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A vendor bags psilocybin mushrooms at a pop-up cannabis market in Los Angeles. Despite pandemic conditions that made normal signature-gathering almost impossible, activists in the nation’s capital say they have enough signatures for a November ballot initiative that would decriminalize natural psychedelics such as mescaline and psilocybin mushrooms
Magic Mushrooms, Los Angeles, United States – 24 May 2019
We don’t know the winner of the presidential race yet. Waiting for final numbers to come in has been anxiety-inducing, to say the least. But at least some positive news has surfaced since the polls closed. For one, Oregon legalized psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, making it the first state to do so in the U.S. And Washington D.C. decriminalized the psychedelic compound.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to buy ‘shrooms over the counter in Oregon or D.C. anytime soon. (Though I, for one, wouldn’t mind escaping reality for a hot sec.) Instead, the new laws are meant to make psilocybin available for therapeutic use, which could be a big deal for mental health research.
Psilocybin may have the potential to help treat conditions such as depression, PTSD, and addiction, indicates research from Johns Hopkins University and Imperial College London. For instance, the compound helped improve the symptoms of twenty patients with treatment-resistant depression, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports. The research found that the compound may “effectively reset the activity of key brain circuits known to play a role in depression.”
But “psilocybin research trials are in the early stages,” says Nicole Cirino, the president of the Oregon Psychiatric Physicians Association. “We need to know what type of mental illness it actually treats and what safety precautions, doses, follow-up measures we need in place to use it safely and effectively.”
The passage of Measure 109, which states that regulated use of psychedelic compound in a therapeutic setting will be allowed for people age 21 and over, may help pave the way for more research into the compound. But nothing’s changing tomorrow: The measure states that the Oregon Health Authority will have two years to create regulations around what therapeutic use in the state will look like.
“We’re going to take our time and do it right,” said psychotherapist Tom Eckert, a chief sponsor of the bill, according to The Wall Street Journal. “We’re in a mental health crisis and we need new treatment options.”
Unlike marijuana, which is legal for recreational use in Oregon, measure 109 only legalizes magic mushrooms for therapeutic use. (Speaking of weed: A number of states legalized marijuana last night, too.) That means psilocybin will only be stored and administered at licensed facilities. However, another measure that passed in the state on Tuesday night decriminalized carrying small amounts of ‘shrooms, reports The Oregonian.
Meanwhile, D.C. passed ballot Initiative 81, which decriminalizes the use of ‘shrooms and similar psychedelic substances. That means that police will treat the distribution, cultivation, and possession of these substances as a super-low priority. This isn’t set in stone yet, though. The D.C. Council will review the initiative, and have the option to overturn it or send it to Congress, who could let it stand or block it, according to CNBC. Similar initiatives have been struck down before. In 1998, one aimed at decriminalizing marijuana was overturned by the Congress, Slate reports.
Federally, psilocybin is still considered a “Schedule I” drug: one that has no widely accepted medical benefit and a high risk for abuse, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. However, in 2018, Johns Hopkins recommended that the FDA reclassify psilocybin as a a Schedule IV drug, a classification for drugs that have “a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence”; substances like Xanax fall into this category. That year, the FDA reviewed a psilocybin therapy intended for treatment-resistant depression, and gave the drug a “breakthrough therapy” designation, which seems to indicate progress in how the agency is looking at the drug.
To sum up: More research needs to be done before anyone can say for sure how useful psilocybin really is for mental health. But overall, many are seeing measures that increase access to potential therapies for issues like depression — and that reduce policing over minor drug-related offenses — as positive steps forward.
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