As cannabis legalization spreads around the world, another mind-altering drug tries to follow in its tracks: magic mushrooms.
Denver voted in May to decriminalize the fungus that contains psilocybin, a psychedelic popularized by 60s counterculture. Oakland, California followed the lead from Denver a few weeks later and Oregon is trying to get a similar measure on the ballot for 2020.
Lawyers say mushrooms have untapped medical potential that could be as great as cannabis, especially for the treatment of depression and addiction. In October, the US Food and Drug Administration granted “breakthrough therapy”To Compass Pathways Ltd. to test the drug for treatment-resistant depression, speeding up the development process. The London-based company says it is now conducting a large-scale clinical trial in Europe and North America.
During the past years discovered New York University researchers found that psilocybin caused a “rapid and long-lasting” reduction in anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancer. And psychiatrists at Johns Hopkins University found that mushrooms can help people quit smoking. Another study found that psychedelics can also help with alcohol dependence.
“Its medical and therapeutic applications are becoming undeniable in a world where depression is one of the most commonly diagnosed conditions,” said Ronan Levy, a former executive at Aurora Cannabis Inc. and co-founder of Field Trip Ventures, a Toronto start-up focused on therapeutic psychedelics including mushrooms.
Levy believes it is only a matter of time before others - including many former cannabis executives - realize the potential of psychedelics and start looking for investors. Interest is already growing in some areas. Sanjay Singhal, the founder of Audiobooks.com, is funding research into psilocybin and other psychedelics, including a planned microdosing study at the Center for Psychedelic Studies from the University of Toronto.
If nothing is left
However, unlike cannabis, research into the medical uses of psilocybin is limited by the fact that the drug is illegal almost everywhere. In Denver, for example, the personal use and possession of mushrooms has made "the city's lowest priority in law enforcement," but selling and distributing the drug is still illegal.
This was a challenge for psychotherapists such as Bruce Tobin, a registered clinical advisor in Victoria, British Columbia, who specializes in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and emotional trauma.
Tobin has asked the Canadian government for a so-called 56 (1) exemption, which gives researchers and doctors access to substances that are banned under the country's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. He believes that around 3000 people in Canada suffer from wanting to end their lives and not respond to other treatments for depression.
"This is a group of people for whom it is literally true that they have nothing left to lose and our reasoning is that psilocybin for these specific people may be a reasonable medical treatment for them at this point," even before advanced clinical trials are completed, he said.
'A little uncomfortable'
Tobin does not expect his request to be successful, but is willing to go to court to make the decision, just as marijuana advocates did in the important cases that led to the legalization of medical marijuana in 2001.
While he sees the cannabis rulings as “extremely strong legal priority” for psilocybin, he doesn't want mushrooms to follow the same path to legalization as cannabis. The high from these mushrooms lasts longer and can be much more intense than cannabis and sometimes accompanied by hallucinations, nausea and the risk of a "bad trip".
"I'm a little uncomfortable that there are a lot of entrepreneurs in Canada who see psilocybin as the next big thing and I want to discourage that," said Tobin. He sees the drug as part of an ongoing psychotherapy process that should only be performed under the supervision of a specialist, and believes that some people should never take psychedelics.
“I don't want this to sound too literal, but between cannabis and psychedelics the difference is kind of similar to that between conventional and nuclear weapons,” he said. "I don't see psilocybin as something that will become legal in Canada or that it should ever be."
Read more at Bloomberg (EN, source)