Prepare for Amsterdam Without Magic 'Shrooms

The Dutch parliament is proposing a ban on the sale of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Lawmakers are being misled when they cite dangerous behavior induced by 'shrooms, according to Charles Overby, who runs Mushroom Galaxy.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MIKE PESCA, host:

Some people like to take their vacations lazing on a beach in the Caribbean. Others tour the ruins of Machu Picchu. There are still others who enjoy taking the time off, flying to Amsterdam, and ingesting some substances that are banned here in the U.S. and watching the vapor trails of their hands as they slowly wave in time to the music of the String Cheese Incident. To each his own.

At least, that's what the government of the Netherlands used to say. But now, that country is considering a ban on the sale of so-called magic mushrooms. A French tourist died after falling or jumping from a bridge after taking mushrooms, and a few more tourists have had post-mushroom mishaps. Yesterday, I talked with Charles Overby, an American who moved to the Netherlands to open the Mushroom Galaxy, a smart shop where the sales of 'shrooms is legal.

Mushroom Galaxy, does that mean it's all you sell? Or is that your specialty, the magic mushrooms?

Mr. CHARLES OVERBY (Owner, Mushroom Galaxy, Amsterdam): It's a specialty. There - we do have other items, as well, collectibles, souvenirs, things like that, as well. But yes, the majority of our sales do come from the mushrooms.

PESCA: So I take it a government ban wouldn't just hurt business, it would kill you business, yes?

Mr. OVERBY: Basically, yes.

PESCA: Oh, wow. Do you know what's behind the ban? Why the move now?

Mr. OVERBY: Well, as far as I can tell, it's the latest government that has gotten in has decided that they want to be less tolerant, it seems.

PESCA: And I know there have been a couple high-profile cases. Specifically, some tourists have died after taking mushrooms. Is that right?

Mr. OVERBY: Hang on just a second. I'll be right back.

PESCA: OK. At this point, Charles has put down the phone, and we can hear him giving a spiel to a customer.

Mr. OVERBY: OK, I'm back.

PESCA: Charles, so you just transacted business there, yeah?

Mr. OVERBY: Yes.

PESCA: Is that what a transaction usually goes like? Someone comes in, says pretty much - points, and then you sell them the mushroom?

Mr. OVERBY: It varies from person to person. Each case is different. Sometimes you have people that know exactly what they want. They're well-experienced, and they come in. They ask for what they want, and get it and then go. And others are sometime coming in for the first time.

They'll want to know what kind of effect to expect, how to take the mushrooms, how to stop the effect if they want to, things like that. And I go through the - excuse me - I'll go through the instructions and make sure that, before they walk out of here with them, they know what they're doing.

One of the main things that we tell people is, do not use alcohol with these. And of course, once somebody leaves the shop with them, you have no control over their use of alcohol with the mushrooms, and that is by far the worst culprit that creates trouble for people.

PESCA: Now, I didn't hear your whole conversation, but from what I heard, it seemed like that guy knew what he wanted, and you didn't go through any of the warnings or all of the warnings.

Mr. OVERBY: Right, and I did ask him.

PESCA: What did you ask him?

Mr. OVERBY: I asked him if he had had them before.

PESCA: Oh, OK.

Mr. OVERBY: Yeah.

PESCA: Now, before you had to serve that customer, I asked you about tourist deaths. Is that your understanding? That's what is the latest thing behind this mushroom ban?

Mr. OVERBY: Yeah, that was the latest straw that was laid on the camel's back, as it were. However, in my own experience, which is very, very long-term, there is nothing about these that will make someone with to commit suicide. In fact, it's just the opposite. And I find that people that are all ready leaning towards suicide and would probably do so anyway are people who should avoid mushrooms.

PESCA: Right. But you can't screen for that, and I don't know if that's mentioned on a poster.

Mr. OVERBY: Well, it certainly is, actually. We have a nice little sign here on how to avoid a bad trip.

PESCA: And what's it say?

Mr. OVERBY: And it says, "Mushrooms enhance emotion." And there's a smiley face that says, "If you're happy, you're going to be very happy. If you're upset, you're going to be very upset. No mushrooms. If you're not happy, you're going to be very unhappy. No mushrooms. If you're feeling blue, you're going to be very, very blue. No mushrooms."

PESCA: And do you also say, do not listen to German industrial music on mushrooms?

Mr. OVERBY: No, I don't give any advice as far as music is concerned.

