White mushroom on green grass

Four Midwestern states could soon decriminalize magic mushrooms

Lawmakers in four Midwestern states are introducing legislation this year to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms, or magic mushrooms, which has become increasingly embraced as a breakthrough psychiatric treatment amid a growing U.S. mental health crisis.

Since Colorado voters made history in 2020 when they voted to legalize psilocybin — the psychoactive component of magic mushrooms — for adults over 21 to use in a state-licensed service center, lawmakers across the country have started to visualize how similar measures could work in their states. Midwestern representatives from Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Michigan expect to begin these conversations within the year.

Illinois state Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) introduced House Bill 0001 last month, the Compassionate Use and Research of Entheogens (CURE) Act, along with Reps. Jonathan Carroll (D-Northbrook) and Kevin John Olickal (D-Chicago). The bill aims to decriminalize magic mushrooms by expunging criminal records for psilocybin and removing it from the state’s list of Schedule I controlled substances, a classification for drugs with a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. 

The bill would also establish a state Psilocybin Advisory Board, which would be in charge of making regulation recommendations to the state’s Department of Health and approving licenses to manufacture or sell psilocybin for medical use. It would essentially create a system where people will have access to psychedelic therapy.

“If we set up in-person sessions with licensed therapists, we believe we will be able to treat people with PTSD, substance use disorders, and life ending diagnoses,” Ford told Heartland Signal. He said he’s seen support for the measure from many veteran groups due to psilocybin’s potential to treat PTSD.

“There’s a lot of support and a lot of knowledge about it,” Ford said. “It may be a new thing to the legislature, but this is a big deal in the space for mental and behavioral health communities. Even Prince Harry has said shrooms is life saving!”

The Illinois legislature plans to have a town hall meeting in the next few weeks to bring out testimony and supporters for the bill, kicking off what Ford says will be an “ongoing push” for psychedelic decriminalization.

Iowa state Rep. Jeff Shipley (R-Fairfield) introduced a similar bill to Ford’s in his state earlier this month, House File 240, arguing that the religious use of magic mushrooms is protected under the First Amendment.

“I don’t really care about the medical aspect,” Shipley told Heartland Signal. “In Iowa, we’re about free exercise of religion.”

Shipley said if lawmakers want to keep magic mushrooms illegal, they must articulate what exactly is criminal about it. “What negative repercussions would come from someone merely possessing a psilocybin mushroom?” he said.

This is Shipley’s third attempt to decriminalize psilocybin in Iowa, since his 2021 bill got voted down in a subcommittee and a floor vote in 2020 resulted in only 17 supporters. The three lawmakers reviewing Shipley’s bill in 2021, Reps.Joel Fry (R-Osceola) and then-Reps. Wes Breckenridge (D-Newton) and Jarad Klein (R-Keota), said they would only support the idea once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved psilocybin for medical use.

Shipley is holding a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the bill with disability rights activists and those who benefit from psilocybin use. He expects to be able to pass the bill within two election cycles.

In Missouri, Rep. Tony Lovasco (R-O’Fallon) filed House Bill 869 last month, which would allow psilocybin use in a state-approved location by eligible patients with depression, PTSD or terminal illnesses. 

Lovasco worked on a similar bill last year that dealt with a wider variety of drugs, which was ultimately rejected by Missouri lawmakers. This year, he’s narrowed the scope to just psilocybin, and he told Heartland Signal that he’s confident the bill will be well received in its first hearing tomorrow.

Michigan is the only Midwestern state where certain cities have already voted to decriminalize naturally psychoactive plants, the first being Ann Arbor in 2020 with three more to follow since. State Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) has been trying to make this effort state-wide since he introduced Senate Bill 631 in 2021, which failed to make it to the governor’s desk before the legislative session ended last December.

Irwin told Heartland Signal that he’s seen some support for decriminalization in the chamber, and that he has plans to address the issue again during what’s likely his final term as a state senator. But since the new session just started last month, these conversations haven’t started yet. Democrats have also not held a majority in the Michigan Senate since 1983, Irwin pointed out, posing another challenge.

The nonprofit Decriminalize Nature, which co-authored Irwin’s bill, has been trying to help Democrats in their push for psilocybin decriminalization in Michigan and across the country. The group started a petition to get decriminalization on Michigan’s ballot in 2022 but failed to get enough signatures in time for the election.

Opposition to Irwin’s bill in 2021 mainly came from “traditional forces in law enforcement who oppose decriminalization in general,” he said, a point of contention since the War on Drugs started in 1970, when psychedelics became federally illegal.

“The more they learn about it, the more they’ll realize there’s no reason to put people in jail for these substances,” Irwin said. “They have a long history of religious and cultural significance, low propensity for abuse and physiological harm, and even some promising therapeutic opportunities.”

Since psilocybin trials reemerged in the early 2000 after decades of scientists being forced to conduct their research under the radar, early studies have concluded that psilocybin has the potential to treat an array of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorders, OCD and PTSD. The FDA granted the drug “breakthrough therapy” status in 2018, opening up a path for accelerated medical research. 

The number of active clinical trials studying psilocybin has tripled since then, the Los Angeles Times reported earlier this month, making researchers believe it will receive approval from the FDA to treat depression by the end of this decade. 

Despite its continued federal illegality, an increasing number of people are already embracing psilocybin for psychiatric purposes. Hallucinogen use among young adults in the U.S. increased dramatically during 2021, a University of Michigan study found, reaching a historic high since 1988. The most popular reason people cited for their magic mushroom use, another study from Frontiers in Psychiatry found in 2021, was mental health and well-being.

Young adults are not the only widespread shroom-users. Colorado Public Radio reported last year on a growing movement of Colorado mothers who microdose mushrooms to ease their domestic anxieties, joining largely secretive online support groups where they can share how microdosing has helped them with their patience, coping, organization and overall happiness.

The need for alternative psychiatric treatments comes amid a growing mental health crisis for both adults and teenagers, who have shown record high-levels of sadness, hopelessness and trauma that have risen dramatically since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported earlier this month. The Pew Research Center also found that at least four in ten U.S. adults — and even higher for young adults — have said they’ve faced high levels of psychological distress since the start of the pandemic.

“In a post-pandemic America, we have to address the mental health crisis as thoughtfully as we can with all the options on the table,” Oklahoma state Rep. Daniel Pae (R-Lawton) told Politico last March. Pae introduced legislation to allow psilocybin research and clinical trials in Oklahoma last month, a measure that has already passed the state House’s Alcohol, Tobacco and Controlled Substances Committee.

Larry Norris, co-founder of Decriminalize Nature, told Heartland Signal that while he finds it encouraging to see psychedelics being mentioned as potentially beneficial for the mental health crisis, he knows that mental health is complex and solutions are highly individual.

“Psychedelics can help us become aware of the environment, both psychological and physical, to catalyze change and shift one’s narrative, but at the end of the day if the societal conditions are still poor, depressing, and isolating, one can only have so much success in healing,” Norris said. “However, by changing the punitive approach to alternative forms of healing as found in these entheogenic mushrooms, we are beginning the societal change necessary to improve and respect an individual’s sovereignty to have self agency over their own healing process.”

SOURCE: Heartland Signal by Kate Lý Johnston on 2/27/23

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