The wave of interest in legalizing psilocybin, or magic mushrooms -- a natural compound found in some mushrooms that has been used for centuries in traditional healing practices – is no hallucination.
In fact, just as with the legalization of cannabis, Americans in a variety of states, and others around the world, are leveraging hopeful results from a growing body of research to lobby for its legally-sanctioned medicinal use.
Psilocybin is a fungal metabolite that in recent years has garnered increasing amounts of attention from the media, medical community and researchers. Found in a multitude of mushroom species, it interacts with serotonin receptors in the brain to trigger various psychedelic effects.
“A growing body of research suggests that, when administered in controlled conditions with supportive therapy, (psilocybin) may be useful for treating various psychiatric disorders like depression,” said the American Society for Microbiology.
Sheetal Raithatha, the Director of Preclinical Development for Naples, FL-based Enveric Biosciences Inc., commented that “Recent developments in the world of psychedelic research have unveiled significant long-term neurological benefits linked to the psychotherapeutic application of hallucinogenic compounds such as psilocybin, DMT, ketamine, LSD, in patients struggling with severe depression and anxiety disorders.”
Beginning last July 1, Australia decided to recognize the medicinal qualities of psilocybin. Medicines containing it are now being legally prescribed by authorized psychiatrists for patients suffering from treatment-resistant depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. “
Decades of advocacy and fundraising by organizations like MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), and the work of dedicated academics and scientists has led to a ‘renaissance’ of research into the benefits of psychedelics in Australia and overseas,” according to adf.org. “We’ve learned psilocybin can have anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effects that last for several months. It also appears to be helpful in the treatment of depression and anxiety in people who are terminally ill, as well as for nicotine and alcohol dependence. Psilocybin may also increase the brain’s ability to create new emotional and information pathways.”
The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA, recently kicked off a trial to determine whether providing magic mushrooms to hospice patients could aid in their coping with imminent death. “Initial results,” according to CBS News, “found that some patients discovered a ‘renewed sense of purpose’ and made a ‘deeper connection with loved ones.’"
In another study published in 2023, researchers found new compounds derived from psilocybin that are designed to decrease the duration of psychedelic effects associated with it while maintaining its therapeutic benefits. “This development,” reported psypost.org, “detailed in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, could mark a significant step forward in mental health treatment, offering hope for those suffering from these common yet often debilitating conditions.”
Rising Voter Support
The widespread reaction to these and other optimistic research findings has been swift and powerful. “Stigmatized in law and medicine for the past half-century, psychedelics are in the midst of a sudden revival, with a growing body of research suggesting that the mind-altering compounds could upend psychiatric care,” noted the New York Times recently. “Governments in several places have cautiously started to open access, and as Oregon voters approved a broad drug decriminalization plan in 2020, they also backed an initiative to allow the use of mushrooms as therapy.”
Indeed, this past summer Oregon launched a first-ever legal market for psilocybin mushrooms. “Far from the days of illicit consumption in basements and vans,” the Times explained, “the program allows people to embark on a therapeutic trip, purchasing mushrooms produced by a state-approved grower and consuming them in a licensed facility under the guidance of a certified facilitator.”
In 2022, voters in Colorado okayed the regulated use of magic mushrooms. In 2023, California lawmakers signed into law a bill that would have decriminalized several hallucinogens, including psychedelic mushrooms. (It was ultimately vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom.) And in the final weeks of 2023, Provincetown became the seventh Massachusetts community to move toward decriminalizing psychedelic plants and fungi such as psilocybin and ayahuasca.
The Provincetown Select Board voted to approve a resolution that “instructs police officers to deprioritize cases involving psilocybin, and calls for statewide decriminalization and for the Cape & Islands District Attorney to cease prosecution of people possessing, cultivating or distributing psychedelic plants,” capecodtimes.com reported.
"I've received a steady stream of emails, as have my colleagues on this topic, and heard people's personal stories, heard people speak here tonight, heard from my colleagues. All very moving stories, and I'm very supportive of this idea," board member Austin Miller related in an interview.
Also in December, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported that a growing number of people are turning to micro-dosing psilocybin to treat mental health concerns.
“Even though there's no hard scientific proof, some Canadians are buying into the practice of micro-dosing psilocybin anyway,” the piece explained. “Magic mushrooms are readily available on the internet, and there are a growing number of bricks-and-mortar dispensaries in cities across the country.”
Magic mushrooms may be the latest idea whose time has come.