by Gunnar Daniels & Alex Organa, guest & staff writer

Psilocybin has become an almost household term in Colorado as the state has  seen changes in legislation regarding its use and being in possession of the psychedelic mushrooms. While citizens have seen the decriminalization of the product, there are still some laws in place that prevent it from being fully legal. The following questions are meant to explore some of the legislation and plans for public use of the natural medicine.

Why are mushrooms illegal?

GD: The presidential election of 1968 was a landslide victory for Richard Nixon. A man who we all know has a great history of honesty and integrity. So when he followed through with his campaign promise to begin a war on drugs, it was not surprising. What was surprising was what we would later learn from his advisors. In 1994 a former advisor was quoted as saying: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” The entire war on drugs was not for the public good, but for racist political ends. The Nixon administration used the war on drugs as a justification to vilify anyone they did not like, particularly black people. In the Controlled Substances Act, psilocybin, the active ingredient in mushrooms, was listed as Schedule I.

Do mushrooms deserve that placement?

GD: Simply put, no. They do not and there is no good justification for their placement. “Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” This is completely untrue, now I wish I could go into specifics with research on the subject, but because of these archaic drug laws we are only now beginning to understand the benefits of these compounds. Still, they have been shown to be very helpful in a therapeutic setting, and the idea of psychedelic therapy as a form of treatment for things like treatment resistant depression is rapidly gaining support in the scientific community.

What can we do to backpedal on these laws?

GD: A good start would be to remove drugs like Marijauna, Psilocybin, and other widely misunderstood compounds from drug scheduling entirely. The problem is the only people who can do that are the DEA. The same people who control how much funding goes to drug research. They have talked about rescheduling Marjiuana very recently, but honestly, it’s far too little, far too late. The damage is done, and the research will lag behind for the foreseeable future. The racism of the past is still haunting this country, and we ought to do better.

What exactly does the act that decriminalized mushrooms do?

AO: Proposition 122, the Natural Medicine Health Act, was proposed in February 2022. This act decriminalized psilocybin and psilocin (two hallucinogenic chemicals found in ‘magic mushrooms’) for adults over 21. This does not mean that mushrooms or other hallucinogenic drugs are available to be purchased like marijuana is. Decriminalization does not equate to legalization. The backing for this proposition lies in the argument for allowing Coloradans to take advantage of natural medicines. The legislative declaration says specifically that “Colorado can better promote health and healing by reducing its focus on criminal punishments for persons who suffer mental health issues and by establishing regulated access to natural medicines through a humane, cost-effective, and responsible approach.” This has struck a chord with voters, and the act was approved in November 2022.

This decriminalization means that those 21 and over will not be penalized for “the personal cultivation, possession, use, and gifting of the following psychedelic compounds: psilocybin and psilocin… DMT, ibogaine, and mescaline (excluding peyote)”, according to Max Lubbers from CPR News. The use of the word ‘gifting’ is very pointed as the retail sale of the aforementioned is still illegal. Additionally, the act will set up state-controlled places where people can trip under supervision. There is still a penalty for those under 21 who are found in possession of any of these substances, including a petty offense charge and drug counseling.

The Proposition was funded primarily by Natural Medicine Colorado and Citizens for Natural Medicine who, according to Ballotpedia, were registered as issue committees. The committees reported $5.8 million in contributions for the proposition. On the opposition, Protect Colorado’s Kids only reported $50,936 in contributions. The committee, which protested Prop 122 based on it making psychedelics more accessible to minors. They also claim that “the psychedelics industry is backed by Big Pharma”, believing that the decriminalization of mushrooms will circumvent the FDA by putting the decision of medicine in the hands of voters rather than with trusted institutions.

How can regular people access mushrooms?

AO: The short answer is that the average citizen still shouldn’t be able to access mushrooms with the same ease as marijuana or alcohol. However, this act does leave a gaping loophole in the use of the word ‘share in the legislative counsel draft. The proposition states that “upon passage of the measure…individuals aged 21 and older will be able to grow, possess, share, and use them.” A gray area is created in this word, allowing the sale of mushrooms to happen outside of the state-sanctioned spaces. It is possible to buy mushrooms at legitimate stores because they are selling something else, with an added gift of the hallucinogen included with the purchase. No laws are being broken, but this is an exploitative loophole that did not go unnoticed by voters.

This loophole does cause some issues for those who are getting mushrooms from illegal distributors as there are no regulations in place like there are for marijuana. With self-proclaimed specialists selling mushrooms, they’ve grown themselves, there is a huge risk for the buyer. The levels of psilocybin and psilocin are unknown in these sales, putting people in a position where they may be ingesting more of these chemicals than intended, or even potentially consuming laced hallucinogens. With all the confusion around what Proposition 122 specifically entails, many have been led to believe that the sale of mushrooms is legal, which has lowered consumer’s guard when buying them from strangers. With all these unregulated mushroom transactions happening essentially out in the open, some worry about how the federal government is going to react. Andrew Lenny and Stephen Fenberg from NPR note that “the sort of unspoken agreement…is as long as you are regulating it in a mature and professional manner to avoid worst-case situations, the federal government is going to assume that you are doing your part and not allowing this to get out of control.” This maturity is not happening with most of the people involved in selling mushrooms, potentially opening the door for the federal government to start taking harsher actions.

What is the process like for accessing hallucinogenic healthcare?

AO: The healing centers mentioned in the act still seem to be a thing of the future, according to Lubber’s article about Colorado’s new law. This article was published on June 21 of this year and mentions how the state “has only just started drawing up rules and regulations for these businesses and their employees.” The Natural Medicine Advisory Board, a board of fifteen people who were appointed with the passing of Act 122, is working now to advise the state on how to navigate setting up healing centers. The state should start taking applications for healing centers by December of 2024, which local government will not be able to block like recreational marijuana dispensaries.

Once these centers are open, it is still unknown how much it will cost to receive treatment. Colorado’s healing centers are expected to include preparation for the trip, the trip itself, and a follow-up appointment. Oregon, Lubber reports, has similar centers already set up with prices of up to $3,000 for a guided trip. This price is justified by supplying the drug, but mostly by providing expertise from the professionals who will be assisting participants through their trips.

However, like how mushrooms are being sold in gray markets by normal people, some therapists are jumping the trend of these healing centers by offering guided trips out of their homes. NPR’s Andrew Kenny notes in his segment on Morning Edition that “other entrepreneurs are pairing psilocybin with physical therapy or selling microdose classes. This is all happening with no licenses, no testing, no regulation.” Although Proposition 122 has plans to make these services available in a safe way, the public is impatient and doesn’t seem to want to wait until 2025 to start tripping.