There’s been a lot of chatter about magic mushrooms lately. Denver, Colorado, Oakland; they will be seen as milestones in an effort to reduce the stigma, and increase education, surrounding psilocybin. In the grand scheme of things, these events may be the baby steps of a movement that can provoke the reconsideration of the global drug-classification systems.
Reconsidering the status quo
Not only at municipal and state levels, countries are starting to ramp up their discussion on the notion of reconsidering drug classification – through ‘force’ of petitions or their own direction. Recently, American political underdog Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced legislation in an attempt to remove legal barriers that otherwise prevent or slow research of scheduled ‘drugs’. Unfortunately, the measure was promptly shelved, but the attempt indicates a public willingness for access and education.
Cannabis has paved the way for the cultural re-evaluation of our collective view on ‘drugs’. It forced the discussion towards science and statistics, something tobacco and alcohol are just now needing to provide. Years of effort presented cannabis as the low-harm substance that many knew it was all along; not without consequences but by no means criminal. The evidence against “no currently accepted medical use in treatment” has started to become overwhelming.
Now other low-harm ‘drugs’ are seeing new attention, a large group of substances require justifiable reconsideration. As demonstrated in Denver, the specific question of psilocybin was deliberated and just barely won. The legislation passed in Colorado and Oakland recently decriminalized many different entheogenic plants and fungi; touting the viable option of harm-reduction, denouncing criminalization of natural substances and addiction, all while underscoring their goals with data-driven arguments.
Professor Matthew Hickman is an expert on deaths attributed to drugs, teaches at Bristol University, and is a former chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in the UK. Recently, he testified before UK MPs on the Health Select Committee on the topic of drug classification. “When I was on the ACMD, my first meeting was re-grading magic mushrooms as class A solely because, chemically, it was like LSD…Because the committee never downgraded a drug, or took a drug off, it just had to be the same.”
A diplomatic and democratic approach
Ultimately, the route taken to psilocybin legalization and acceptance will not be bush-wacked by politicians eyeing the next election. Psilocybin and other natural and synthetic, scheduled substances, are rarely a hot-button issue that mobilizes voters without significant education. The alternative, in many democratic nations, has been to empower interest in the most passionate public groups. Lately, those involved with opiates have been the loudest, owing to a crisis of addiction and death around the world.
These citizen projects have spawned petitions that will highlight the next steps of the movement to legalize and normalize psilocybin. Oregon treads a similar path to Denver and Colorado, soliciting signatures for a ballot measure in November, 2020, to specifically exempt psilocybin mushrooms from police attention. On a higher level, the UK has a growing petition to decriminalize the possession of psilocybin mushrooms. In the british system, 10k signatories will trigger a government response; 100k signers will conclude in parliamentary debate.
These public attempts to overcome the status quo have largely been ignored by entrenched politicians. When the notion is forced, these matters often fall to an eager back-bencher who’s trying to make their mark. Further, regardless of their success so far, there may be unforeseen hurdles in the future. Michael Pollan, the author of ‘How to Change Your Mind’, recently wrote an op-ed on the nature of progress in the field:
“It would be a shame if the public is pushed to make premature decisions about psychedelics before the researchers have completed their work”
Educating the Public, Empowering the Psilocybin movement
These groundbreaking researchers are working hard to demonstrate the positive outcomes of psychedelic therapy. They are hindered not by lack of evidence, but by limited resources and funding, gated access to the substances they require, and ongoing stigma of their work. Thankfully, some initiatives around the globe are welcoming the increasing interest in psychedelic research.
Researchers are banding together to create overwhelming evidence on the medical application of psychedelics. In Europe, the Imperial Center for Psychedelic Research recently received funding, given the go-ahead to explore psychedelic therapy outside the setting of a clinical trial. Across the pond, a psychedelic research center in Canada is slowly growing to explore microdosing, the University of Toronto Centre for Psychedelic Studies. These independent, science-based ventures indicate that private money is on the table to fringe and ‘alternative’ studies.
This has often been the case for MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Dr. Mark Haden, the executive director of MAPS Canada said: “Funding is a constant headache because we don’t have support from the pharmaceutical industry…The drug companies want drugs that people have to take on a daily basis, to treat symptoms, not the problem.” MAPS has relied on private donations, ignored by large pharmaceutical companies that seek to treat symptoms for life, without treating the underlying cause.
While science contributes to the fundamental understanding of molecules like psilocybin, and the best formats for application to medical pursuits, the human experience seems to have been lost in the mix. For every individual who has undergone a clinical trial with psilocybin, at least a thousand people have experienced something similar in the comfort of their own home.
The Community Contribution to Psychedelic Science
These personal activities are inherently given little value, as they are not rigorously controlled or observed. However, the ‘law of large numbers’ is all too willing to forgive us for those mistakes. The ‘law’ stipulates that, given a large enough sample size, the outcomes will eventually adopt a regular average regardless of confounding variables. While science toils away with their small groups of adventurers, the community of explorers and innovators can come to make an equal contribution.
The passage of legislation relies on public knowledge of the issues. Contributions from the everyday individual, both in knowledge and outreach, will further the psilocybin movement in ways on par with the devoted scientists. After prompting a vote, discussion, debate; we must contribute to a growing community of those who benefit from psilocybin, and any similar substance, to normalize the practice amongst our peers.