There is a steady and concerted effort across the nation to decriminalize psychedelics like psilocybin mushrooms and MDMA for use in therapeutic situations—and it seems to be working. After decades of demonization, lawmakers and municipal leaders all over the U.S. are quietly considering drastic reforms that will give patients access to cutting-edge mental health treatments.
Last month voters in California moved to legalize psilocybin mushrooms by petitioning the state’s Attorney General’s Office. The office has until Aug. 11 to decide whether to accept the activists’ proposed measure, which would legalize “personal, medical, therapeutic, religious, spiritual and dietary use of psilocybin mushrooms.”
Two other California cities—Oakland and Santa Cruz—have already decriminalized the drug, and last month the city of Arcata advanced a resolution to decriminalize the personal use of plant psychedelics. The city of Denver, Colorado, decriminalized possession of psilocybin mushrooms by a voter-approved initiative in 2019.
Last year voters in Oregon approved the legalization of therapeutic psilocybin. It became the first state to do so. The law requires the Oregon Health Authority to create a state-licensed psilocybin therapy program and set regulatory rules. The drug will only be available to patients through a licensed therapist in the context of a controlled therapy session. It will not be sold in dispensaries.
Now city leaders in Massachusetts and Michigan are also looking to decriminalize psychedelics.
Much of the current pressure to rethink policies concerning these drugs is being fueled by campaigns that were orchestrated by Decriminalize Nature, an advocacy group looking to “improve human health and well-being by decriminalizing and expanding access to entheogenic plants and fungi through political and community organizing, education and advocacy,” according to its website.
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has also played a large role in advocating for the therapeutic use of psychedelics. The organization has been a driving force behind some of the most significant scientific research into the subject over the last two decades. Recently, the group has made massive leaps in the study of MDMA as a treatment for PTSD.
The seemingly sudden bump in psychedelic awareness over the last year has been decades in the making, but was possibly spurred on by the pandemic. Mental health problems have spiked dramatically since health restrictions went into place, and community leaders are searching for any way to combat the potential mental illness epidemic that experts predict is looming in our near future.
Despite their reputations as party drugs, psychedelics may present therapeutic benefits that are missing from other drug classes—benefits that our society can no longer do without.
Santa Fe Police Drug Policy Changes
Now that cannabis is legal in New Mexico, the Santa Fe Police Department has announced that it will be updating its hiring policy regarding past cannabis use.
The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that, under the old policy, city police candidates were not allowed to join the force if they had used a cannabis product within three years. But police officials have now decided to abandon the policy in light of the Cannabis Regulation Act.
“With the legalization of recreational cannabis, maintaining the three-year disqualifying factor would likely make an already challenging recruiting environment much more difficult,” Deputy Chief Ben Valdez told reporters. “This also would present the potential of losing out on well-qualified candidates.”
VA Funding Bill Includes Vet Access to Pot
Federal lawmakers approved an amendment to a Department of Veterans Affairs funding bill that will allow VA doctors to discuss cannabis as a medical treatment with their patients and would keep the department from interfering with veterans who wish to participate in state medical cannabis programs.
Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee passed the amendment on a voice vote. It is now part of a bill that will provide funding to the VA for the fiscal year 2022. “We have now 36 states that have medical cannabis, and our veterans want to know from their VA doctor what their thoughts are on the pros and cons or appropriate role or challenges of this particular strategy for treating a variety of issues, including PTSD,” said bill sponsor Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). “I think it’s really important that we not force our veterans to be unable to discuss this issue with their doctors.”
Study: THC-Like Chemical in Brain Calms Seizures
Researchers have found an endogenous chemical produced by the brain that appears to be very similar to THC. The chemical has been found to dampen seizures but has some drawbacks.
A new study conducted by Stanford University School of Medicine researchers could shed light on new seizure treatments and even how THC affects the brain. According to the breakthrough research, a compound called 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) is produced by the brain in response to epileptic seizures. The chemical calms seizure symptoms but also sets off a reaction in the body that leads to blood-vessel constriction in the brain as it breaks down. This often results in amnesia and disorientation following a seizure.
“There have been lots of studies providing evidence for a connection between seizures and endocannabinoids,” said professor of neurosurgery and head researcher Ivan Soltesz in a press release from Stanford. “What sets our study apart is that we could watch endocannabinoid production and action unfold in basically real time.”
According to the study, 2-AG is the endocannabinoid equivalent of THC. Both chemicals produce a high and share an affinity for CB1 receptors in the endocannabinoid system. Unlike plant cannabinoids, endocannabinoids like 2-AG target specific areas of the brain and are short-lived, breaking down very quickly after being produced. It then converts into arachidonic acid, a building block for inflammatory compounds that is responsible for negative cognitive effects following a seizure.
“A drug that blocks 2-AG’s conversion to arachidonic acid would kill two birds with one stone,” Soltesz said. “It would increase 2-AG’s concentration, diminishing seizure severity, and decrease arachidonic acid levels, cutting off the production of blood-vessel-constricting prostaglandins.”