- On Election Day, Oregon became the first-ever state to legalize psilocybin, a psychedelic compound found in “magic” mushrooms, for therapeutic use.
- The state also decriminalized personal possession of the substance.
- Small studies have found psilocybin, when administered in a clinical setting, has the potential to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Proponents say it will make psilocybin more accessible to people who could benefit from it as a therapeutic.
- However, researchers say the bill will not make the drug easier to study, meaning legalization may move faster than science. The bill could also have funding consequences for their work.
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On Tuesday night, Oregon became the first US state to legalize psilocybin, a psychedelic compound found in “magic” mushrooms.
Residents voted to pass Measure 109 on Election Day, allowing anyone access to the substance for therapeutic uses, even without a doctor’s note. For anyone who isn’t using the substance under the guidance of a therapist or other licensed facilitator, possessing psilocybin would still be considered illegal.
But in another vote, the state also decriminalized psilocybin, as did Washington D.C. As such, people who possess personal amounts (between 0.5 and 5 grams is enough for one person to trip) are considered of the lowest priority to law enforcement.
Proponents of Measure 109 say the bill will likely open the door for more research into psilocybin’s therapeutic benefits in treating anxiety, depression, and PTSD. But researchers say state-level legalization won’t make their efforts easier and legalization is moving faster than science.
Psilocybin has the potential to treat depression and anxiety
Researchers at New York University and Johns Hopkins University study the psychedelic drug. They have found that, when administered in a clinical setting, the drug decreased feelings of anxiety and depression in people with chronic illnesses like cancer, and those with a history of mental illness.
In particular, some small studies found it holds promise for people who find no relief from traditional anti-depressant medications.
In fact, today Johns Hopkins researcher Matthew Johnson published new research that found two doses of psilocybin, with psychotherapy, was effective at relieving symptoms of major depression.
That was one of the main reasons Dr. Nick Gideonse, a physician and hospice medical director, cited in his support of Measure 109.
“We have so many tools for physical pain, but for many facing the end of life, mental anguish and existential fear leave people stuck in a cycle of anxiety and depression in their final days and weeks,” Gideonse said in a “Vote Yes on 109” press release emailed to Insider.
“Psilocybin therapy has demonstrated its potential to help these patients through this suffering, and go on to enjoy the time they have left.”
It could be used for mindfulness
Studies have also shown that, for people with no history of mental illness, the drug helped them have more overall life satisfaction.
According to Paul Austin, the founder of Third Wave, an online community for psychedelic drug education and advocacy, Measure 109 could boost mindfulness in society as a whole.
Austin, who also founded Netherlands-based psychedelic retreat company Synthesis, told Insider that the key will be allowing for affordable, accessible options — a question the legislation has yet to answer.
For people who deal with loneliness, distractedness, and other hallmarks of the modern world, psilocybin and other psychedelics “can be incredibly effective at just helping to cultivate more peace, more equanimity, and more stillness in everyday life, which then makes it much easier to respond, rather than react to, everything that’s going on around us,” Austin said.
Oregon is still deciding how access to psilocybin will work
Measure 109 will be enacted in two years after a developmental stage is completed.
Ultimately, the success of the measure for research and therapeutic purposes will depend on how the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) structures the program, Johnson told Insider.
The OHA will oversee the cultivation, growth, and distribution of legal psilocybin, and has the power to make procedures for consumer lax, tight to mimick clinical trials, or somewhere in between.
Legalization could help researchers study the drug in a ‘naturalistic setting’
Researchers will now be able to collect more data on how people react to psilocybin, based on anecdotal reports.
“Legalization and decriminalization in Oregon and Washington D.C. will now allow us to do what we think is so vital and that is collect data in the naturalistic setting,” Heather Jackson, Board President of psychedelic research nonprofit Unlimited Sciences, said in a press release emailed to Insider.
A “naturalistic setting,” refers to when psilocybin is studied outside of a lab. Currently, the most promising trials using the drug have been done in labs with clinical settings, not in naturalistic ones, or ones with trained researchers monitoring patients before, during, and after giving them psilocybin.
Currently, the exact procedures for screening users, giving psilocybin, and following up with users have yet to be determined.
Those procedures could make or break the success of the bill, Johnson said. In the best case scenario, the program will use “all the same safety parameters” as they use in clinical trials. However, there’s a risk the state decides to say, “we’re not going deal with eight hours of screenings for these participants,” and just hand out questionnaires.
But federal laws mean researchers are still ham-strung
State policies can’t influence federal ones regarding drug use and research, psychopharmacologist and psychedelic researcher Roland Griffiths told Insider.
“We are bound by a federal regulatory statute and the Oregon initiative does not address that,” Griffiths said.
“They announced their intention to work with the federal government over issues having to do with drug regulation, but the devil’s in the details there,” he said, adding the FDA and DEA have to approve any psychedelic drug research his team does.
According to Griffiths, the key to more extensive research is funding from the National Institutes of Health, since the majority of their studies have been conducted through philanthropic donations.
Some experts fear a spike in negative side effects if the program isn’t rolled out correctly
Johnson said that making psilocybin in more readily available through Measure 109 could lead to more negative side-effect reports, like cardiac arrest or psychosis, if there isn’t stringent screening measures and monitoring of patients during and after drug use.
Any negative reports, he says, could undermine existing and future research.
“If the ultimate implementation of [Measure 109] is not done in the right way, you could have adverse outcomes and then people can step back and say, ‘All of that stuff I’ve been reading about the promising use of psychedelics as medicine, those studies at Johns Hopkins and those studies at UCLA, et cetera, they weren’t what they were cracked up to be,'” Johnson said.
At the same time, Johnson said the measure will likely go forward regardless of how the procedures are determined, and he’s “all for studying” those psilocybin users’ data if they choose to share it.
“We’re not saying it should happen, but since it’s happening, we’re going to learn something from it,” he said.