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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bill creating magic mushrooms regulation task forces passes the state Senate

A vendor bags psilocybin mushrooms at a pop-up cannabis market in Los Angeles in 2019.  (Richard Vogel/Associated Press)
By Elena Perry The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – The topic of ’shrooms is once again on the table for the Legislature, as the state Senate passed a bill Tuesday to study access and potential legalization of psilocybin, the chemical compound found in “magic mushrooms.”

The bill would establish an advisory board to provide recommendations on regulations to the Department of Health, Liquor and Cannabis Board and the Washington state Department of Agriculture. Additionally, the bill would create an interagency work group to advise the board regarding regulation, clinical studies and findings and ensuring equity in enforcement. Also constructed by the bill is a task force to thoroughly review clinical information to determine the best route of psilocybin regulation, reporting their findings to the governor and Legislature by December of 2024.

“The bill before us is directing agencies to study how to apply this interesting, intriguing idea into a legal framework,” said bill sponsor Sen. Jesse Salomon, D-Shoreline.

Psilocybin, commonly referred to as magic mushrooms or ’shrooms, is the compound found in over 200 species of psychedelic fungi. Consumption of psilocybin has mind-altering effects, including distortions in perception, hallucinations and a change of consciousness, in other words, a “trip.”

Legislation regarding access to psilocybin is not unprecedented across the nation. In January of this year, Oregon legalized the use of psilocybin by adults 21 years or older in licensed service centers. Colorado voters followed suit, and in 2022, voters passed a proposition to regulate natural hallucinogenic substances and decriminalized the use of such substances for adults at least 21 years old.

Originally, the bill would have mimicked these laws and legalized the supervised use of psilocybin for adults 21 and over. After changes made in committee, it now creates an avenue toward regulation of the substance.

“This bill is a big step in the right direction,” Salomon said. “This topic is new to many legislators, but this bill will facilitate well-informed conversations to create a safe and regulated process for psilocybin access in a near future.”

Supporters said use of psilocybin can be a beneficial treatment toward a number of maladies, including depression, PTSD, addiction and Parkinson’ disease. Members of “vulnerable” populations, like veterans and the elderly, can find relief in psilocybin treatment not found in other therapies, supporters said.

Veteran Alex Kaper served over seven years in the military. After leaving the military, Kaper experienced chronic sleep disorders and outbursts of anger and paranoia, he said. Traditional methods of treatment, like medication and talk therapy, were ineffective at addressing his symptoms, while psilocybin treatment was beneficial to improving his state of mind, he said.

“Psilocybin treatment has not cured me, nor do I think it will, but it has undeniably given me the tools to handle myself with speed and efficacy not typically seen by other modalities of healing,” Kaper said.

While anecdotes might attest to the benefits of the substance, there is no conclusive evidence that psilocybin can be used as a medication to these ailments.

“Medication requires conclusive evidence to make sure that it is definitely helpful and not harmful,” said Avanti Bergquist from the Washington state Psychiatric Association. “Psilocybin is still in very preliminary studies as a behavioral Health treatment.”

In the Senate, the vote was 41-7 with one excused. Republicans and Democrats appeared on either side of the vote.

Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, acknowledged the potential reluctance in her party to support this legislation given the reputation of psilocybin as a recreational drug. After hearing public testimony from veterans and trauma survivors, she began to understand psilocybin’s therapeutic benefits, she said.

“When we brought it back to our caucus to say there’s something here, the knowing looks on our colleagues’ faces, like ‘Oh yeah, magic ’shrooms,’ like they thought that we had done some or something,” Rivers said.

Given its successful passage in the Senate, the next stop for the bill would be a public hearing in a House of Representatives committee.