Alison gets great relief from Psilocybin found in various types of “Magic Mushrooms” …
Psychedelic Drugs Can Improve Quality Of Life – And Death – For Older Adults
Vices – I cover how older adults are discovering and re-discovering cannabis.
Even before COVID-19 set off a global tsunami of anxiety and depression, psychedelic drugs were already showing exciting promise for treating these and other intractable mental health conditions.
Compass Pathway’s recent raise of $80M to expand research into the clinical uses of psilocybin only affirms that no coronavirus is going to dampen efforts to make these treatments legal and widely accessible. If anything, the need for an effective answer to COVID-era angst makes this work even more urgent.
Especially for Baby Boomers and their elders, developments in the psychedelic space are worthwhile following, particularly because of their potential to radically improve quality of life, up to its inevitable end.
Older Americans suffer disproportionately from chronic pain and its attendant ailments, anxiety, depression and insomnia. In the search for relief, they consume more pharmaceutical drugs than perhaps any comparable cohort on this planet.
Psychedelic therapies to treat mental health conditions offer a radical departure from current pharmaceutical models that wed individuals in a lifelong bond of drug-taking. Instead, the psychedelic therapy modalities currently under investigation combine a limited number of treatment sessions with a psychedelic substance, sandwiched between intensive pre- and post-treatment therapy sessions. The ideal, and realistic, outcome from this course of treatment is not mere symptom control but durable remission.
Story from Forbes
High Stakes: Will The Legalization Of Psychedelics Mimic That Of Cannabis? Will It Learn From Its Mistakes?
DoubleBlind Mag – March 10, 2020
By Double Blind‘s Madison Margolin, provided exclusively to Benzinga Cannabis.
The cannabis industry has drifted from its grassroots values. Will the psychedelic field learn from its mistakes?
I’m in the back corner of a Hollywood cafe and I just took a hit off my vape pen. For focus, mainly, and to get some creativity flowing. No one seemed to notice or care, plus the vapor smells more like rose than like weed. The pen itself is pink, now sitting in the front pocket of my purse with my earbuds, chapstick, car keys, and a small jar of cannabis salve for my tendinitis.
At home, I have a ziplock baggie of psilocybin mushrooms hidden in my bedroom. They’re tucked away with a square of tin foil wrapped around some MDMA powder. The baggie, the foil, the hiding spot—it’s the definition of a “drug stash.” The last time I treated cannabis this way was my freshman year of college nearly a decade ago.
Things have changed since then, at least here in California. My designer weed feels like an accessory to my makeup bag, and I can’t remember the last time someone gave me bud in a ziplock. I know it’s only a matter of time before psychedelics go the same way. But do we want them to?
Granted, microdosing psychedelics is on its way to becoming almost as socially acceptable as vaping cannabis before work. As of a 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 7% of the American population had taken MDMA, while on any given weekend, dozens of ayahuasca ceremonies are happening in lofts, yoga studios, and private homes all over Brooklyn, Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and beyond.
Psychedelics are fast re-entering the mainstream, with prudent visionaries, scientists, and academics like Rick Doblin, founder of the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies, Michael Pollan, author of How to Change Your Mind, and Johns Hopkins’ researcher Roland Griffiths, among others, leading the way.
Some argue that the psychedelic movement is where the cannabis movement was only a decade ago—and they have a point. California pioneered medical marijuana in 1996 and, since then, 33 states have legalized cannabis for medical or adult use, the FDA has approved the first cannabis-based medicine for prescription, and cannabis has become a central issue for some candidates on the campaign trail. In many ways, the cannabis plant’s route to legalization serves as both a template for psychedelics, as well as an example of what not to do along the way.
In many ways, the cannabis plant’s route to legalization serves as both a template for psychedelics, as well as an example of what not to do along the way.
Though disproven as a gateway drug, cannabis indeed is a gateway plant, introducing consumers to a plant-based approach to wellness. Having experienced the power of cannabis therapy, those who may otherwise have feared psychedelic “drugs” are seeing their merit.
The approach to cannabis legalization has been threefold. The most obvious route has been local, with state measures to decriminalize or legalize cannabis for medical or recreational purposes. Key players in state markets like California’s, luring the brightest minds in marketing, have rebranded cannabis as a wellness and lifestyle product. Once embraced only by hippies, cannabis has been sterilized enough to lure even the most conservative squares (like John Boehner) into the industry. Congress is catching on, too, now considering a record number of bills to deschedule or otherwise promote cannabis law reform. The federal approach comprises the second route to reform.
Meanwhile, the third prong is through FDA rescheduling. Currently, Sue Sisley, president and principal investigator at the Scottsdale Research Institute, has partnered with MAPS to study cannabis flower as a treatment for veterans with PTSD. When the research is complete, the idea is for cannabis, in its organic form, to become an affordable, prescription medication.
“One of the things that the cannabis movement has done right is having operated in multiple levels of government,” says Noah Potter, author of The Psychedelic Law Blog and an attorney with cannabis firm Hoban Law Group. “There’s no central organizing on cannabis, but it has happened organically as people have stepped up in different capacities as journalists, as physicians, and as entrepreneurs, [while] for better and for worse, there’s a diversity of messaging on cannabis.”
Similar to organizations like the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws or the Drug Policy Alliance, MAPS, a nonprofit which has sponsored much of the recent, pioneering psychedelic research, has strong political leanings.
Yet MAPS and other research nonprofits are not alone in seeking to make psychedelics legal, as medications. There’s been concern among some key players in the psychedelic community that COMPASS Pathways—a for-profit company whose research has recently been put on the fast-track by the FDA to develop psilocybin therapy for depression—is an indication that people looking to profit from psychedelics, rather than ensure their accessibility, are getting into the space. The company is backed by major venture capitalists including Peter Thiel and Michael Novogratz.
We’re now seeing at least a two-pronged approach to psychedelics, mirroring cannabis. The first is government-approved research on MDMA for PTSD and psilocybin for anxiety, addiction, and other conditions. The second is state- and city-level initiatives in places like Denver and Oregon to decriminalize or legalize psilocybin. According to Oakland’s Decriminalize Nature campaign, more than 55 cities now want to replicate the city’s initiative, which passed in June, to decriminalize all naturally-occurring psychedelics.
But as Potter mentioned, the “diversity of messaging” has its drawbacks, too: Without a central tenant to either the cannabis or psychedelic movement, there’s no way to ensure these industries grow to be accessible or equitable.
How is it that in the cannabis industry, for instance, thousands of Drug War victims (mainly people of color) remain incarcerated for minor cannabis violations, while white men (those like Boehner) make headway in yet another increasingly corporate American industry?
“You combine cannabis with capitalism, in which cannabis is now just a consumer product, and it’s now just all about the money,” Potter says.
