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The Decriminalization Train Keeps Rolling - Up Next Psilocybin?

In 1973, Oregon became the first state in the union to decriminalize cannabis possession, and in 2015 joined the many other states in legalizing it.

This content was originally published by the Longmont Observer and is licensed under a Creative Commons license.


Written by Andrew Zimmerman

In 1973, Oregon became the first state in the union to decriminalize cannabis possession, and in 2015 joined the many other states in legalizing it.

In 2014, Colorado became the first state in the union to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Both of these trend setting states are now in the game to change the way psilocybin is regulated.

A question about decriminalizing the psychedelic drug will appear on the city of Denver's elections ballots (eligible voters), as organizers have collected more than 5,000 signatures, which is enough to put the initiative on the Denver municipal ballot this May.

The passing of the question would not allow people to buy or sell mushrooms containing psilocybin. They would remain illegal under local, state and federal law. This is because of the fact that legalization isn't the focus of the initiative, but rather, as reported by the Denver Post, "the measure would attempt to tie the city’s hands on enforcement. It would instruct police officers that adult psilocybin users should be their absolute lowest priority." Note that the proposed change discussed here applies to adults over 21.

While actual arrests related to psychedelics are minimal, the penalties for those accused/convicted are very serious, especially when compared to that of marijuana. Supporters behind the "Decriminalize Denver" measure have already made history. This is the first time ever that U.S. voters will consider giving a second chance to the drug, which was a subject of scientific interest before its reputation was destroyed in the 1970s. Since 2016, the Denver Police Department has reported a total of 158 psilocybin-related arrests.

So what are these magic mushrooms and how do they affect you?

Commonly referred to as mushrooms, 'shrooms, fungus, or psilocybin, these fungi are usually placed in a Kingdom of their own apart from plants and animals.

Mushrooms in general, contain no chlorophyll and most are considered saprophytes. That is, they obtain their nutrition from metabolizing non-living organic matter. This means they break down and "eat" dead plants. 

Psilocybin is a psychedelic drug found in certain species, that can send users into a mental trip for three to six hours, or longer.

The history of psilocybin mushrooms dates back “at least hundreds and likely thousands” of years in Central and South America. Encounters with the drug are recorded in the works of Spanish friars traveling through Central America during the 1500s - and the colonizers later outlawed the fungus and drove its use underground.

First suggested in the 60s, the benefits of psilocybin in the treatment of depression, anxiety and other disorders was fairly well known, and psilocybin was actually legally marketed in many countries, including the United States (US) under the trade name "Indocybin" by the Swiss pharmaceutical company, Sandoz.

In the 60s, LSD and psilocybin were studied and sold commercially, however, they were both classified as “Schedule 1,” which is the most restricted category of drugs in the US. The last legal dose of psilocybin administered in 1977 in Maryland, as the US drug laws of 1970 had major impacts on the availability and punishments for possession/use.

While the drug is not physically dependent and elicits no withdrawal symptoms, a "bad-trip" has been reported by users as one of the worst experiences in their lives. It's also been noted that individuals with psychiatric disorders or tendencies to experience them, should not be exposed to psilocybin (and other psychedelics).

As of late there has been a national movement to revisit the understanding and use of the substance. Michael Pollan recently wrote a book entitled "How to Change Your Mind" that captures the current effort in both decriminalizing and medical applications. There has been research conducted to prove the usefulness of the substance.

One small study found extraordinary results for cigarette smokers. After a combination of behavioral therapy and psilocybin doses, 60 percent quit smoking for at least 16 months, as compared with success rates around 30 percent for common smoking-cessation medications.

Another study found that guided psilocybin experiences produced “substantial spiritual effects,” with an increased sense of well-being and life satisfaction lasting more than 14 months for most subjects.

These studies suggest that there are potential benefits to using psilocybin but the question remains, is it OK to decriminalize it?

Kevin Matthews leads a group in Denver supporting the initiative. "Decriminalize Denver" and its associated web site has a great deal of information about the reasons and purposes for the effort.

Their vision is: "We envision a society where individuals can use psilocybin mushrooms without fear of criminal or civil penalties. " Further, they state that, "psilocybin is shown to reduce psychological stress and suicidal tendencies, reduce opioid use and dependence, and be physiologically safe and non-addictive." Read the full text of the initiative from their website.

You may be wondering, so how will all of this affect Longmont?

Chief of Public Safety Mike Butler says the initiative is a City of Denver ballot item so regardless of the outcome it will not directly impact Longmont. He also commented that any indirect impacts are purely speculative at this point.

While studies suggest that there are clear and reasonable circumstances where psilocybin could benefit certain people, in the wrong hands, harm could be done. The ultimate decision rests in the hands of the Denver voting community.