Should magic mushrooms be legal? Advocates say they are a life-changing treatment

Are magic mushrooms a life-changing treatment or just an illegal street drug?

Many are turning to psilocybin as a way to treat depression, anxiety, even PTSD, and it has caught the eyes of lawmakers.

Psilocybin is the psychedelic compound in some species of mushrooms. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted it a “breakthrough therapy” for treating depression and a few local advocates make very clear, it is not about getting high.

Legalizing the drug was on the Washington legislature’s agenda this season, but it stalled in the senate, so it will not go through this session. Senator Jesse Solomon, who introduced Senate Bill 5660, said when bills fail, they can typically point to a powerful lobbyist group. He says that was not the case here. He says this big, new idea was something many legislators were hearing for the first time and they probably need more time to think about it.

Dr. Anthony Back is an oncologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine who testified at a hearing for SB 5660.

“People have this experience of feeling relief from their symptoms, and they feel like ‘Oh, there is a way out,” Back said.

Lawmakers are opening their minds to innovations that advocates say really show promise.

“Previous studies for people with depression, anxiety and existential issues related to cancer show that psilocybin-assisted therapy can be very beneficial and show dramatic, long-lasting productions in people’s systems,” Back said. “They feel better. They look better.”

Back said psilocybin works in totally different ways than current anti-depressants.

“When people have these intense feelings of depression and they feel like their life is worthless, definitely the anti-depressants can damp that down, but it also it dampens down the good emotions, too,” he said.

Research behind depression and anxiety show people struggle with cycles of repetitive thinking. Dr. Back says those cycles can take on a life of their own.

“What the psychedelics do is they disrupt those cycles of thinking and give people a chance to have new ways of thinking, new habits of thought,” Back said.

This treatment would have included therapy before, during and after the psychedelic experience was prescribed. So, the insight gained during the experience would be put into practice, in everyday life. For Dr. Back, that was a key component to this bill.

“We hope it can lead to that process of transformation and maybe for some people, that’s kicking an addiction and getting them out of that cycle they’ve been stuck in,” said Mason Lord.

Lord is an herbalist, local yoga instructor and member of ADAPT Washington, which stands for “Addiction, depression, anxiety psilocybin treatment.” He says he is someone who understands those cycles, too.

“We hope it can lead to that process of transformation and maybe for some people, that’s kicking an addiction and getting them out of that cycle they’ve been stuck in,” Lord said.

He was in a near-fatal car crash in 2008 and is still working on recovery, both physically and mentally, to this day.

“I can give a lot of credit to this one experience I had last February, in kind of readjusting my outlook and being a lot more comfortable in my own skin,” Lord said.

One year later, Lord says he is still integrating that experience into his life.

“This isn’t something you do all of the time. This is something you do every once in a while and then integrate those experiences,” he said.

Through the eyes of these advocates, psilocybin is misrepresented.

“There is stigma that psilocybin was associated with hippies, it was people tripping, and doing these frivolous things,” Back said.

That is not what this is about.

“What we need to do is start talking about psilocybin can be used in a safe, responsible way, to really help people,” he said.

Dr. Back is leading a trial at the University of Washington right now in which they are using psilocybin to treat healthcare workers who are dealing with depression and anxiety related to the pandemic.

It is also important to note that those who have a predisposition to mental illnesses like paranoid schizophrenia, psilocybin is not recommended.