A bill moving through the New York State Assembly aims to amend public health law and decriminalize psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. The hallucinogenic chemical affects people who eat certain kinds of mushrooms or brew them into a tea.
In A10299, Democratic lawmaker Linda Rosenthal says psilocybin should be removed from the state’s list of controlled substances. The bill says in part, “In 2018, the United States Food and Drug Administration designated the use of psilocybin as a ‘break-through therapy for treatment-resistant depression,’ after reviewing the work of Compass Pathways, which is conducting clinical trials exploring its use in treating severe depression.”
This bill would impact more than just magic mushrooms
Shrooms are actually just one of over 100 different species that contain either psilocybin or psilocin. The chemical causes hallucinations and feelings of euphoria, and affects the user’s perception of color, patterns, textures, tastes, sounds, the passing of time, and so on. The DEA says it affects one’s ability to discern fantasy from reality. Each person’s experience is slightly different. Shrooms can also cause dizziness, nausea, muscle weakness, and other stomach issues.
Right now, psilocybin is classified as a Schedule I drug, the most severe classification. The federal government says in its Controlled Substances Act that Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse, and no currently accepted way to use the drug as a medical treatment. Under a subchapter of that Act, the Psychotropic Substances Act, the government maintains shrooms are not safe for use even under a doctor’s supervision. The makeup of psilocybin is similar to serotonin, a chemical that impacts feelings of happiness and wellbeing.
What researchers say about magic mushrooms
Researchers disagree with the federal government’s assessment, saying psychedelics could be the next medical breakthrough. Magic mushrooms have been found to treat depression; help alcoholics, smokers, and other drug addicts manage their addictions; treat obsessive-compulsive disorder and more. Presidential candidate Andrew Yang has even spoken about that research. In 2019, Johns Hopkins University opened the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, with its scientists upholding the view that psychedelics have a real potential in medicine.
“At the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, researchers will focus on how psychedelics affect behavior, mood, cognition, brain function, and biological markers of health. Upcoming studies will determine the effectiveness of psilocybin as a new therapy for opioid addiction, Alzheimer's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (formerly known as chronic Lyme disease), anorexia nervosa and alcohol use in people with major depression. The researchers hope to create precision medicine treatments tailored to the specific needs of individual patients,” the Center’s website reads. There have been especially promising results in the use of psilocybin to treat the depression and anxiety experienced by cancer patients. A randomized, double-blind study analyzed 51 cancer patients whose diagnoses were life-threatening. Periodically over the course of 5 weeks, participants were given either a dose of psilocybin low enough to serve as a placebo, or a high dose. The study found that those who were given the high dosage rated their feelings of depression and anxiety as lower than before the study, and their quality of life and feelings of optimism as higher. After 6 months, the researchers did a follow-up, and found those changes were sustained. 80% of participants continually showed they’d benefited from the psilocybin. Shrooms tend to induce trips that last around 4 hours. For comparison, acid, which is also classified as a Schedule I drug, lasts 10-12 hours, and is 100 times more potent than psilocybin. The DEA says overdose of psilocybin can cause more intense trips that lead to panic attacks, and in some cases even death. Some people see their mental illnesses worsened while on the drug. People can also die if they mistake a poisonous mushroom for one they expect to contain psilocybin. New York is not the first city in the United States to push for psilocybin’s classification to be adjusted. Some, like Denver and Oakland, have already decriminalized it. “New York should do the same,” Rosenthal’s memo to the New York State Assembly reads. “With the opportunity to positively affect the lives of millions suffering with mental health and addiction issues, this bill will decriminalize psilocybin and allow further research into the study of the drug and its beneficial uses for treatment.” In 2019, Initiative 301 passed in Denver by an incredibly narrow margin, with 50.5% of the vote. Now, people over the age of 21 who use or possess mushrooms for personal use will be met with “the city’s lowest law enforcement priority” and the City is prohibited from using resources to criminally punish those caught with shrooms. Today, there are resources in Denver like the Innate Path, which offer Psychedelic Psychotherapy. The experts there explain, right now, psychiatrists don’t know exactly why magic mushrooms help people. “What we can measure,” the therapists at the Innate Path say, “is effectiveness.” “There is clear evidence that symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health conditions are actually autonomic nervous system responses. In other words, our mental health symptoms have more to do with our subconscious biological body responses than our thoughts. The fact that these emotional and mood phenomena are fundamentally non-verbal in nature is consistent with the experience most of us have that talk therapy is not very effective at resolving mental health disturbances. We may learn effective coping strategies and tools to manage anxiety, panic, depression and numbing states but we don’t resolve them by understanding them or with better insight.”
Not the first to decriminalize psilocybin
Those resolutions broader than Denver’s, taking a step further to decriminalize all “entheogenic plants.” That includes other plants and fungi that contain psychoactive substances, on top of mushrooms. Oakland’s new law came into effect just a month after Denver’s. The decision in Santa Cruz came in January 2020, when the City Council voted unanimously to decriminalize the wider range of psychedelics. None of these bills, however, allow for the commercial sale or manufacturing of magic mushrooms or psilocybin. The Oregon Psilocybin Society has been working to get psilocybin decriminalization on the ballot since 2018. The group created IP 34, which it promises will “create a licensed psilocybin therapy program so Oregonians have the best therapeutic options available.” The Society hopes to get it on the November 2020 ballot. The petition to get it there has 131,680 signatures out of the 145,000 it needs.