Two years after Oregon voters made it legal for adults to have small amounts of hard drugs like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and psilocybin, state officials have determined the rules for producing and selling hallucinogenic “magic mushrooms.”
The resulting law passed on January 1 specifically addresses the sale of psilocybin, a psychedelic prodrug compound produced by fungi species.
Unlike marijuana, which can be sold at dispensaries in Oregon and many U.S. states, psilocybin cannot be sold at stores in Oregon.
Instead, Measure 109 made it legal for psilocybin service centers to be set up, where people over 21 can use the mushrooms in an environment supervised by people who have attended classes to become providers.
It is a policy shift that Oregon lawmakers hope will set an example for other governments looking to transition from illegal to legal drug use, The New York Times reported.
“Being the first in the nation means we have a responsibility to get this right,” said Angela Allbee, a policy analyst at Oregon Health. “That sometimes means learning on the fly.”
Since psilocybin is a Schedule 1 drug with no currently recognized medical purpose, insurance will not pay for sessions. Most sessions cost customers hundreds or thousands of dollars, limiting the number of people who might take advantage of legal psilocybin.
Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic that has shown potential in treating severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and end-of-life anxiety in terminally ill patients, among other mental health conditions, according to The New York Times.
Like other illicit drugs, including marijuana, psilocybin is still illegal at the federal level, which creates a regulatory conflict that makes it difficult for states to move quickly toward decriminalization.
In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy” for major depressive disorder, the NYT reported, adding that researchers predict the FDA will give its full approval in the next year or two.
“Psychedelic medicine is starting to transcend partisan politics in a way that few issues have,” Sam Chapman, executive director of the Healing Advocacy Fund, told The New York Times. “It’s our responsibility to create a golden standard that’s worthy of wider implementation.”
Even among those open to psilocybin’s medical potential, however, there remains some hesitation regarding the legalization of a powerful drug, about which relatively little is still known.
Michael Pollan, a co-founder of the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics, urged caution in 2019.
“We still have a lot to learn about the immense power and potential risk of these molecules, not to mention the consequences of unrestricted use,” Pollan wrote.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse warned that research has shown some hallucinogens work by temporarily blocking chemical systems in the brain and spinal cord from talking to each other.
Some hallucinogens stop the brain’s chemical serotonin from doing its job, one of which is controlling mood. These drugs could also affect sleep, hunger, and sexual behavior.
Moreover, despite potentially treating some mental health issues, the drug could exacerbate them as well.
“The interaction of psilocin with serotonin receptors in the prefrontal cortex can alter brain chemistry,” worsening conditions such as panic disorder, bipolar disorder, or anxiety, Dr. Lawrence Weinstein of the American Addiction Centers said.
The institute added that dissociative hallucinogens prevent the brain’s chemical glutamate from performing its functions: controlling pain perception, responses to the environment, emotions, learning, and memory.
“My worry is that ballot initiatives may not be the smartest way to get there,” Pollan wrote in the UC Berkeley piece. “It would be a shame if the public is pushed to make premature decisions about psychedelics before the researchers have completed their work.”
Countries like the Bahamas, Brazil, and Nepal permit people to use psilocybin, but none have tried to set up a way for people to do so under supervision, as in Oregon.
Anyone with a high school diploma and a clean background check can join the certification programs to be an onsite provider. Until 2025, only people who live in Oregon can get the state’s license. The cost for the four-day classes attended by the NYT was nearly $10,000.