The UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances lists the following substances, inter alia:

  • cathinone - Schedule 1
  • cathine - Schedule 3
  • psilocin - Schedule 1
  • psilocybin - Schedule 1

Neither khat, which contains cathinone and cathine, nor 'magic mushrooms' which typically contains psilocin and psilocybin, are specifically prohibited.

Although there is no clear consensus, it appears that khat is not regarded as generally illegal simply on the basis of it being a source of cathinone & cathine, e.g. https://www.emcdda.europa.eu/news/2011/3_en Although some countries have separately banned it, which removes any ambiguity

It is generally regarded however that magic mushrooms are illegal on the basis that they contain psilocybin/psilocin, e.g., https://jied.lse.ac.uk/articles/10.31389/jied.101

Is there any clear reasoning under which plants/fungi can be regarded as illegal, when they contain illegal substances (see also DMT, found in various plants), or any way to distinguish these two so that it can be found that magic mushrooms are covered by the Convention while khat are not?


1 Answer 1


The relevant international bodies are the UNODC and the related Commission on Narcotic Drugs https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/commissions/CND/index.html, and the UN International Narcotics Control Board, which along with the WHO are treaty-mandated bodies in the international control of drugs.

The INCB in 'Contribution of the International Narcotics Control Board to the high-level review of the implementation by Member States of the Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem' state

Under the 1961 [Narcotics] Convention and that Convention as amended by the 1972 Protocol, plants that are the sources of narcotic drugs, such as cannabis plant, opium poppy and coca bush, are subject to specific control measures. In contrast, although some active stimulant or hallucinogenic ingredients contained in certain plants are controlled under the 1971 [Psychotropic] Convention, no plants are currently controlled under that Convention or under the 1988 Convention. Preparations (e.g. decoctions for oral use) made from plants containing those active ingredients are also not under international control.

It continues:

Examples of such plants or plant material include khat (Catha edulis), whose active ingredients cathinone and cathine are listed in Schedules I and III of the 1971 Convention ... magic mushrooms (Psilocybe), which contain psilocybine and psilocine;

It continues:

  1. The Board notes that, in view of the health risks associated with the abuse of such plant material, some Governments have placed certain types of plant material and preparations under national control. The Board recommends that Governments that have not yet done so and have experienced problems with regard to persons engaging in the recreational use of or trafficking in such plant material, to .. consider controlling such plant material at the national level where necessary

Therefore it follows that there is no distinction between khat and magic mushrooms in terms of the UN Convention, and neither are Scheduled drugs in terms of international law.

This status was confirmed in a letter from the INCB of 2001 to the Dutch Ministry of Health, which was confirmed by the "INCB Secretariat with the Scientific Section and the Legal Advisory Section of the United Nations International Drug Control Programme", with regards to a question about the legality of magic mushrooms.

It follows that the only plants controlled under international law as narcotics are opium, cannabis and coca. Other plants (or fungi!) are not Scheduled psychotropics.

Thus for example the source in my question claiming 'In 1971, the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances which includes psilocybin mushrooms on the list of illicit products was signed'. is wrong; the chemical psilocybin is listed, but plants/fungi that contain it are not covered.

The US Controlled Substances Act uses two different wordings. E.g., in Schedule I:

  1. 'any of the following opiates/opium derivatives including their isomers, esters, ethers, salts, and salts of isomers, esters, and ethers, whenever the existence of such isomers, esters, ethers, and salts '
  2. 'any material, compound, mixture, or preparation, which contains any quantity of the following ... substances'

The 'any material' definition includes plants containing controlled substances, with lists that include, inter alia, psilocybin, psilocin, cathine, cathinone. In US v. Mire (2013), the US Court of Appeals 7th Circuit, affirmed that this makes khat a federally controlled substance.

It follows therefore that:

  1. The cited international treaties do not restrict any plants as controlled drugs, other than coca, the opium poppy, and cannabis.
  2. Countries may choose to implement these treaties in more restrictive ways, and in the US at least many hallucinogenic plants are prohibited under US law.
  3. There is no difference between khat and magic mushrooms at international law, but magic mushrooms may be more prevalent in Western countries and hence more likely to be restricted at domestic law

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