For the last several decades, it was almost unthinkable to consider what Florida lawmakers are now considering. In light of the recent flurry to change legal restrictions on cannabis, the psychedelic field is starting to get its own flurry of attention. With new research coming out to back the medical properties, a Florida lawmaker produced a bill that aims to legalize magic mushrooms for medicinal purposes.
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What are magic mushrooms?
Magic mushrooms are a group of fungi that grow wild or are cultivated, that contain the compound psilocybin. Some of the mushroom genera that fit into this category include: Panaeolus, Conocybe, and Psilocybe – the most well-known.
Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic and psychoactive compound. Much like LSD it is a serotonergic psychedelic, which means it activates serotonin receptors in the brain. Albert Hoffmann, the same guy who brought us LSD in 1938, was also the first guy to isolate psilocybin in 1958. As hallucinogens, magic mushrooms can cause users to see, hear, and physically feel things that are not actually there. Psilocybin is also associated with feeling euphoric, altering mood, altering perception, an intensified sense of connection to other people, distortion in time and reality, a high level of introspection, and spiritual experiences.
Mushrooms can be dried out before being consumed, or eaten raw, and effects can last about six hours. Psilocybin is a Schedule I compound according to the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, a drug scheduling treaty, much like the Single Convention on Narcotic Substances treaty which was signed in 1961. Schedule I on both treaties denote a dangerous drug with no medical value.
Is it legal?
Psilocybin in technically banned due to being in Schedule I of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances treaty. The treaty is an international UN treaty from 1971 that sets legal guidelines for drugs throughout the world. It was originally illegalized in the US in 1968 with the Staggers-Dodd bill, before becoming illegal all over the world through the scheduling treaty, which ignored all medical benefit of the compound.
However, this is not the whole story. While psilocybin and psilocin (another psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms) are Schedule I drugs, the mushrooms themselves are not regulated under any treaty, and are part of longstanding medical, religious, and spiritual traditions all over the world. In a letter dated September 13, 2001, Herbert Schaepe – the secretary of the board for the (INCB) International Narcotics Control Board, which is the independent body that monitors the implementation for the UN’s International drug treaties – specified the following to the Dutch Ministry of Health:
“As a matter of international law, no plants (natural material) containing psilocine and psilocybin are at present controlled under the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971. Consequently, preparations made of these plants are not under international control and, therefore, not subject of the articles of the 1971 Convention.”
Where are they legal in the US?
In fact, different countries have different legalization policies for mushrooms, making a disconnect between the UN treaty, and individual laws of countries. In the US, mushrooms are illegal under federal law, however there are already states with decriminalization policies in place, including: Ann arbor, Michigan; Denver, Colorado; Oakland and Santa Cruz in California; and Washington DC. Psilocybin was legalized in Oregon during the 2020 presidential election, for the treatment of mental health disorders, under supervision. Oregon even decriminalized its recreational use, along with several other drugs, under Measure 110. All of this went into effect on February 1st 2021.
On November 3rd, 2020, Oregon passed Measure 109, making it the first US state to legalize psilocybin use medically. The state has two years to complete an operational regulation structure. The law, which passed with 56% of the vote by Oregon voters, will allow adults 21+ to have access to psilocybin products for ‘personal development’ so long as they pass a screening. This would take place only in licensed facilities. It should be remembered that Oregon already allows legal adult-use marijuana through Measure 91 which was approved back in 2014.
New Florida bill to legalize magic mushrooms
Oregon isn’t the only state to update its view on magic mushrooms and psilocybin. Last month, Florida House Representative Michael Grieco introduced a bill that would legalize magic mushrooms (psilocybin) medicinally for people with mental disorders like depression and anxiety. Called the Florida Psilocybin Mental Health Care Act, it calls for the creation of state-funded clinics where micro-dosing of psilocybin by licensed professionals, can be done. The magic mushroom experience would take place with the health care professional, and the patient would be offered a counseling session afterwards as well. Said Grieco:
“When people think of ‘magic mushrooms,’ they think of listening to Pink Floyd and tie-dye T-shirts, but we should take this seriously… We have veterans and Floridians who have deep depression and post-traumatic stress disorder who are resistant to other medications.”
His 59-page proposal is partially based on Oregon’s aforementioned bill that legalized psilocybin for medicinal use. It should be noted, that while psilocybin and magic mushrooms are illegal federally in the US, the US (FDA) Food & Drug Administration twice in 2019 made the designation of psilocybin as a ‘breakthrough therapy’ for major depression.
This isn’t just cute wording either. Giving such a designation is meant to quicken development for medications. As per the FDA, “A breakthrough therapy designation is for a drug that treats a serious or life-threatening condition and preliminary clinical evidence indicates that the drug may demonstrate substantial improvement on a clinically significant endpoint(s) over available therapies.”
What about Connecticut, California, New Jersey and Hawaii?
Not every state to introduce a new measure, is introducing one as extreme as the Florida bill that would legalize magic mushrooms medicinally. However, on February 18th, 2021, California democratic Senator Scott Weiner introduced a bill that would decriminalize psychedelic drugs like psilocybin, LSD, ketamine, MDMA, mescaline, and DMT for both personal and therapeutic use in California.
The bill actually specifically excludes peyote, since its considered an endangered plant which is highly important to Native American traditions. This is not the same as what Florida is proposing, or that Oregon has with Measure 109, but it would make the possession and use of these drugs not a criminal offense. The bill would also expunge the criminal records of those who had psychedelic possession convictions.
Said Weiner, “The war on drugs has been a complete failure… It hasn’t stopped people from using drugs and it hasn’t stopped addiction.” This idea was expanded on by policy and advocacy counsel Ismail Lourido Ali of (MAPS) Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, who said:
“Psychedelic use can come with some risks, but criminalization only increases those risks by creating an unregulated market in which difficult-to-verify dosages and the presence of adulterants like fentanyl threaten public health.”
Then there’s Connecticut where Representative Josh Elliot, along with four other legislators, put forth a bill that would create a task force for researching the medical benefits of psilocybin. This is significantly more limited than California’s bill, but shows a definite interest in knowing more about psilocybin and how it can help.
Both California and Connecticut are following in line with Hawaii which introduced bill SB 738 at the end of January 2021, which would legalize magic mushrooms for therapeutic use. The bill would also officially remove both psilocybin and psilocyn from Hawaii’s Schedule I drug list. The bill is not otherwise terribly specific, literally saying only that the Department of Heath will adopt rules to go along with the law.
And don’t forget New Jersey! On February 4th, 2021, Governor Phil Murphy – who has done quite a bit to pass cannabis legalization measures in New Jersey, signed a bill that works to semi-decriminalize magic mushroom use. The law took effect immediately, and downgraded up to one ounce of psilocybin from a third-degree crime, to a ‘disorderly person’s offense’. It’s not a true decriminalization in that users can still end up with six-month jail sentences and $1,000 in fines. However, this is much better than the previous three-five years in prison.
It’s hard to say if the new Florida bill to legalize medical magic mushrooms will go through, but if it doesn’t this time, it’ll have that much more push the second time around. Plus, with state after state adopting new decriminalization and medical legalization policies for psilocybin, and psychedelics in general, it seems that just like with cannabis, we might see a very quick shift to psychedelic acceptance.
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