Consequently, we’re now in a place where even black market farmers and gray market dispensary owners, who for decades lived under the looming threat of having their livelihoods taken from them, are bemoaning legalization amid burdensome regulations and an inability to compete with Big Marijuana. And whereas women once comprised 36% of executives in the cannabis industry, the mainstreaming of pot has had the side effect of reducing that statistic by about 9%, according to a 2017 survey by Marijuana Business Daily. With a number of industry execs having never even gotten high themselves, it’s hard not to wonder how the cannabis industry digressed so far from the morals of its original, grassroots movement.
And that’s just the question we should be asking about the coming psychedelic industry: How can the commercial market uphold the values of community and compassion so often reinforced when a person is under the influence of these entheogenic plants?
While, admittedly, there are far fewer prisoners of the War on Psychedelics than the War on Weed, equity in the case of psychedelics means not only including marginalized groups in the nascent industry, but ensuring psychedelic medicine as a right, rather than a privilege. Also, says Potter, to go about psychedelic legalization solely for the purpose of providing medicine feeds into the prohibitionist paradigm that these substances may still be unsafe outside that paradigm; it neglects their merit in recreational or spiritual purposes, the line between both often being hazy.
There remains a need, within the movement, to uphold the right to cognitive liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the innate yearning for spiritual connection—all alongside the need for better medicine. At the same time, we need to ensure that the movement and industry give due respect to the indigenous cultures that have been using these substances, safely and wisely, for generations. “You now have potential exploitation of these substances for-profit and first-world psychedelic tourism,” says Potter.
Ultimately, psychedelic legalization would be preferable to decriminalization, Potter argues, because it would allow psychedelics to be regulated and make a larger dent in the Drug War. But, in order for psychedelics to actually become integrated into society, the medical-spiritual-commercial divide will have to shift, too. If done properly, says Potter, “that will have profound implications for everything we do.”
Story in Benzinga Magazine
The growing push for medical use of psilocybin in Canada
CTV News – February 15, 2020
TORONTO — Growing evidence about the powers of psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychedelic compound produced by several species of mushrooms, being used to treat anxiety and depression has inspired advocates to file a federal court challenge next month to allow its use to treat terminally ill patients.
Psychotherapist and professor at the University of Victoria Bruce Tobin has been on the forefront of those advocating to end the prohibition of the drug – highlighting its potential for cancer patients who often suffer from what is described by doctors as “end of life distress.”
End of life distress is a “nasty combination of anxiety, depression hopelessness and demoralization that often accompanies the diagnosis of a terminal illness such as cancer,” Tobin said in an interview with CTV News’ medical correspondent Avis Favaro. “My desire is to get the treatment to patients who are in need of it right now.”
Psilocybin found in what is colloquially known as “magic mushrooms” is illegal in Canada, but Tobin said he has witnessed patients undergoing psychotherapy feel calmer and less stressed by using the compound.
“We can see the results in many cases very quickly, as quickly as the next day,” he said.
Tobin says he has been waiting three years for Health Canada to respond to multiple applications for psilocybin’s compassionate use in terminally ill patients.
“My attitude now is treatment delayed is treatment denied,” Tobin said, explaining that he will continue to push for psilocybin to be exempted from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Three thousand patients per year in Canada are suffering from “end of life distress” and fit the criteria for so-called psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy, Tobin said.
His campaign is supported by a group he formed, entitled “TheraPsil: Therapeutic Psilocybin for Canadians,” which lists the scientific, legal and moral reasons the group believes the compound should be made legal for “end of life distress” cases.
Research into the medicinal uses of psilocybin has been growing exponentially.
A U.S. study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in January showed that cancer patients who were given the compound reported reductions in anxiety, depression, hopelessness, demoralization and death-related anxiety more than four years after receiving their doses in combination with psychotherapy.
A second study from the U.K. in the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggested that when given to patients with treatment-resistant depression, psilocybin affected “functional connectivity” changes in the brain which was evident in scans. The study suggested that “psilocybin therapy improves how the brain works and revives emotional responsiveness.”
The field of psychedelic research is “very exciting” according to professor Roland Griffiths, director of the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Griffiths’ centre was the first to obtain regulatory approval in the U.S. to restart research into psychedelics using healthy volunteers. Previous research into psychedelics met an abrupt end during the war on drugs in the 1970s.
“When we initiated this research there was a fair bit of skepticism on the part of many, my colleagues and certainly regulators, about whether or not this work is safe,” Griffiths said in an interview with CTV News.
Now his research group is publishing an array of studies on the benefits of using one dose of psilocybin in a treatment that runs approximately six hours and has few side effects and displays benefits to patients’ perceptions.
“Psilocybin produces conditions under which people report having a sense of increased efficacy, a change of world view, a sense of change of self, and that they’re able to reengage in the world in very positive ways,” Griffiths said.
Griffiths said that as patients reflect back on those experiences with psilocybin, they “often have this sense of a profound coming to an understanding of a deeper level of who they are.”
With many psychiatric disorders proving difficult to treat, Griffiths said the team at Johns Hopkins is expanding its testing of psilocybin and other psychedelics, such as LSD, for conditions including obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, opioid use disorder, alcoholism and anorexia nervosa.
Other research is examining the benefits of microdosing, which uses small doses of psilocybin to treat anxiety and depression. A survey of people self-managing mental and substance use disorders by microdosing found 44 per cent of them perceived their mental health was “much better” as a result.
Some Canadians are not waiting for the studies.
Michael Ljubsa of Edmonton, Alta., struggled with depression when he left high school and began university, and said he was unable to find relief with the standard therapies or medications available to him.
“I just became like a zombie basically,” he said in an interview with CTV News. “It became just difficult to function.”
Ljubsa experimented with psilocybin in Jamaica, where it is legal, to try and help – not something doctors recommend – and described a change in self-perception he found “liberating” and boosted his mental wellbeing. He is now an advocate of further psilocybin research.
“Any sort of work that is being done to bring this medicine to people as fast as possible is the work that needs to be done,” Ljubsa said.
At least two centres in Canada are pursuing studies of psilocybin. The University of Toronto Mississauga has launched a Centre for Psychedelic Studies and will host the world’s first clinical trials on microdosing psilocybin. Other related research is planned at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health.
“I think we are entering a new era in the treatment of mental health conditions,” Griffiths said.
“Psilocybin and these compounds have mechanisms unlike anything we have seen within our normal treatment options within psychiatry,” he continued. “The potential…to have efficacy across a range of conditions is absolutely remarkable. We just don’t understand the mechanisms of them yet.”
Story from CTV News
Cybin Partners With Toronto Centre For Psychedelic Science For Psilocybin Research Project
by Natan Ponieman – February 13, 2020
Cybin Corp., a Canadian life sciences company focused on psychedelics and mushroom-psilocybin research, announced a new partnership with the Toronto Centre for Psychedelic Science.
With this partnership, the centers’ co-founders, Rotem Petranker and Thomas Anderson will be appointed exclusive clinical advisors to Cybin.
“We feel many of the positive results that people have experienced with psychedelics require further scientific study with transparently-disclosed protocols and proper research study architecture to achieve repeatable results,” Paul Glavine, CEO of Cybin Corp. told Benzinga. “Rotem and Thomas’ commitment to open science echoes our philosophy. Together we expect to build a solid foundation and future for this industry, grounded in research and the scientific method.”
