shulgin says, "This accounts for the time delay from the eating to the turning on.")

Perhaps we should accept the term "narcotic" as a description of any illicit mind-active drug since it is now common usage. But the word still carries more than a whiff of its original connotations. Drug warriors and reductionists do think of all illegal drug effects in terms of stupefaction. Most psychedelic fans would argue that these substances result in the opposite of stupefaction. Indeed, the experience frequently makes trippers painfully hyper-aware. On the other hand, if you're hoping that your buddy who is tripping on a hefty dose of shrooms will help you sort the garbage for tomorrow's recycling pick up, you might consider the slacker — laying on the floor for six hours staring at the back of his eyelids — to be stupified.

Narcotics or no, Willie Nelson will remain an American institution. Universally loved despite his weird-ass mile-long ponytail, lefty politics, and blatant marijuana advocacy, maybe this Willie Nelson bust will help awaken our countrymen to the absurdity of the drug war and the assumptions that are built into it. Probably not, though. For one thing, people find so much entertainment value in celebrity run-ins with the law that they don't want to mess up the fun by making serious politics out of it. Anyway, most people seem to regard this endless game of cops-and-stoners as an irretrievable fact of life.

17 thoughts to “Willie Nelson’s ‘Narcotic’ Shrooms”

  1. Great article! Definite food for thought. Thanks for the tip off on the new blog R U! :-)

    You mean I’m not the only one who gets bored stupid by the Grateful Dead? Wow. Never heard that before, I thought I was unique. That’s sacrilege in my household. But then, I only have very limited experience of hallucinogens. One mushroom trip in my early 20’s.

    WIll be stopping by regularly.

  2. Missed the story that Willie got busted for ‘shrooms. Could you fill in the details for those of us who somehow Missed that One between Burning Man haze and post-9-11 torpor?

    My dad’s a DC attorney and *everything* is a narcotic in his world. sigh…

    thanks for the forward

  3. A week ago I was driving through the Texas hill country on the way to a friend of ours lakeside house. In the middle of a vast open space of foliage was a small Mexican hut and a sign that read “Willie eats here.” I wonder what they were serving! Might have stopped if …

    Thanks RU for another dazzling article!

  4. This reminds me of something I ran across today while reading about Greenades. In an article published on prweb.com they say:

    “Most experts agree that there is enough THC (the active chemical in marijuana) in one gram of high grade marijuana to produce a lethal overdose that could result in death if swallowed by a toddler.”

    I had never heard of a lethal dose of marijuana. Wikipedia agrees that “It is generally considered to be impossible to achieve a lethal overdose by smoking cannabis”. Just more media trying to scare us about the welfare of our children.

  5. Interesting article!

    Poor Willie. Nailed again — and to think he was trying to legalize stuff when this started — and now he’s in trouble again.

    Whether or not it was ‘narcotics’ is not a question of logical definition, but it’s just another whacked ‘drug law’ definition.

    Going after the drug war insanity in the USA by using logic makes sense to a degree, but at some point we all have to admit this is INSANITY and then argue the way society does w/insane people:
    Use numbers, gang up, go for the tackle, and administer a sedative.

    Clearly, the US Govt is on drugs — I mean metaphorically and also ‘riding the black market trading profits’ to fuel secret groups & not-so-secret coups, CIA teams, and all that.

    If you figured it out, think again — it’s not a Drug War that makes sense in any logical way EXCEPT “who’s profiting and who’s suffering”?

    Profiteers = alcohol & tobacco co’s (ie wealthy people & corps), US medicine research (ie big biz), police and prison systems, and govt (b/c easier to control people w/’you’ve got drugs!’ excuse).

    Suffering = average to poor Americans who buy dope in small volumes on the street, occasional celebrities who get nailed doing something ‘dumb’ on a binge, S. American farmers can’t legally market a high demand exportable crop (free market? Where’s that?), and one stupid President who got caught (but his Daddy got him off the rap).

    The Drug War is a farce, almost as bad as the supposed “War on Terrorists” where the terrorists are invisible — but it’s a front that allows the USA to go and crush non-threatening countries and say it’s actions were warranted.

