“Science is there, the people are ready for this, and the truth is on our side,” said Rep. Jeff Shipley about legalizing psilocybin, the hallucinogenic substance also known as “magic mushrooms.” Jeff Shipley, a Republican lawmaker from Iowa, is one of the growing number of people who believes that the War on Drugs wrongfully targeted substances other than cannabis.
Although marijuana is by far America’s favorite illicit drug, thus making it the center of any debate about drug reform, it is not the only substance that is largely harmless, beloved for its medical and recreational uses and yet violently repressed in the U.S.
Reforms to change the prohibition of the use of psilocybin, but also MDMA (ecstasy) and ibogaine (a naturally occurring psychoactive), were suggested in two bills (HF 248 and HF249) submitted by Shipley last year. Last week, Shipley repeated the experience by introducing the same measure in an amendment for a budget bill. All of his bills were soundly defeated, as could be expected of the Republican-dominated Iowa Legislature. However, this shows that voices exist and start speaking up against prohibition, even from within Republican ranks. Several initiatives exist to legalize or decriminalize drugs other than marijuana, and they have been gaining momentum in the past few years, but they are typically carried out by advocacy groups rather than lawmakers. Just like cannabis legalization has been permeating America’s public consciousness, other substances have been following the same path.
In May 2019, Denver, Colorado, became the first city in the U.S. to decriminalize magic mushrooms in a first-of-its-kind ballot measure, which was approved by a narrow margin of voters. Although the substance isn’t legal and cannot be purchased in stores, “the enforcement of any laws imposing criminal penalties for the personal use and personal possession of psilocybin mushrooms shall be the lowest law enforcement priority in the City and County of Denver,” the ordinance reads. Since then, and as a result of Denver’s success, other campaigns have been gaining steam, starting with decriminalization in Oakland, CA, within weeks of Denver.
In Oregon, the “Psilocybin Services Act” aims to administer psilocybin to patients at licensed facilities supervised by the Oregon Health Authority, while another initiative aims to decriminalize the substance for all Oregonians; both options might be on the ballot in November. The same is happening in California, where a ballot measure will offer decriminalization of psilocybin to voters. A similar campaign in Washington, D.C., led by the organization Decriminalize Nature, is also attempting to make magic mushrooms appear on the ballot.
Decriminalize Nature is a driving force behind the nationwide movement. They counted about 100 cities across the country where they initiated the process to open minds about psychedelics reform. Their motto is that psychedelics can heal communities.
Psychedelics Can Heal
That is the key point of all these attempts at reform: Currently banned substances can be beneficial to people and communities. “A growing body of evidence indicates that these drugs may have other applications beyond their potential for abuse,” write researchers behind in a 2016 article published in the peer-reviewed journal Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, which reviews all the known evidence about medical applications of psychedelics.
“The first generation of clinical psychedelic research began in the mid-20th century and focused almost exclusively on LSD, mescaline and psilocybin. At the time, these compounds, LSD in particular, were seminal in the field of neurochemistry, where they helped advance our understanding of serotonin, and its role in the brain. […] LSD was first synthesized in 1938, and for nearly 20 years LSD remained relatively obscure in the public sphere. While legitimate scientific research flourished during this period, LSD as a cultural phenomenon was not yet known. In the US, the Controlled Substances Act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970. In this context, scientific research with LSD, psilocybin, DMT and mescaline ground to a halt virtually overnight.”
Most of last century was spent in fear and hatred of drugs that were made illicit in the first place for less-than-perfect reasons, and our understanding of these substances suffered greatly as a result. Americans loathed “the devil’s lettuce” and wouldn’t have assumed it has therapeutic properties, only for the majority of the states to make medical marijuana legal when its properties became actually studied. Much of the same is true for other drugs.
“Recent analysis has demonstrated a largely benign safety profile for psilocybin, with independent analyses finding that psilocybin exhibits the least risk of harm to self or others when assessed relative to other commonly abused drugs,” the study states. Psilocybin was repeatedly reported to increase “measures of mystical experience” and self-reported “meaningfulness” even months after consumption. A study suggests that short-term recidivism can be reduced by giving psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy to ex-convicts.
“Results from some of the first human laboratory research with psilocybin in decades found that in healthy normal volunteers, 30 mg/70 kg of psilocybin facilitated mystical-type experiences with sustained meaning and persisting beneficial effects, consistent with earlier findings.
“Furthermore, pooled analyses revealed that psilocybin-occasioned mystical experiences were significantly correlated with persisting increases in the personality domain of openness, representing the first discrete laboratory manipulation shown to elicit significant, lasting changes in personality, a construct which is considered generally stable throughout adulthood,” the study continues. “A recent meta-analysis of eight double blind, placebo-controlled experiments conducted in a single laboratory over 10 years analyzed the acute and persisting effects of 227 psilocybin sessions across 110 healthy volunteers. In line with recent work on long-lasting personal meaningfulness, 60% of the volunteers in that analysis rated their psilocybin experience “very enriching,” and 90% rated it enriching to at least a medium degree between 8 and 16 months after administration.”
Another study in The Lancet found “promising results” when investigating the use of psilocybin to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, as well as smoking and alcohol dependence. Use of psychedelics has been shown to be efficient as a treatment for alcoholism, as it was found that individuals receiving a single dose of LSD in the context of alcoholism treatment exhibited significantly reduced alcohol misuse, the study states. The first human trial of LSD in the 21st century showed that it reduced anxiety considerably: “participant interviews at 12 months post-treatment found no evidence of lasting adverse effects, with participants largely reporting reduced anxiety (77.8%) and increased quality of life (66.7%) since their study participation.”
This is merely a glimpse into the potential uses of psychedelics. Not only can psychedelics potentially help treat alcoholism, anxiety, depression, OCD and headaches, as well as consistently improving people’s open-mindedness and quality of life over long period, they are also essentially harmless.
When psychedelics are consumed in a therapeutic context, their “recreational” effects only last hours, but their beneficial effects are still felt months after ingestion, showing that the psychoactive effects are only one of many aspects of the substances, albeit the most obvious. When they were banned, it was because of their obvious psychoactive components; maybe they will be made available again for their therapeutic components.
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