… from Benzinga
Psychedelics associated with reduction in problematic drug use: study
More research is needed to evaluate the connection between psychedelics and addiction.
By Emma Spears – February 4, 2020
A new study suggests psychedelics may have a place in the treatment of addiction.
The consumption of psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin is correlated with “persisting reductions” in the use of cannabis, opioids and stimulants, noted new research published this week in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.
Researchers from the John Hopkins School of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Department of Neuroscience, The Ohio State College of Social Work and the Erowid Center contributed to the study.
“Observational data and preliminary studies suggest serotonin 2A agonist psychedelics may hold potential in treating a variety of substance use disorders (SUDs), including opioid use disorder (OUD),” researchers wrote.
The study recruited 444 adults via advertisements online who claimed to have overcome addictions to alcohol and/or drugs through the use of psychedelics. Each participant completed an anonymous survey that assessed a variety of factors, including problematic substance use.
Researchers discovered that the majority of subjects in the study self-reported using psilocybin (a compound in so-called “magic mushrooms”) or LSD to provoke a psychedelic experience.
On average, participants reported about 4.5 years of problematic substance use. Approximately 79 per cent of study participants met the retrospective criteria listed in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) for severe substance abuse disorder prior to consuming psychedelics, and 96 per cent met the criteria for substance use disorder.
After their “psychedelic experience,” researchers say that only 27 per cent met the criteria for substance abuse disorder.
Participants who consumed higher doses of psychedelic substances, and reported more “mysticism,” epiphanies or insight as a result of the consumption, had a tendency to report a more substantial reduction in the consumption of other drugs.
The study’s authors emphasize that more research is needed to evaluate the connection between psychedelics and addiction, but that the results offer a promising direction for further study.
“While these cross-sectional and self-report methods cannot determine whether psychedelics caused changes in drug use, results suggest the potential that psychedelics cause reductions in problematic substance use, and support additional clinical research on psychedelic-assisted treatment for SUD,” the authors noted.
Story from The Growth Op
‘Clinically reassuring’: Massive trial finds psilocybin safe for human consumption
Denver became the first city to decriminalize the drug earlier this year and a handful of cities have begun to follow suit.
Move over cannabis. Magic mushrooms are on the way.
Researchers at Kings College London in the U.K. have concluded the world’s largest controlled study of psilocybin and determined it to be safe for human consumption.
“The results of the study are clinically reassuring and support further development of psilocybin as a treatment for patients with mental health problems that haven’t improved with conventional therapy, such as treatment-resistant depression,” said James Rucker, the study’s lead researcher, according to the Independent.
Phase one of the study was meant to examine if psilocybin — the psychoactive component of mushrooms — is safe for consumption while phase two, currently underway, examines the therapeutic potential of the drug.
As part of phase one, 89 subjects were given 10 mg of psilocybin, 25 mg of psilocybin or a placebo during a six-hour session with a therapist. There were 25 dosing sessions and a follow-up period of six weeks.
While researchers found expected adverse effects related to mood and sensory perception, cognitive and emotional functioning were not negatively impacted.
“This study is part of our overall clinical development programme in treatment-resistant depression,” said Ekaterina Malievskaia, co-founder of Compass Pathways, the company behind the study. Phase two trials are taking place in Europe and North America using 216 patients to test psilocybin’s ability to treat depression.
With the legalization and decriminalization of cannabis making news and opening up new avenues of research around the world, the paradigm has already shifted on psilocybin mushrooms.
Denver became the first city to decriminalize the drug earlier this year and a handful of cities have begun to follow suit. California and Oregon organizers are hoping to get a legalization question prepared in time to make the 2020 ballot for a state vote.
Like cannabis, psilocybin has a long track record of relative safety among recreational users, and it is not toxic.
Unlike some drugs that treat anxiety and other mental conditions, psilocybin is not prone to dependence. But given its hallucinogenic effect, lawmakers may be reticent to allow distribution of the psychedelic drug without more restrictions.
Story from The Growth Op
Is psychedelic medicine the future of therapy?
Vogue speaks to psychiatry experts about the latest research into psilocybin, the active agent in ‘magic’ mushrooms, which is proving to be an incredibly effective mental health treatment.
Ellen Burney – 28 January, 2020
Could the hallucinogenic love drug of the 1960s soon be a regular feature in mainstream medicine? The prospect is not so far out. After decades of antidepressants failing to deliver ‘happiness in a pill’, neuroscientists and psychiatrists are now rooting for a dose of psilocybin – the active agent in ‘magic’ mushrooms – to treat depression, anxiety, addiction and more.
Psilocybin is the latest in a boomlet of party drugs finding new status on the world stage of mental health medicine. Esketamine (derived from ketamine) was licensed for supervised use in treatment-resistant depression by The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in March 2019, and the European Commission in December 2019, but with this drug critics warn of a potential for abuse. Studies into psilocybin, however, suggest its therapeutic benefits to be fast working, non-addictive and side effect-free.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 264 million people globally suffer from depression, and about one-third do not respond to antidepressants; while close to one billion people suffer from a mental illness or substance abuse disorder. “There has been a dearth of major breakthroughs in mental healthcare for several decades now,” says Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College, London, which opened in April 2019 – the first of its kind.
“Despite record breaking increases in prescription rates of psychiatric medications, this is not impacting on rates of mental illness – indeed these are going up instead of down – so clearly something is very wrong,” Carhart-Harris continues. “My strong hope is that the development of psychedelic therapy will have a revolutionary impact on mental health care, bringing the ‘care’ component back and transforming societies and systems as a result.”
The psychedelic therapy research
Back in 1962, Dr Timothy Leary started the Harvard Psilocybin Project, but before long there was a backlash against LSD and in 1971, the United Nations made psilocybin mushrooms a Schedule I drug – like heroin. Signalling a seismic shift in gear since that shutdown, the FDA finally granted ‘Breakthrough Therapy’ status to psilocybin in 2018, meaning an accelerated review and development of the drug due to its potential to treat a serious condition.
“To date, the classic psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD have been most extensively studied for mood issues such as depression, existential distress related to serious illness and substance use problems,” explains Dr Albert Garcia-Romeu, an instructor at the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, which opened in September 2019 at Johns Hopkins University of Medicine in Baltimore.
“In each of these areas we’ve seen very promising early results in small trials that are currently being expanded on in larger studies at Johns Hopkins and around the world,” Garcia-Romeu continues. A research project at the University of San Francisco, California, is testing psilocybin for distress in patients with AIDS, and in addition to psilocybin, Johns Hopkins is also researching MDMA-assisted therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder and anorexia.
What does a day in psychedelic therapy look like?
“This treatment is a new paradigm of psychiatric medication,” says Dr Matthew Johnson, associate director at the US research centre. “The medication prompts an experience and therapeutic process from which the person can learn. In many ways it is more like medication-induced deep psychotherapy.” Or the medical equivalent of hallucinogenic healing under chaperone of an ancient spiritual shaman.