    It’s all 1984 DoubleThink. So of course Mushrooms and Marijuana (the natural drugs) are illegal, and of course Alcohol and Tobacco (both modified and known to be addictive) are legal. Doesn’t it make sense to you? You better figure out a way to swallow THAT pill, or it’s off to the Ministry of Love for you (– and that’d be called Guantanamo).

    Thanks RU for the article!


  6. Dan, while I agree that a lethal THC overdose is unlikely, most of the LD50 studies are conducted on adult animals. We also know that adolescent-onset marijuana use is linked to psychosis later on (among certain segments of the population) but adult-onset isn’t; meaning that as the brain doesn’t mature till the early 20s, generalizations about marijuana can’t be applied to toddlers. Of course, this applies to the scaremongers, as well.

  7. I wouldnt put alcohol in the same category as, say, ghb.

    The alcohol consumer is aware of their ingestion and its consequences, and in most cases can plan their ingestion and behavior to insure a reasonable degree of safety. Date rape arises from poor choices with a known variable.

    Even an intelligent consciencous, tea-totalling soccer mom can get date raped with ghb without any knowledge, foreshadowing, or preventative action.

    That difference is extremely significant and should in no way be diluted by comparing it to alcohol.

    Also, you can certainly overdose on LSD to the point where you become suicidal (I have), and I also know someone in a mental ward who overdosed on LSD 12 years ago and still believes he is a teapot.

    Don’t counter bad information with more bad information, someone could hurt themselves. I would NEVER tell ANYONE it is impossible to overdose on LSD. That is simply irresponsible.

  8. In a Conan Obrien monologue only pot was mentioned. Omitting the mention of the shrooms, or calling them narcotic seems to a conscious effort to obscure the nature of the drugs and the users intent. There seems to be a fear driven knee jerk character assassination culture operating in the US. Maybe it has always been that way. But with the war and the current junta itseems worse. People who disagree with the ruling forces need to pool resources and take over geography to reestablish american freedoms. I propose Minnesota.

  9. you had some good shit to type but if theres no war on drugs theirs less of a market for the littel man trying to farm a liveing so i have mixed feelings about the main subject.
    most of the things you typed i agree with and thanks for the info on that shroom looks interesting and fun.

  10. Well it is at least good to hear that willie got off with white collar treatment…although the fact that he was harassed is a bit ridiculous in my opinion. Great blog, very informative…this one is definitely going into the bookmarks!

  11. I was talking to the president of Virginia NORML yesterday, and he had an interesting thing to say about the America’s drug problem.

    The war on drugs isn’t about drugs. It’s about law enforcement and to a greater extent, the federal government having the mentality of “Finishing what you started”. Everything (good and bad) that we know about illegal drugs doesn’t factor in.

    _Winning_ this “war” is.

  12. Drug Addiction will not only ruin your body but it would also mess up your life.`-`

  13. seriously could we shut upabout people useingdrugs it really doesn’t matter for one have u ever tried them if yes then u can say your point if not stfu

  14. Poor ole Willie. Cops trying to justify more budget $ I would guess.

    By the way, LSD is a serious drug. It’s toxic, but how toxic is under debate. You CAN die from to much of it, that’s why it takes so little to get ya off. It’s not easy to do though.

    It’s not as easy to die from acid as it is from H, but it can be done. Only a few people have died from acid ODs. It’s not like if you take a hit or 2 you are going to fall over & die. If it was easy to die from acid it woulda killed me…:-)

    In the 60’s I used to take enough acid for 5-6 people. Once I ate a 3rd of a 2″ soaked real good blotter square…I got a killer headache! but didn’t die. That was not a fun day. Before that I ate 2 1/2 Blue Owsley 4 way tabs. Two hr later, when the cops pulled us over, at sunrise of course:-), I ate 2 1/2 more. I didn’t touch any thing drug related for 6 months after that one! That day I saw Hobbits way before I read about them them.

    Then there was the night of the Doors concert……….

    These days I just stick to Mary. No more hallucinogenics for this ole boy! I don’t recommend them any more. Not good for ya.

    Adan B, yup. Addiction not good at all! LSD is not good for ya, but not addicting. Cannabis is the safest. When my kids were growing up I was really hoping they would stay away from all drugs, esp. alcohol & speed type stuff like crack & meth. If they just had to mess with stuff I was hoping they would only do it w/cannabis.

    Turns out they messed w/cannabis & alcohol, but not the speed garbage.


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