A coalition of physicians, therapists, patients, and advocates in Illinois – led by La Shawn Ford, an ambitious state representative from Chicago – are working on a bill that would decriminalize natural, plant-derived psychedelics for personal use, as well as establish a framework for counselors, shamans, religious and spiritual healers, and others in similar categories, to use these substances ceremoniously.
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Promising research for psychedelic therapies
Although discussion of using psychedelics therapeutically is a relatively new concept in modern medicine, many cultures have been utilizing entheogens medicinally and in religious rituals for thousands of years. Even in the United States and Europe, research on psychedelic compounds for the treatment of mental illnesses did used to be a thing, and really began to gain traction throughout the 1940s and 1950s.
In 1943, Swiss-chemist Albert Hofmann first synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide and by the early 1950s, psychiatrist Humphry Osmond had already pioneered a treatment regimen using LSD to cure alcoholism and other mental disorders; with relative success might I add. Osmond is the one who coined the term ‘psychedelic’, meaning ‘mind manifesting’. He also oversaw author Aldous Huxley’s infamous, therapeutic mescaline trip in 1953.
Numerous psychedelic studies were in the works during that time, but all that research was derailed for social and political reasons when entheogenic compounds were banned at the start of the 1970s. Fast forward a few decades, and we are now beginning to a see a growing acceptance of these compounds, especially the naturally-derived ones, and thus, an uptick in research. One of the main areas of interest is how psychedelics can help with mental health disorders such as depression, PTSD, and addiction.
“The evidence suggests mystical experiences help people gain a new perspective on their issues,” said Matthew Johnson, the Susan Hill Ward professor in psychedelics and consciousness at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “We think the long-term biological changes will be similar to those with successful psychotherapy. Essentially, the person has learned something about this problematic behavior in their life and changed their life as a result.”
A preemptive bill
Although law enforcement in Illinois does not make many arrests for psychedelics like mescaline, psilocybin, or ibogaine, Ford believes it’s best to a few steps ahead of any regulatory hangups, as these compounds continue to grow in popularity. “There is no reason not to think about this right now,” Ford said. “Some people in the mental health profession are asking for a new approach and we don’t need to have another situation where people are being criminalized like they were with marijuana.”
An interesting provision about this bill is that people who lead psychedelic healing sessions will not need a medical license or any type of college degree. They will need to pass a licensing exam, however. Although some are weary about a possible lack of oversight, Psychologist Geoff Bathje of Adler University and Chicago’s Sana Healing Collective, says supports the idea, and claims the bill was written this way to ensure equity by allowing a broad range of practitioners.
“People could get trained in their own community instead of going to medical school, a pathway that’s very long and expensive and makes the service expensive, too,” he said. “It can be done safely in a much less complicated way.”
Numerous bills to decriminalize psilocybin in the city of Chicago have been bouncing around for years, although to no avail yet, and I’m curious to see what happens with the proposed statewide legislation. Ford said his bill could go through many revisions before it is officially introduced to the state legislature, which he plans on doing sometime next year.
Middle finger to the federal government
What, to me, is striking about this bill is that it aims to decriminalize only natural, plant-based entheogens, as opposed to synthetic versions which is what the government typically seems to be more lenient about. When we consider what has already been legalized for pharmaceutical use – like Marinol which is a synthetic version of THC, or even Esketamine, which is not replacing any natural compound, but is basically a very slightly altered version of ketamine that has received FDA approval – we start to see a pattern.
They want us using their drugs exclusively. And why wouldn’t they? The pharmaceutical industry is one of the most profitable in the United States, and they’re showering congress members with cash in the form of political lobbying and various campaign distributions. Every year, the federal government receives millions of dollars from pharmaceutical companies, and for obvious reasons, they want this relationship to continue.
If the law allows us access to therapeutic plants that we can grow or extract in the comfort of our own homes, our reliance on big pharma medications would quickly dwindle. It’s been shown time and time again, that in states where cannabis is legal and easily accessible, the number of prescriptions for opiate-based pain medications drops. Same applies to medications prescribed for mental health disorders.
Sadly, there’s no money in good health, and big pharma is certainly not in the business of losing money. If the bill passes as written, only legalizing plant-based psychedelics, I wonder if the state will implement some type of ban on home cultivation. Not that it would matter on a larger scale. It might stop a small percentage of people from growing these plants, but if there is anything to be learned from the cannabis industry, it’s the simple fact that when people want something, and that something is even somewhat easy to get (or in this case, easy to grow/produce), they will find a way to get it – whether it’s legal or not.
Again, this bill is truly in the earliest stages. At this point, it’s barely just a thought. But, that thought behind it is legally unprecedented and it’ll be exciting to see how everything plays out next year after it’s finalized. Check back with us for updates on this and other important industry bills.
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