“High-dose psilocybin has pronounced psychoactive and mood-altering effects for most people within one hour of taking the drug, usually subsiding within six to eight hours of administration,” explains Garcia-Romeu. “These effects are largely mediated by activity at the serotonin 2A receptors, and likely other downstream mechanisms that we are just beginning to tease apart.”
In a day-long clinical session, supervised by two therapists, trial patients are given a dose of 20 to 30 milligrams of pure psilocybin. “This corresponds to, on average, about four to five grams of dried psilocybe cubensis mushrooms, the most common type in the illicit market,” Johnson tells Vogue. “They wear eye shades to focus attention inward, and headphones through which mostly classical music is played. They are told to ‘trust, let go, be open’ and not to resist the experience.” There’s no therapy during the session, but patients can discuss the experience afterwards and will have a follow-up psychotherapy session the next day.
“This is not ‘take two and call me in the morning,’” warns Johnson, stating that psilocybin will never be available over the counter. “[Treatment] would resemble our current research trials, which are much like outpatient surgery, but with even more preparation and follow-up care.” The treatment – which he expects to be FDA-approved for depression in a couple of years – will always be delivered alongside psychotherapy. So, around 12 one-hour sessions of talking therapy with two doses of psilocybin.
The psychedelic therapy side effects:
1. The anti-zombie effect
Rather than the notorious ‘zombie’ side effect of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs, such as Prozac), therapy sessions incorporating psilocybin appear to expand rather than numb emotions. “People typically report feeling more connected as opposed to disconnected from their life,” Johnson notes.
Carhart-Harris agrees. “Most conventional drugs come with a bunch of side effects and if they work, they often do so through muting a person’s emotional range. Psychedelic therapy brings multiple advantages: it can work after just one or two sessions (unlike psychotherapy or standard drugs, which can take weeks or months to work) with minimal toxicity and people can remain well long after the drug has left their bodies, sometimes entirely transforming their sense of well-being and life satisfaction.”
2. The sense-of-self effect
“The on-going research on the efficacy and safety of psychedelic medicine is very promising indeed,” notes Dr Michalis Kyratsous, consultant psychiatrist at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.
“Subjects using psilocybin have reported a profound alteration to their ordinary sense of self, known as self-dissolution,” “And this effect can be potentially used to address specific set of symptoms, such as excessive self-focus in depression.”
3. The enlightening effect
There also appears to be an enlightening effect. “It’s a deeply held spiritual experience that seems to connect people to themselves, to others around them, to the universe,” says Dr Alan K Davis, assistant professor at the US research centre, who also guides the psychedelic therapy sessions. “That type of experience also can include things like psychological insight, where someone is gaining new information or awareness about themselves, the world around them, their relationships or past experiences.”
“A reminder this is not a daily medication,” Davis emphasises. “It’s a medication that people take twice with therapy. The fact that we can see these long-term results, compared to medications that they will have to take every day for the rest of their lives, is pretty remarkable.”
Story from Vogue
City of Santa Cruz Decriminalizes ‘Magic Mushrooms’ and Other Psychedelics
January 30, 2020, By CNN Wire
The city of Santa Cruz, California, has become the latest city to decriminalize “magic mushrooms” and other natural psychedelics, including ayahuasca and peyote.
The Santa Cruz City Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution that makes investigating and arresting people 21 and older for using or possessing psychoactive plants and fungi among the lowest priorities for law enforcement.
Tuesday’s resolution doesn’t necessarily make it legal to use or possess natural psychedelics, but it does mean that the city won’t be using resources to investigate or arrest people for doing so. People could still face penalties for the sale or cultivation of those substances.
Santa Cruz is the third city to take such a step. Denver voted to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms in May of last year, while Oakland decriminalized all psychedelic plants and fungi shortly after.
The resolutions or ordinances passed by Santa Cruz, Oakland and Denver don’t apply to drugs such as LSD or MDMA, which are synthetic.
Other places are considering similar measures
Chicago is among other cities considering a resolution to decriminalize certain psychedelics, and efforts to enact similar measures are underway in some states.
In Oregon, a campaign called PSI 2020 is lobbying for a measure on the ballot that could make the use of psilocybin, the hallucinogenic compound found in psychedelic mushrooms, legal statewide.
If the measure passed, the Oregon Health Authority would oversee a program that would allow psilocybin to be administered in licensed therapeutic environments and supervised by trained professionals. People would not need a mental health diagnosis to receive therapy, according to the language in the measure.
“We think that this novel approach could help alleviate the mental health crisis here in Oregon by addressing epidemics like suicide, treatment-resistant depression and anxiety, PTSD, and addiction to drugs, alcohol, and nicotine,” PSI chief petitioners Tom and Sheri Eckert say on the campaign’s website.
“Additionally, the measure would open doors for new research and create access to services for those interested in personal development.”
A campaign for a similar measure on the ballot in California is also underway, after it failed to get enough signatures last year. That measure would decriminalize personal possession, use and cultivation of psilocybin statewide for people 18 and older.
Last year, Iowa Republican state representative Jeff Shipley introduced two bills in the legislature to decriminalize psilocybin used for medicinal purposes, and remove it from the list of schedule I controlled substances.
Research suggests psychedelics have health benefits
Natural psychedelics have long been popular for recreational use, though many have been banned at the federal level for decades.
The US Department of Justice classifies psilocybin as a Schedule I controlled substance, which means that federal policy states that it has no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
But a growing body of medical research suggests that psilocybin can be used to treat conditions such as anxiety and depression, in cases where drugs currently on the market cannot. It has also been found to have a low potential for abuse, and no potential for physical dependence.
A 2017 study published in the journal Nature showed that 47% of patients experiencing treatment-resistant depression showed positive responses at five weeks after receiving a psilocybin treatments.
And in 2018, researchers from Johns Hopkins University called for removing psilocybin from the list of Schedule I substances.
Story from CNN Wire/KTLA
Psychedelics: Can getting high improve your mental health?
Interesting Mushroom information (not a Psilocybin mushroom but has healing benefits …)
Lion’s Mane: A Mushroom That Improves Your Memory and Mood?
Mushrooms provide a vast array of potential medicinal compounds. Many mushrooms are well-known for these properties, but the lion’s mane mushroom, in particular, has drawn the attention of researchers for its notable nerve-regenerative properties.
Mushrooms provide a vast array of potential medicinal compounds. Many mushrooms — such as portobello, oyster, reishi and maitake — are well-known for these properties, but the lion’s mane mushroom, in particular, has drawn the attention of researchers for its notable nerve-regenerative properties.