PESCA: But Allman Brothers, go ahead and listen to it, that's classic. I wondered if we could read a quote for you from the Justice Ministry spokesman. I believe his name is pronounced Wim van der Weegen. And he says, quote, "The problem with mushrooms is that their effect is unpredictable. It's impossible to estimate what amount will have what effect." Is that your experience?

Mr. OVERBY: No, it's not my experience at all. Different people, different body weights do need to take varied amounts. Lesser body weight, less amount. However, that, again, comes back to experience. In my own personal case, I'm about 160 pounds, roughly. I'm not huge, and I can take three of these doses and not have any adverse effects whatsoever.

PESCA: And how often do you do so?

Mr. OVERBY: Not three doses at one time, mind you.

PESCA: Got you. How often do you indulge?

Mr. OVERBY: Well, probably three, four more times a year.

PESCA: Let me ask you this. Before you mentioned counteracting the effects, what do you do - is there a way you can put a break on the mushroom experience? What do you do to counteract the effects?

Mr. OVERBY: One of the best ways is to eat something heavy, like a hamburger, something that's going to give your stomach and your metabolism something to work on, and drink an orange juice or a vitamin C drink that would help to bring you off the effect in about half an hour or so.

In addition to that, we also offer people who would like it what we call a "mushroom stopper," and that's valerian, which is a natural relaxant, and a vitamin C tablet, which they would dissolve in water and drink, which would have the same effect of bringing them off the experience within about half an hour or so.

PESCA: Have you talked about, you know, maybe things that you could do it inside the shops to reassure the public that, you know, bad trips won't happen, or at least people will have enough tools...?

Mr. OVERBY: Come up with a - it could be ensured that the people who worked in smart shops were well-trained in this kind of thing. For the most part, we are self-policing, and we do have a strong feeling of responsibility towards the public who are coming to us for these experiences.

PESCA: All right. Charles Overby, a smart shop owner. His shop is called the Mushroom Galaxy. Thanks very much, Charles.

Mr. OVERBY: Thank you.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Michael, why are they called smart shops?

PESCA: I think it's sort of like why you call a fat guy tiny.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: You know, what are you going to call them, drool-on-your-shirt shops? I don't know. The part of the mushroom experience that I've indulged in is when he said eat the hamburger. That part I could check off.

MARTIN: That part you get.

PESCA: Well, have you ever been to Amsterdam?

MARTIN: Yes! A few times. It's a lovely place. It really is. There's a lot to offer besides the drugs and other kinds of things that I don't participate in.

PESCA: I know you're a scholar of Anne Frank.

MARTIN: Yes, that house is really amazing, actually. And I don't know if I would call myself a "scholar" of Anne Frank.

PESCA: You were taken by her stories.

MARTIN: I was taken by her stories.

PESCA: And what else have you seen in Amsterdam? Did you go to the Red Light District?

MARTIN: I did go to the Red Light District when I was 19, which was kind of a big eye-opener for a 19 year old who hails from Idaho Falls.

PESCA: Idaho, yeah, which is like a 16 year old in other places.

MARTIN: Pretty much we're delayed in our red lights learnedness.

PESCA: Well, you're pure.

MARTIN: I'm pure, but then, you know, I was telling you, I went to the Red Light District in Homburg, Germany. I mean, in Amsterdam, anyone can go cruise around the Red Light District. In Homburg, they block off this alley that's the most elite part of the Red Light District there, and women can't even go in.

PESCA: Really?

MARTIN: It's crazy. There are people there to monitor so women can't - and I snuck in because that's how I roll. I snuck in to the alleyway, and the women in the windows totally gave me dirty looks and yell at you in mean German things.

PESCA: Do you know - couldn't you - isn't that - from what I read about the Beatles, I know they were really big in Hamburg. Were they - the clubs they played at in the Red Light District? Could you go to them? Did you do any Beatles - you say all these places with all these, like, crazy things going on and I think of Anne Frank and the Beatles. I'm an arts guy, I guess, then a crazy, get-your-head-in-this-special-place guy.

MARTIN: I feel like we've been on a strange journey.

PESCA: Picture yourself on a boat in a radio studio with tangerine dreams and a bearded guy named Jacob saying, what the hell are you talking about?

MARTIN: Guam.

PESCA: Guam.

MARTIN: Guam.

PESCA: Guam. Next on the show, a plumber. Whoa, hey. A plumber, a meteorite and an auction house. A meteorite found in China could fetch millions of dollars at auction and the man who found it next. This is the BPP from NPR News.

MARTIN: Guam.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Related NPR Stories

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: