Like it or hate it, legal cannabis is firmly established in Washington.
But psychedelics, which can include certain types of mushrooms and synthetic products, are still trying to gain a foothold.
Products containing the active ingredient psilocybin have been credited with helping people quit smoking, reduce alcohol dependencies, potentially alleviate the symptoms of major depressive disorders and provide other benefits.
This legislative session, lawmakers have been discussing the Washington Psilocybin Services Wellness and Opportunity Act, a bill that authorizes different healing treatments using psilocybin mushrooms.
If this bill becomes law – it was still in motion at press time – it would permit adults 21 years and older to use psilocybin under the care of a licensed service administrator.
Psilocybin, a natural compound found in many fungal species, converts to a compound called psilocin in the body, and then binds with serotonin receptors to produce a strong pleasant feeling for up to six hours, along with the possibility of temporary altered perceptions.
A 2017 report from the Global Drug Survey indicates psilocybin substances are non-addictive, generally safe, and have no reported incidents of overdose.
Kevin Oliver, executive director of Washington’s chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and a national NORML board member, is excited about interest in psilocybin.
“It’s great people are talking about it, reading about it, are aware of it, and doing things for it,’ he said. “I feel it’s very important.”
The City of Seattle has already decriminalized possession of psilocybin products, and the City of Port Townsend is considering it. Other states are exploring it as well.
“Voters passed an initiative in Oregon that made psilocybin legal for mental health treatment in supervised settings,” said Sara Brittany Somerset, a senior drug policy analyst and correspondent based at the United Nations. “Therefore, it is entirely within the realm of possibility that Washington will follow suit,”
Even if the current bill fails, other efforts are in the works.
The activist group Decriminalize Spokane helped develop an initiative to legalize psilocybin for medical therapy. Members are working with ADAPT WA, a political action committee, as well as Pat Donahue, a criminal defense attorney.
If this initiative is approved, it would allow medical practitioners to provide psilocybin therapy for individuals with conditions like depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, and cancer, along with those receiving end of life care.
It would also allow, with a certain amount of training, individuals with a GED or high school diploma to assist people receiving treatment and make sure they have a safe experience.
The groups hope to gather around 350,000 signatures and place this measure on November’s ballot.
Mason Lord, chairman of Decriminalize Spokane, said there’s definitely interest especially if it becomes legal.
“The reality is there needs to be regulation for health and population purposes,” he said. “We realized ultimately that we want to have things work in a smooth way and to pass through medical legalization. That way it can open doors for decriminalization down the line.”
ADAPT WA was created last March and now has more than 100 members ready to collect signatures and plan fundraisers.
The group held a sold-out gathering in December at Daybreak Star, a Native American cultural center in Seattle.
Leonora Russell, ADAPT WA chair and leader, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a licensed chemical dependency professional trainee. She has worked in the social services field for over 20 years and believes psilocybin has a lot of potential.
“I would say it’s truly magical. This process has shown me just how powerful the human spirit is,” she said. “We don’t want to be excluding anyone from this powerful movement.”
Russell said the organization would someday like to create a center in Seattle for outreach and education on plant medicine.
“We are extremely hopeful that the public will be supportive of this bill,” she said. “It has been reported that it takes just 30 seconds to explain why psilocybin should be legal. Why would we want to keep this medicine away from people who are hurting?”
Psilocybin products have been used in many cultures for thousands of years.
Its first modern use was believed to have begun in the 1950s when a Manhattan banker and amateur mycologist named R. Gordan Wasson sampled what he called ‘magic mushrooms’ in Mexico.
Two years later he shared his experience in Life magazine.
Wasson’s account intrigued Harvard researchers Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, who began experimenting with the active ingredients in the fungus until they were kicked out. Although some colleges continued to fund psychedelic research for another decade or so, it was eventually dismissed as too counterculture and ethically shaky.
Today, however, psilocybin is getting new attention for its potential medical benefits. Controlled studies at schools like Johns Hopkins University and the University of Washington (see side) show promise as a possible healing tool.
“The research taking place now was dreamed about in the 1970s,” Oliver said. “It’s wonderful to see it actually happening.”
Doug Drysdale, CEO of Cybin, goes further, calling the resurgence in research a “psychedelic renaissance.” Cybin is a Toronto-based biotechnology company that focuses on researching and progressing psychedelic therapeutics for psychiatric disorders.