Lion’s mane mushrooms are not your classic looking cap-and-stem variety. These globular-shaped mushrooms sport cascading teeth-like spines rather than the more common gills. From these spines, white spores emerge. Lion’s mane mushrooms also have other common names: sheep’s head, bear’s head and the Japanese yamabushitake. I like the clever name “pom pom blanc” — a reference to their resemblance to the white pom-poms cheerleaders use. The Latin name for lion’s mane is Hericium erinaceus; both names mean “hedgehog.”*
Lion’s mane mushrooms are increasingly sold by gourmet food chains. This nutritious mushroom is roughly 20 percent protein, and one of the few that can taste like lobster or shrimp (Stamets, 2005). Lion’s mane is best when caramelized in olive oil, deglazed with saké wine, and then finished with butter to taste. Lion’s mane can be bitter if not cooked until crispy along the edges. It takes some practice to elicit their full flavor potential.
Lion’s mane mushrooms are increasingly studied for their neuroprotective effects. Two novel classes of Nerve Growth Factors (NGFs) — molecules stimulating the differentiation and re-myelination of neurons — have been discovered in this mushroom so far. These cyathane derivatives are termed “hericenones” and “erinacines.” The levels of these compounds can vary substantially between strains, based on the measurements our team has conducted.
About a dozen studies have been published on the neuroregenerative properties of lion’s mane mushrooms since 1991, when Dr. Kawagishi first identified NGFs in Japanese samples. Since his original discovery, in vitro and in vivo tests have confirmed that hericenones and erinacines stimulate nerve regeneration. In 2009, researchers at the Hokuto Corporation and the Isogo Central and Neurosurgical Hospital published a small clinical study. Giving lion’s mane to 30 Japanese patients with mild cognitive impairment resulted in significant benefits for as long as they consumed the mushrooms:
“The subjects of the Yamabushitake group took four 250 mg tablets containing 96 percent of Yamabushitake dry powder three times a day for 16 weeks. After termination of the intake, the subjects were observed for the next four weeks. At weeks eight, 12 and 16 of the trial, the Yamabushitake group showed significantly increased scores on the cognitive function scale compared with the placebo group. The Yamabushitake group’s scores increased with the duration of intake, but at week four after the termination of the 16 weeks intake, the scores decreased significantly.” (Mori, 2009)
Recently, mice were injected with neurotoxic peptides in an experiment to assess the effects of lion’s mane on the type of amyloid plaque formation seen in Alzheimer’s patients. The mice were then challenged in a standard “Y” maze, designed for testing memory. Mice fed with a normal diet were compared to those supplemented with lion’s mane mushrooms. As the peptide-induced plaque developed, the mice lost the ability to memorize the maze. When these memory-impaired mice were fed a diet containing 5 percent dried lion’s mane mushrooms for 23 days, the mice performed significantly better in the Y maze test. Interestingly, the mice regained another cognitive capacity, something comparable to curiosity, as measured by greater time spent exploring novel objects compared to familiar ones.
The medical community is bracing for an increase of patients with Alzheimer’s and senile dementia as the baby boomer population ages. Mortality trends related to Alzheimer’s are outpacing death rates of many other diseases. This makes preventive and curative treatments of age-related cognitive diseases hot subjects of research. In the past 10 years, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have surged roughly 66 percent, while deaths from other primary diseases have generally declined.
The influence of lion’s mane influence on neurological functions may also have other added benefits — making you feel good. In another small clinical study (n=30), post-menopausal women who consumed lion’s mane baked into cookies vs. those without showed less anxiety and depression yet improved in their ability to concentrate (Nagano et al., 2010).
Is this data conclusive thus far? No.
Is this data suggestive of positive outcomes? Absolutely.
In another small Japanese study with a randomized sample of 30 women, ingesting lion’s mane showed that “HE intake has the possibility to reduce depression and anxiety, and these results suggest a different mechanism from NGF-enhancing action of H. erinaceus.” (Nagano et al. 2010).
Lion’s mane may be our first “smart” mushroom. It is a safe, edible fungus that appears to confer cognitive benefits on our aging population. Unfortunately, lion’s mane is not available in most grocery stores. But you can buy kits to grow them at home, and organic lion’s mane supplements are available at some health food stores. If you are skilled enough and looking for adventure, you can forage for them by hunting in the hardwood forests of North America, Europe and Asia during the summer and fall.**
**Before consuming any wild mushroom, make positively sure that it is accurately identified. For a list of mycological societies, which may be able to help you, go to the North American Mycological Association website: www.namyco.org.
Kawagishi, H., Ando, M., Sakamoto, H., Yoshida S., Ojima, F., Ishiguro, Y., Ukai, N., Fukukawa, S. 1991. “Hericenone C, D and E, stimulators of nerve growth factor (NGF) synthesis from the mushroom Hericium erinaceum.” Tetrahedron Lett 32, 4561-4564.
Mori, K., Inatomi, S., Ouchi, K. Azumi, Y and Tuchida T. 2009. “Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double blinded, placebo controlled clinical trial.” Phytother Res. 23:367-372.
Mori, K., Obara, Y., Moriya, T., Inatomi, S., Nakahata, N. 2011. “Effects of Hericium erinaceus on amyloid β(25-35) peptide-induced learning and memory deficits in mice.” Biomed Res. 32(1):67-72.
Nagano, M., Shimizu, K., Kondo, R., Hayashi, C., Sato, D., Kitagawa, K., Ohnuki, K. 2010. “Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake.” Biomed Res. 31(4):231-7.
Story from HuffPost
A Single Dose of Psilocybin Mushrooms Can Reduce Anxiety for Nearly Five Years
By Chris Moore | News | January 14, 2020
A 2016 study found that a single dose of shrooms can significantly reduce cancer patients’ fear of death, and a new follow-up study has found that these benefits can last for years.
Nearly five years ago, a team of researchers conducted a landmark trial exploring whether psilocybin, the compound in magic mushrooms that makes us trip balls, could reduce anxiety in patients suffering from lethal forms of cancer. Since then, researchers’ interest in exploring the therapeutic potential of Psilocybe cubensis has skyrocketed.
Several clinical trials in the last half-decade have concluded that psilocybin can effectively treat anxiety, depression, and other conditions. That’s why the federal government is now seriously considering legalizing this natural psychedelic as an adjunct to therapy.
In the original 2016 study, researchers gave a single dose of psilocybin to 29 people suffering from life-threatening forms of cancer. Each of these patients was previously diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression as a direct result of their illness. Six months after taking this single dose, between 60 and 80 percent of patients reported a significant reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Years later, the original research team followed up with patients from the original study to see if the positivity generated from the psilocybin experience was still in effect. Out of the surviving 16 patients, 15 agreed to take additional psychological assessments between 3.2 and 4.5 years after the initial study.
“Reductions in anxiety, depression, hopelessness, demoralization, and death-anxiety were sustained at the first and second follow-ups,” the authors wrote in the follow-up study, published in the Journal of Pharmacology. At the second follow-up, 4.5 years after the original study, 60 to 80 percent of patients still showed signs of decreased anxiety and depression. “Participants overwhelmingly (71-100%) attributed positive life changes to the psilocybin-assisted therapy experience and rated it among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives.”
The authors also asked participants to describe how their psychedelic experience changed their outlook on life. “I experienced such overwhelming love in my psilocybin experience that it gave me new confidence,” one subject responded, according to IFLScience. “I think the extreme depth of love I felt changed the way I relate to others. [It] gave me a feeling that I have a right to be here and to enjoy life.”
