November 3, 2020 was a banner day for psilocybin. This natural substance has been illegal across the United States for decades, but new research into its immense benefits for mental health has forced lawmakers and citizens everywhere to take a closer look and, in some cases, to give it a second chance.

Last year, ballot initiatives to decriminalize psilocybin passed – first, in Denver, Colorado, and later in Oakland and Santa Cruz, California. This year, two other places gave it a shot, and to the surprise and joy of many, they too passed. Washington, DC became the second-largest city to decriminalize psilocybin and Oregon became the nation’s very first state.

Why is psilocybin suddenly in the news? Why are people across the United States of America working so hard to decriminalize this substance, and how and why are they succeeding? Read on to learn more about psilocybin, its decriminalization, and the many amazing applications and uses for it. This is only the beginning of a new and growing movement that will help countless people moving forward from here.

What is Psilocybin?

Psilocybin is a hallucinogen that appears naturally in certain types of mushrooms. It works by activating serotonin receptors in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This part of the human brain affects mood, understanding, and perception.

When mushrooms are consumed, the body turns the psilocybin in them into psilocin which causes hallucinatory effects that last between four and six hours. However, for many, the residual effects can last several days.

How Can Psilocybin Help People?

Psilocybin mushrooms have been used medicinally for thousands of years. However, they have been considered an illegal drug in the United States for decades, which has not only kept them out of the hands of people who could benefit from them but also has excluded them from research and studies into their vast benefits.

All of that is starting to change.

In recent years, some studies have been allowed and doctors have found some success in treating conditions like cluster headaches and end-stage cancer anxiety, and other types of anxiety as well.

One area in which the medicinal use of psilocybin mushrooms seems promising is in the treatment of depression. One recent study investigated the use of psilocybin to reduce depression without dulling emotions as some anti-depressants do. Another study looked at the benefits of therapy with patients under the influence of psilocybin. Both studies resulted in positive outcomes.

Despite thus far successful results from studies in these and other studies, psilocybin is still illegal in most places, and it is considered unsafe for use by many professionals.

Hopefully, in time, the general collective attitude about psilocybin will change and more people will be able to benefit from psilocybin-assisted therapies. A change is starting to unfold as psilocybin mushrooms have begun to gain legitimacy and decriminalized status in small spots around the country.

Washington, DC and Psilocybin

Washington, DC voters voted to decriminalize the non-commercial cultivation, distribution, possession, and use of not only psilocybin but “entheogenic plants and fungi” in general by a landslide – 76% of the vote – on November 3rd of this year.

Supporters of this ballot initiative argued that these drugs are not dangerous and may actually be of help to some people, and therefore law enforcement should not waste time and money enforcing useless laws. Apparently, the people listened and agreed, because this initiative passed by a gigantic margin.

Psilocybin Therapy in Oregon

Oregon’s Measure 109 has been in the works for quite some time and its supporters and promoters were thrilled for it to finally appear on the statewide ballot. Like the Washington DC initiative, it passed, but not by nearly as large a margin. The gap was still wide, though; 56% of voters voted to approve the measure.

The passage of this measure in Oregon differs greatly from the DC initiative. First, it’s important to note that Oregon is the first state to pass anything in relation to psilocybin mushrooms. This is a huge victory for people working to decriminalize this substance.

However, this law is far different from the laws on the books in DC and other cities like Denver. Whereas those cities have decriminalized mushrooms for possession and use by anyone, Oregon’s approach is clinical. The intended application of psilocybin mushrooms in Oregon at this time is strictly medical, and users cannot possess or use mushrooms independently.

Individuals that are interested in using medicinal psilocybin mushrooms in Oregon will have to visit a psilocybin service center to try them. There, they will be guided through their psychedelic session with the assistance of a trained facilitator. After their experience, they will return to their own homes but will be expected to return later to participate in a discussion and counseling session to discuss any insights they had while under the influence of psilocybin.

The hope for this type of medical use of psilocybin is that it will help people to access their emotions and further understand themselves through their experiences while allowing them to explore the farthest reaches of the mind in a safe, controlled environment.

Looking Ahead

These two laws were passed in two very different places on opposite sides of the country, so one can guess that the decriminalization of psilocybin will only continue to grow and expand in the coming years.

Just as the legalization and decriminalization of cannabis have spread across the country over the past decade or two, thereby allowing many people access to much needed natural medicine, it’s likely that the American people will grant the same freedom to people who wish to self-medicate with psilocybin.

Time will tell. The expansion of legality of these drugs and more are just the first steps in ending the War on Drugs, and is beginning to recognize further that addiction is a social issue, rather than a legal one. As old standards begin to crumble, we can only hope that the focus of drug legislation will turn to treatment over punishment so all individuals who struggle with addiction can get the help they need. That day is on the horizon and is coming soon, we just need to keep looking ahead.

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Resources:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0028390817306391

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5776504/

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/11/3/21546824/live-results-psychedelic-drugs-washington-dc-oregon