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The Psychedelics-As-Medicine Movement Spreads to California


Ecstasy, “magic mushrooms” and other psychedelic drugs could soon be recognized as therapeutic in California — one of the latest states, and the biggest, to consider allowing their use as medicine.

Legislation by state Sen. Scott Wiener (D) and Assembly member Marie Waldron (R) would allow the therapeutic use of psilocybin, mescaline, ecstasy and dimethyltryptamine — a chemical that occurs in the psychoactive ayahuasca plant mixture — in state-approved locations under the supervision of licensed individuals. It would also regulate the production, distribution, quality control and sale of those psychedelics.

The bill is intended to get across the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who vetoed broader decriminalization legislation last year while calling psychedelics “an exciting frontier” and asking for “regulated treatment guidelines” in the next version.

While most psychedelics are prohibited under federal law, research has shown them to be promising treatments for depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction. Several large cities including D.C., have effectively decriminalized their use, as has Colorado. Oregon, which previously decriminalized personal possession of all illegal drugs, including psychedelics, rolled back that policy but created a system to regulate the use of psilocybin mushrooms.

Leanne Cavellini, 49, of Pleasanton, Calif., attended a psychedelic retreat in Mexico this year. She said the experience helped her overcome deep-rooted trauma.

“The person I was before was a wound-up tight ball of rubber bands who kept everything in and felt a lot of fear and worry,” Cavellini said. “The person I am today is very free. I live in the present moment. I don’t live other people’s lives, and I don’t take on their emotions.”

State regulation, though, doesn’t always mean easy access. Oregon permits consumption of psilocybin mushrooms only under the guidance of state-licensed facilitators in “psilocybin service centers.” Sessions can cost more than $2,500; they’re not covered by insurance.

Colorado is building regulated “healing centers,” where people will be able to take psilocybin mushrooms and some other psychedelics under the supervision of licensed facilitators.

In California, one obstacle is the state’s $45 billion budget deficit. Its elected leaders are already looking for programs to cut. One that doesn’t yet exist could be low-hanging fruit.

Under the pending legislation, anyone hoping to be licensed to supervise people using psychedelics will need a professional health credential.

Bills pending in several other states would ease access to psychedelics or relax current laws against them.

Some first responder and veterans groups are among legalization’s biggest boosters, and there is significant public support. A survey out of the University of California at Berkeley last year showed 61 percent of registered voters in the United States support regulated therapeutic access to psychedelics — though nearly half of those respondents said such drugs were not “good for society.”

Ken Finn, the former president of the American Board of Pain Medicine, said although the science around psychedelics is promising, the California legislation is premature “pending more robust and rigorous research to protect public safety.”


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