Colorado may become the second state after Oregon to allow the use of certain psychedelic substances, which are illegal under federal law.
But with Oregon voters approving the supervised use of psychedelic mushrooms in 2020, a citizen initiative went even further on the Colorado ballot in November. Proposition 122 would allow personal use of psilocybin mushrooms and certain plant-based psychedelic substances by adults 21 and older but would prohibit sales outside of licensed “healing centers,” where people can take them under the supervision of trained facilitators.
Psychedelic substances, which can alter a person’s perception and cause hallucinations, are Schedule I controlled substances, the federal classification given to drugs that have a high potential for abuse and serve no legitimate medical purpose. However, a still-developing body of research has found that psychedelic mushrooms may have health benefits, such as treating depression.
As of June, 15 cities and other local US jurisdictions have decriminalized possession of psilocybin or exempted users from policing, prosecution or arrest. Denver’s 2019 voter-approved initiative made adult possession and use of psilocybin mushrooms the city’s lowest law enforcement priority and prohibited spending resources to enforce related fines.
Here are five key things to absorb about Colorado’s initiative:
1. What does the Colorado initiative do?
Proposition 122 is one of 11 statewide ballot measures that Colorado voters will decide on in the Nov. 8 general election. The measure would allow adults to grow, possess, and use mushrooms containing the chemicals psilocybin and psilocin, and would decriminalize three plant-based psychedelics: mescaline (although it specifically excludes peyote cactus), ibogaine (from the root bark of the iboga tree), and dimethyltryptamine (from ayahuasca). a compound in brew). States must create regulations for facilities where adults 21 and older can buy and take psychedelics under supervision. Selling drugs outside these facilities will be illegal.
The measure sets a timeline for the regulatory process and facilities for psilocybin to go into effect by the end of 2024, and the state could expand the list of psychedelic substances to include mescaline, ibogaine and dimethyltryptamine at those facilities beginning in 2026. If voters approve the initiative, those who use these psychedelics would be protected from losing professional discipline or public benefits, and criminal records of past convictions for crimes legalized under the measure could be sealed.
The measure supersedes Oregon legislation voters approved in 2020 that would allow people to be treated with a type of psilocybin called psilocybin in supervised facilities. In Oregon, no facilities have yet opened and state health officials are still finalizing regulations.
2. What are the potential health benefits?
Proponents’ primary argument for passage of the measure is that psychedelic mushrooms and plants have potential mental health benefits. Emerging research and clinical trials are studying the substance’s effectiveness as an alternative treatment for conditions such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Supporters of the measure say the regulation would increase access for people struggling to find effective mental health care. They also say that psychedelic mushrooms are not addictive and do not pose a public safety risk.
3. What are risks and unknowns?
Opponents warn that the measure is too far ahead of science, and that still-developing research should not be used to legitimize psychedelic mushrooms and plants for medical or recreational use. They also point out that most of the research conducted involves psychedelic mushrooms, and relatively little is known about the effects of mescaline, ibogaine, and dimethyltryptamine.
According to officials at the Department of Justice’s National Drug Intelligence Center, ingesting psilocybin can produce negative physical effects such as vomiting, weakness, and a lack of coordination, along with negative psychological effects, such as the inability to distinguish fantasy from reality. Psilocybin can trigger episodes of psychosis, so people with a personal or family history of psychosis are usually excluded from studies. Psilocybin may aggravate heart conditions.
Many people claim that because psilocybin is derived from plants (technically, fungi), it is safer than lab-made pharmaceutical drugs. There is no basis for this distinction. Many plants are poisonous, and many pharmaceutical drugs are derived from natural substances.
4. What does science say?
Early research suggests that psilocybin may help treat depression or anxiety and treatment-resistant depression in patients with terminal illness. While the results are promising, the researchers caution that larger sample sizes and additional research are needed to understand the neurobiological causes and long-term effects of psilocybin. In 2019, the FDA named psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy,” a designation meant to accelerate the development of promising drugs. No psychedelics have been approved for medical use until now.
Of the drugs considered in the Colorado initiative, psilocybin is the most studied. Clinical trials have tested psilocybin in combination with therapy. Unlike antidepressants, which must be taken regularly, psilocybin has been shown to have a sustained treatment effect after just one, two or three doses. It is unclear whether psilocybin has any health benefits outside of the psilocybin-adjuvant therapy protocol used in clinical studies.
Some research results show that psilocybin-assisted therapy may be effective in treating substance use disorders, including nicotine and alcohol addiction. Clinical trials of mescaline, ibogaine, and dimethyltryptamine are still in the early stages.
5. Will it spawn another industry like marijuana?
Because psilocybin is naturally occurring, people assume that its legalization path will follow that of marijuana. However, the compounds have key differences in how they affect humans. Psilocybin is less likely to be approved as easily as marijuana, which is legal for medical use in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Nineteen of these states and DC also allow recreational use.
The Colorado measure expressly prohibits the sale of psychedelics outside of licensed facilities. However, the prospect of legalization in the state and elsewhere in the United States has spurred the launch of dozens of companies interested in selling psilocybin and commercializing the treatment. Some are holding retreats in Jamaica, Peru or Mexico, where they conduct ceremonies that reflect the traditional use of psilocybin and other natural psychedelics that goes back centuries.
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