Medical cannabis opened the door for researchers to consider the benefits of other fully prohibited substances, and psychedelics have emerged as the next recreational drug worthy of therapeutic use. Clinical studies suggest it can help reduce suicide attempts, lower the crime rate, fight racism, resist authoritarianism, promote ego death and treat depression, migraines, tobacco addiction and anxiety. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has even approved research into possible therapeutic applications for psychedelics. A group of advocates in Denver, Colorado hope to boost the medical mushroom movement with a ballot measure calling for decriminalization.
Does all this sound like pipe dream? Consider this: In 2005, Denver became the first city to vote to legalize recreational cannabis. The ballot measure was symbolic since the city couldn't actually legalize cannabis, and few people thought a wave of state-wide legalization would follow a decade later, but look at what ultimately happened. The people of Denver are now starting a new conversation about having the right to treat disorders with shrooms, and PRØHBTD spoke with Kevin Matthews of the Psilocybin Decriminalization Initiative to learn more.
What is the current status of the Psilocybin Decriminalization Initiative and your efforts to get it on the 2018 ballot?
We are currently editing the language to reflect full decriminalization in the City and County of Denver. This means that individuals will be able to possess, use and cultivate psychedelic mushrooms, at any quantity, without fear of legal ramification. This does not imply a recreational model or for-profit framework—it is simply providing a context for individuals to use these compounds without risking their freedom. Once we have approval from the Denver Elections Division, we need to collect [about] 5000 signatures to make the ballot. At this point, we intend to start collecting signatures before the end of April.
In what ways was the effort inspired by the cannabis legalization effort?
Colorado was one of the first states to create a legal framework for cannabis use in 1975, and our state has been a pioneer in progressive policies toward drug use since then. Obviously, the medical and recreational legalization of cannabis is an example of that trend. By first decriminalizing psilocybin in Denver, our objective is to responsibly reintroduce psychedelic mushrooms into the mainstream culture so that individuals can get the help they need, and so Denver becomes a sort of safe zone for research and validating the medical efficacy of psilocybin.
Also, Denver is a place where people come to get elevated. It’s the gateway to the Rocky Mountains, we have a high standard of living, and it’s grown into a robust, progressive metropolis with no end in sight. It is also a place where people can feel comfortable and safe exploring their consciousness, being exposed to new ideas and getting the help they need that may not be as readily available in other states. Overall, we believe Denver is the ultimate testing ground for decriminalizing psychedelic mushrooms, and with organizations like MAPS [i.e., the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies] with an established research center and organizational partnerships in the state, we’re very confident that this initiative will be well received.
In terms of the language in the initiative, you were considering two different options: Recreational and Caregiver. What's the difference, and which approach are you leaning toward?
There’s an important distinction to make here—decriminalIzation does not imply a recreational framework. It simply means that individuals will not be fined or prosecuted for being in possession, under the influence of, or cultivating psychedelic mushrooms. A caregiver model demands a reporting framework with city oversight to some degree, and we believe it is not the government’s responsibility to have such power. There are already countless organizations that exist which provide resources for responsible use and proper integration, and this initiative creates an even larger demand for those organizations—which consist of professionals in the field psychedelics—to take the lead and contribute to creating a culture of safe and responsible use. Ultimately, the choice is left to the individual.
If Denver is not ready to approve decriminalization, what conversation do you hope the initiative will start?
It is the conversation. How can psychedelics—and psilocybin mushrooms in particular—benefit individuals in our society, and also, how can we start to reframe our relationship with these compounds that encourages responsible use and integration from the experience? At the very least, we have the opportunity to jump-start the conversation around the medical efficacy of psilocybin at a larger public scale. And, if the trends are right, this is the perfect time to have it.
What should researchers prioritize in terms of studying the possible medical benefits of psilocybin?
We’ve identified a few primary areas based on the current clinical research. First of all, psilocybin has been proven safe and non-addictive when taken under the proper circumstances. Additionally, there exists overwhelming evidence that suggests psilocybin is a powerful treatment option for end-of-life depression and anxiety associated with terminal illness, treatment-resistant depression, addiction to alcohol and tobacco, and cluster headaches, to name a few. There exists a plethora of modern scientific research that, at the very least, proves psilocybin has a medical benefit.
Places to access research would be MAPS, the Heffter Institute and the Beckley Foundation. These organizations have been working closely with tier-one American universities, and others, for at least a decade to investigate the possible benefits of psilocybin.
Have you personally benefited from the use of shrooms or other psychedelics?
I have! I was diagnosed with major depression as a teenager, and psychedelic mushrooms have helped me create a new perspective and maintain a level of happiness and fulfillment that I didn’t get when I was taking SSRIs [i.e., Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors].
How can people get involved?