Another participant said that “the psilocybin experience changed my thoughts about myself in the world… I see myself in a less limited way. I am more open to life. It has taken me out from under a big load of feelings and past issues in my life that I was carrying around.”
“These findings suggest that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy holds promise in promoting long-term relief from cancer-related psychiatric distress,” the study concludes.
The authors note that the study does have its limitations, especially due to its small subject pool. But that doesn’t take away from the study’s positive implications. “Nonetheless, the present study adds to the emerging literature-base suggesting that psilocybin-facilitated therapy may enhance the psychological, emotional, and spiritual well-being of patients with life-threatening cancer.”
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Johns Hopkins Scientists Give Psychedelics the Serious Treatment
The first research center of its kind in the country is bringing renewed rigor to the investigation of the drugs’ therapeutic uses
By Tanya Lewis on
Psychedelic drugs—once promising research subjects that were decades ago relegated to illicit experimentation in dorm rooms—have been steadily making their way back into the lab for a revamped 21st-century-style look. Scientists are rediscovering what many see as the substances’ astonishing therapeutic potential for a vast range of issues, from depression to drug addiction and acceptance of mortality. A frenzy of interest has captivated a new generation of researchers, aficionados and investors, triggering some understandable wariness over promises that may sound a little too good to be true. But late last year the highly respected institution Johns Hopkins University—the U.S.’s oldest research university—launched a dedicated center for psychedelic studies, the first of its kind in the country and perhaps the world’s largest. With work now underway, the center is aiming to enforce the strictest standards of scientific rigor on a field that many feel has veered uncomfortably close to mysticism and that has relied heavily on subjective reports. Early results have been promising and seem poised to keep the research on a roll.
Psilocybin (a psychoactive compound found in certain mushrooms) and LSD were widely studied in the 1950s and 1960s as treatments for alcoholism and other maladies. They later gained a reputation in the media and the public eye as dangerous and became strongly associated with the counterculture. Starting in 1966, several states banned their use. In 1968 LSD was outlawed nationwide, and in 1970 Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, classifying that drug and psilocybin, along with several others, as having a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. But in recent years a rapidly growing number of studies reporting encouraging results in treating depression, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have brought them back out of the shadows, spurred on by positive media coverage.
In a major boost to the reviving field, Johns Hopkins’s Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research is exploring the use of psychedelics—primarily psilocybin—for problems ranging from smoking addiction to anorexia and Alzheimer’s disease. “One of the remarkably interesting features of working with psychedelics is they’re likely to have transdiagnostic applicability,” says Roland Griffiths, who heads the new facility and has led some of the most promising studies evaluating psilocybin for treating depression and alcoholism. The myriad applications suggested for these drugs may be a big part of what makes them sound, to many, like snake oil—but “the data [are] very compelling,” Griffiths says. And psychedelics may not only hold hope for treating mental disorders. As Griffiths puts it, they provide an opportunity to “peer into the basic neuroscience of how these drugs affect brain activity and worldview in a way that is ultimately very healthy.”
As author Michael Pollan chronicles in his 2018 best seller How to Change Your Mind, researchers were examining the therapeutic effects of psychedelics in the 1950s—a decade before then Harvard University psychologist Timothy Leary and his colleague Richard Alpert started their notorious study in which they gave psilocybin to students (ultimately leading to Leary’s and Alpert’s dismissal from the university). In the 1950s–1970s, studies conducted with LSD—which acts on the same brain receptors as psilocybin—reported strong results in treating substance use disorders, including alcohol and heroin addiction. But when LSD became illegal in 1968, funding for this work gradually dried up. Most psychedelics research stopped or went underground.
PSYCHEDELICS’ NEW WAVE
Griffiths and some of his colleagues helped revive the field around 2000, when they obtained government approval to give high doses of psilocybin to healthy volunteers. The researchers published a foundational study in 2006 showing a single dose was safe and could cause sustained positive effects and even “mystical experiences.” A decade later they published a randomized double-blind study showing psilocybin significantly decreased depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer. Each participant underwent two sessions (a high-dose one and a low-dose one) five weeks apart. Six months afterward, about 80 percent of the patients were still less clinically depressed and anxious than before the treatment. Some even said they had lost their fear of death.
Armed with these promising results, Griffiths and his colleagues turned their attention to other clinical applications. They decided to investigate tobacco addiction—in part because it is much easier to quantify than emotional or spiritual outcomes. Johns Hopkins researcher Matthew Johnson led a small pilot study in 2014 to see whether psilocybin could help people quit smoking. It was an open-label study, meaning the participants knew they were getting the drug and not a placebo.
The work followed a classic model for psychedelic therapy in which the participant lies on a couch and wears eyeshades while listening to music. Researchers do not talk to or guide subjects during the trip, but before each session, they do try to prepare people for what they might experience. In Johnson and his colleagues’ study, participants also underwent several weeks of cognitive-behavioral therapy (talk therapy aimed at changing patterns of thinking) before and after taking psilocybin. The drug was given in up to three sessions—one on the target quit date, another two weeks later and a third, optional one eight weeks afterward. The subjects returned to the lab for the next 10 weeks to have their breath and urine tested for evidence of smoking and came back for follow-up meetings six and 12 months after their target quit date.
At the six-month mark, 80 percent of smokers in the pilot study (12 out of 15) had abstained from cigarettes for at least a week, as verified by Breathalyzer and urine analysis—a vast improvement over other smoking cessation therapies, whose efficacy rates are typically less than 35 percent. In a follow-up paper, Johnson and his colleagues reported that 67 percent of participants were still abstinent 12 months after their quit date, and 60 percent of them had not smoked after 16 months or more. Additionally, more than 85 percent of the subjects rated their psilocybin trip as one of the five most meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives. The team is currently more than halfway through a larger, five-year study of 80 people randomized to receive either psilocybin or a nicotine patch at the new Johns Hopkins center. Recruitment for the study is ongoing.
The exact brain mechanism by which the therapy appears to work remains unclear. At the psychological level, Johnson says, there is evidence that the sense of unity and mystical significance many people experience on psilocybin is associated with greater success in quitting, and those who take the drug may be better able to deal with cravings. At the biological level, he adds, scientists have hypothesized that psilocybin may alter communication in brain networks, possibly providing more top-down control over the organ’s reward system. A team led by Johns Hopkins cognitive neuroscientist Frederick Barrett is now investigating further by using functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activity before and after patients undergo the therapy.
Like any drug, psilocybin comes with risks. People with psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia (or a strong predisposition for them) are generally advised against taking the hallucinogen. People with uncontrolled hypertension are advised to abstain as well, because psilocybin is known to raise blood pressure. Although it appears to be one of the safest “recreational” drugs and is not considered addictive, there have been reports associating it with deaths—but these may have been the result of multiple drugs, impure substances or underlying medical issues. In the smoking study, a third of participants experienced some fear or anxiety at a high dose of the psilocybin, Johnson says. But he adds that the risks can be minimized by carefully selecting participants and administering the drug in a controlled environment.
The smoking study results are promising, but Johnson says its relatively small size is a limitation. Also, subjects in such studies cannot comprise a completely random sample of the population, because it would be unethical to recruit people without telling them they may be taking a psychedelic drug. Thus, participants tend to be people who are open to this category of experience and, potentially, more apt to believe in its efficacy. And it is also hard to tease apart the effects of psilocybin from those of the cognitive-behavioral therapy in the smoking study, Johnson notes. He and his colleagues at the new center plan to conduct a double-blind, placebo-controlled study—the gold standard for medical investigations—in the future. Johns Hopkins researchers are also starting or planning studies using psilocybin therapy for a wide range of other conditions, including opioid addiction, PTSD, anorexia, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease and alcoholism in people with depression.
David Nichols, a professor emeritus of pharmacology at Purdue University, who was not involved in the recent Johns Hopkins studies but had synthesized the psilocybin used in Griffiths’s 2006 and 2016 papers, has been conducting research on psychedelics since the late 1960s. Back then, “you probably could have counted on one hand the number of people in the world that were working in this field. There wasn’t any money; there was no interest. [Psychedelics] were just looked at as drugs of abuse,” he says. Now “there’s a whole society set up to study these, with probably 150 international scientists working on it.”
Nichols says he has supported Griffiths’s and Johnson’s work since its early days, as they gathered the initial data that excited wealthy donors enough to fund the latest research. Philanthropic funding “is the way it’s going to be—until the National Institutes of Health decide that this is a field worth funding,” he says. “There are still too many political considerations that are keeping that from happening, but eventually, we’ll get there. We’ll get institutional support. We’re just not there yet.”
Story from Scientic American
Psychedelic Events Are Going Mainstream, Where The Much-Maligned Mushroom Industry Focuses On Mental Health
Sara Brittany Somerset
Sara Brittany Somerset – Contributor – Forbes- Jan 12, 2020
Psychedelics have been a mainstay for a millennia and appreciated in the counter-culture for decades. In 2020, whether consuming, investing, or both, mushrooms are having a moment.
PsychedeliTech, a ground-breaking new conference, incubator and discovery platform for psychedelic medicine will host Rick Doblin, Ph.D., Founder and Executive Director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) as the keynote speaker at the first-ever PsyTech Summit, a forum for psychedelic science, innovation and investment conference, in Israel.
The inaugural PsyTech conference will take place March 29-30, 2020 at the Hilton Hotel, on the Mediterranean Sea in Tel Aviv.
PsyTech is a division of iCAN: Israel-Cannabis, which together with CannaTech, its medical cannabis events platform, has been a global participant in education and innovation for cannabis therapeutics and products with conferences in London, Sydney, Hong Kong, Panama and Cape Town, to date.
Saul Kaye, iCAN founder and CEO, said, “Rick Doblin is an early pioneer and extremely effective advocate for the potential of psychedelics in the treatment of mental health disease and symptoms, including depression, anxiety disorders, and PTSD. We are thrilled he will join us at our first PsyTech Summit in Tel Aviv to share his enlightened vision and vast knowledge of the fast-developing therapeutic ecosystem that is about to explode as a wave of new information, research and consumer interest about psychedelics floods the market.”
For the first 30 years of MAPS’ dedicated research, there were virtually no for-profit psychedelic business opportunities, apart from a few ibogaine and ayahuasca clinics and mushroom sales in countries where the substances are legal.
Psychedelics have the potential to impact and improve mental health.
For-profit entities emerging in the field of psychedelics, such as Cybin with microdosed psilocybin products and Mind Med with synthetic ibogaine, are directly due to the success of non-profit psychedelic therapy research, including the lifelong work of MAPS and other advocates.
Story From Forbes
Will Shroom Dispensaries Become a Thing Anytime Soon?
With the decriminalization of psilocybin, it’s hard not to wonder whether magic mushrooms will follow the path of cannabis.
Miro Tomoski – January 6, 2020
Imagine the sinking feeling that would barrel down your gut at the sight of DEA agents waiting at your door as you leave for work in the morning. Count the things they seized from your apartment: a notebook, an iPhone, a computer tower, a few graphic t-shirts, 906 live psilocybin mushrooms, and just over 20 ounces of dried shrooms. Late for your job in the legal cannabis industry, you begin to wonder what’s so bad about selling some homegrown medicine? After all, the city had just decriminalized psilocybin (the main psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms), and it’s only a matter of time before it’s sold in storefront shroomeries just like cannabis.
That is how Kole Milner spent one September morning, just five months after citizens voted in May of 2019 to decriminalize the possession of psilocybin mushrooms in his hometown of Denver. The agents never arrested Milner, though he knew exactly what he was doing: By his own admission he’d been selling psilocybin mushrooms, on a publicly accessible Venmo account—long before the Denver Psilocybin Initiative had them deemed the lowest level crime he could commit in the city. He had even told reporters at the Denver Post, NPR, VICE, and Westword what was growing mushrooms in his closet, while wearing a shirt branded with his own one-of-a-kind logo for a company called Happy Fox Edibles.
Even so, Milner still hasn’t been charged with a crime, despite having led law enforcement right into his living room. The investigation is still ongoing according to Jeff Dorschner, a spokesman for the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado. This leaves open the possibility that Milner could face criminal charges, but his non-arrest in a city that now considers the possession of magic mushrooms to be a minor offense leaves us wondering when—if ever—psilocybin will be legal enough to sell.
“I believe it will be a long time until we see psilocybin dispensaries,” says Kevin Matthews, the architect of the ballot initiative that decriminalized psilocybin in Denver County last spring. “Anything is possible, but we have a tremendous amount of public education and data-collection to do before we can start having a serious dialogue about retail psilocybin.”
A synthetic version of psilocybin has already been granted “breakthrough therapy” status by the FDA to accelerate its route to market as a prescription medication for use in assisted-psychotherapy for depression. The nonprofit organization Usona and the for-profit company Compass Pathways are behind this drug development. Meanwhile, scientists at institutions like Johns Hopkins or New York University are also researching psilocybin for addiction, mysticism, anorexia, and various other applications.
The pharmaceutical model, with all its exclusivity, encourages people like Milner to continue growing mushrooms at home in order to avoid high price tags and to circumvent the need for a prescription, especially without a qualifying diagnosis. It may even push those who don’t qualify for the FDA-approved treatment to seek out people like Milner as caregivers to facilitate access to the psilocybin they need.
Story From DoubleBlindMag
There’s Now a Federal Psychedelic Lobby
They started in Denver—and they’re taking the movement nationwide
Miro Tomoski – October 21, 2019
Kevin Matthews let out a laugh when asked if psilocybin—the primary psychoactive component in magic mushrooms—had ever helped him. “It saved my life,” he says. The former cadet had high hopes for his time at West Point, one of the world’s finest military academies, but service-related depression forced him to be honorably discharged. It wasn’t until he discovered psilocybin that he found relief—and was catapulted back into public service, but, this time, of a very different nature.
In May, Matthews led the nation’s first successful effort to decriminalize psilocybin in the county of Denver. Initiative 301, which made the use and possession of psilocybin the lowest priority for law enforcement, passed by a nail-biting margin of 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent. Now more than 90,000 Denver residents are counting on Matthews to make sure that their hard-won victory doesn’t end at the ballot box.
Always projecting one step ahead, Matthews had registered a nonprofit in Colorado a full year before the vote: the Society for Psychedelic Outreach, Reform, and Education. Otherwise known as SPORE, the group is considered to be the new psychedelic lobby—joining the ranks of other suits on Washington DC’s K Street who push for influence among the powerful.
“We’re not going to be lobbying, but we’re definitely going to be supporting groups and organizations that are doing that,” Matthews says. SPORE’s main focus is education, he adds, as well as filling in the gaps between what the voters want the law to look like and what policy is realistic in a world with competing interests. At the moment, SPORE is focused on ensuring that decriminalization works as it was intended to in Denver.
To many of us, drug legalization or decriminalization seems as if it should be rather straightforward. Voters cast their ballots, and the very next day they can no longer be arrested for possessing that substance. But while we’d all like to believe democracy is as simple as voting for or against something (or someone), each election day is often followed by a mad scramble of public officials, law enforcement, bureaucrats and business interests working behind the scenes to define the new normal.
When a previously illegal substance is added to that mix, a county like Denver becomes saddled with awestruck community leaders who now must grapple with something they’ve spent most of their lives avoiding. The best example we have of these behind-the-scenes negotiations has been the legalization of cannabis, forcing state officials all over the country to consider possession limits, retail licensing, zoning provisions, and other unprecedented questions around possession, sale, and production of the substance.
SPORE hopes to accelerate this process by coordinating with legal experts, medical professionals, and lawmakers in order to put these changes into practice in a way that’s faithful to what voters envisioned when they cast their ballots.
In Denver, the decriminalization process begins with a Psilocybin Policy Review Panel, which was written into Initiative 301 and includes members of city council, medical experts, law enforcement, and a representative of the team who wrote the initiative. The panel, which is expected to be formed by the end of October, is meant to ensure that the measure is implemented without restrictive roadblocks. (See Massachusetts which took more than two years to open a dispensary after voters legalized recreational cannabis.)
Having met with officials in the mayor’s office and twice with the District Attorney since election day, Matthews is now thinking about everything from roadside ads for responsible use to training first responders in harm reduction tactics. And that’s not to mention possession limits, which he hopes to eliminate entirely when it comes to personal use.
In essence, SPORE is Matthews’ attempt to give the people of his community exactly what they voted for—but it also offers assistance and expertise to anyone who’s looking to replicate Denver’s success across the country. The idea is to bring together proponents of decriminalization into one cohesive political force.
With the exception of cannabis, which has found unifying political voices in national organizations like NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), DPA (the Drug Policy Alliance), and the Marijuana Policy Project, efforts to decriminalize other psychoactive substances have largely been organized on a local level. These grassroots activists have had to build their organizations from the ground up and rely on research-based evidence coming out of organizations like MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies).
Among these individuals is Ryan Munevar, campaign director of Decriminalize California, who now faces the colossal task of convincing nearly 20 million registered voters throughout the state to turn out in support of psilocybin decriminalization. While the city of Oakland already passed an all-plant decriminalization measure, and while Denver has shown that an election can be won with a paper-thin margin, California is often feared as the most expensive state in which to run a political campaign. (Moreover, a 2018 attempt at a similar initiative failed to gather enough signatures.)
Matthews learned the same hard lessons when his first two petitions to put a decriminalization question on the ballot in November of 2018 were denied by elections officials in Denver before they even reached voters. But Munevar is still optimistic, having consulted with Matthews and drawn inspiration from his success.
“Honestly we might even be able to swing a lot of Republicans to our side,” Munever says, pointing out that right-leaning voters were a base of support for the Denver initiative. In fact, garnering support from more conservative voters could be another important part of SPORE’s mission. Where evidence from FDA-approved psilocybin research from institutions like Johns Hopkins provides the data to support decriminalization, SPORE could mobilize the electorate to vote for it.
By the end of the year, SPORE aims to conduct statewide polling in Colorado to determine how residents feel about psilocybin decriminalization on a larger scale. But for now, Matthews has focused his efforts on finishing what he started in Denver with an eye toward taking SPORE to Washington DC and creating a nationwide movement.
Just like any other successful lobby, from the NRA to the AARP, identifying voters who will show up for the cause is a crucial part of convincing Congress to act.
“It’s unlikely that Denver city councilors were going to wake up one morning and say ‘I think we really need to look at the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin’ without the voters telling them to do so,” says attorney Noah Potter, a legal advisor to the Decriminalize Denver campaign and founder of the New Amsterdam Psychedelic Law blog.
Potter calls this group of voters the “psychedelic constituency,” and the advantage is that they play on both sides of the political spectrum. That’s good news for SPORE because it means that voters who otherwise favor one party all the way down the ballot might stop to consider a decrim question.
“I’ll say it this way, we got endorsements from the Green Party and the Libertarian Party,” says Matthews, suggesting that folks with various political beliefs support decriminalization—at least in Colorado. “From our experience we’ve seen that people from all walks of life are interested in this.”
It also means that SPORE could have a wide base of donors to back their efforts. With an eye toward a national decriminalization campaign, they are currently applying for 501(c)(3) status with the IRS, which would allow them to collect donations as a charitable organization with the potential to one day become a 501(c)(4), or an organization that can take direct political action and receive unlimited anonymous donations.
Matthews wouldn’t be the first to take this route of activism—in fact, the Oregon Psilocybin Society has already been approved by the IRS under the 501(c)(3) category—but his national aspirations make SPORE unique.
“We intend to get in contact with federal policymakers and learn more about what each party is focused on in terms of psychedelics, whether it be economics or social justice,” Matthews tells DoubleBlind, expressing a bit of frustration with the current field of presidential candidates. “I want to see a drug policy debate during this election cycle.”
Still, while presidential hopefuls have so far kept their distance from the issue, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has not shied away and even tried to add an amendment to a broader government spending bill which would have made it easier to study psychedelics. “From the opioid crisis to psilocybin’s potential w/ PTSD, it’s well past time we take drug use out of criminal consideration + into medical consideration,” the freshman Congresswoman tweeted after introducing her amendment in June.
Her efforts were blocked by members of Congress, but the attempt showed that there is an appetite for reform among what Matthews calls the Psychedelic Caucus—a group of potential allies on Capitol Hill composed of AOC, as well as Democrat Reps. Rho Khanna and Lou Correa of California, and even Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida.
“Our victory in Denver was a clear indication that there is now a political foundation for the psychedelic renaissance,” Matthews says. And in the coming months, if SPORE is able to demonstrate that enough voters care about decriminalization, Denver could be just the beginning.
Story From DoubleBlindMag