California, Colorado (specifically the city of Denver) and Oregon have all jumpstarted initiatives to decriminalize magic mushrooms.[1,2,3] Although these campaigns have shed light on the subject of legalizing psychedelics for medical purposes, Oregon is the only state to take the first serious step towards legalizing magic mushrooms.
The ongoing debate—along with testimony from people who have used psychedelics to self-treat mental disorders—has resulted in a groundbreaking study on the effects of LSD microdosing, a technique that involves taking minute amounts of the substance over a period of time. The clinical trials launched in September 2018.
In my opinion, the debate on legalizing psychedelics has a simple remedy. Psychedelic drugs—if proven to show significant benefits—should be legalized to treat mental health issues, but only if the drugs are administered by a medical professional in a clinical setting.
Origins of the Psychedelic Debate
The use of psychedelics was prevalent during the 1960s, be it for recreational use or in conjunction with psychotherapy to treat psychosis, schizophrenia and other mental disorders. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 rendered psychedelic drugs illegal, however, after it was deemed that these drugs only served recreational purposes and had no medical value.[5,6] Today, that notion is being challenged as researchers pursue clinical trials for treating conditions such as anxiety, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and depression through MDMA.
Psychedelic drug use was a staple of 1960s culture, but the hallucinogenic substances soon came under fire due to excessive use during the height of the counterculture hippie movement. The United States government made LSD illegal in 1966 and mushrooms soon followed, being banned in 1968.[9,10] The stigma associated with psychedelic drug use also brought an end to research on the medical benefits associated with these mind-altering substances.
New Trend Leads to New Research
The trend of microdosing psychedelics to increase alertness and creativity started with self experiments conducted by young professionals in the Silicon Valley. Now, the rest of the world is taking notice. This pursuit of emotional well-being has reportedly led to highly productive work environments, but medical professionals warn that this practice can have long-term effects, some even lethal.
According to an article written by University of Cambridge researchers, “Those who microdose incorrectly risk having unwanted, full-blown trips or even experience unpleasant trips. There are even some reports of psychosis-like symptoms in certain vulnerable individuals who use LSD recreationally.”
The effects of non-controlled use, such as recreational use or user-conducted studies, are difficult to measure due to the differing variables involved. For instance, individuals who already had anxiety disorder prior to a user-conducted study on LSD reported an increase in their anxiety. A similar study on mushrooms showed that it can also negatively affect mood and perception.
An Argument for Legalization
Clinical trials have shown hallucinogenic drugs to have calming effects on individuals suffering from various mental health issues.
PTSD is one of the most common mental disorders being treated through the use of psychedelic drugs, most notably MDMA (ecstasy/molly). Though classified as a Schedule I narcotic, MDMA is currently being used in clinical studies to research its effects on mental well-being. Clinically speaking, these studies have presented some benefits, with ex-soldiers reporting a decrease in anxiety and a boost in relaxation.
Tony Macie, an ex-soldier who participated in an MDMA trial, said in a 2014 interview with Vice, “I wouldn’t recommend that anyone try it off the street, but I feel there should be more trials and research into this treatment. I want anyone who is lost as a result of trauma to be able to have this tool at his or her disposal. For me, MDMA-assisted psychotherapy opened the doors to compassion, love, and moving on.”
Trials are ongoing but clinical evidence is still lacking, thus making it difficult to determine how effective these studies truly are. With that said, it would be careless to completely dismiss psychedelic drugs as a form of treatment for mental ailments. Legalizing psychedelics may seem like a direct solution, but with the U.S. already in the midst of a substance abuse crisis, we have to determine the safest method for handling these potent substances.
Possible Ramifications of Legalizing Psychedelics
Findings from clinical studies may seem promising, but there have been instances that nearly ended with fatal consequences. Some patients experienced bad trips, responding with violent behavior towards themselves and others. Such volatile situations are able to be diffused with medical personnel on hand, but what happens in the event of use without a medical professional present? Scenarios of that nature would be commonplace with the outright legalization of psychedelic drugs.
Using psychedelics may also cause users to experience panic attacks and psychotic episodes. Prolonged use also increases the likelihood of a user developing a high tolerance for the drug, thus necessitating higher doses. Another drawback from legalizing psychedelics is that decriminalization would open the door for individuals to use these drugs at will. Recreational use would go up, potentially leading to a psychedelic drug epidemic. Consequently, triggering mental health issues would contradict the premise of legalizing psychedelics for medical purposes.
Controlled Settings: The Safest Way to Legalize
Keeping psychedelic drugs out of the hands of potential abusers is at the forefront of the debate to legalize psychedelics. Legalizing psychedelics would simply add to the substance abuse epidemic that exists today. Decriminalization would also sabotage the progress researchers have made, by potentially giving rise to a new generation of individuals with mental disorders.
Making unregulated psychedelics accessible to individuals with mental health issues should involve very strict control by requiring the drugs to be used only in a clinical setting with professionals on site, rather than allowing use in non-controlled settings. In the event of a patient requiring immediate medical attention, a controlled setting can make the difference between life and death.
Is legalizing these mind-altering substances worth the potential risk of triggering mental health issues in recreational users?
In my humble opinion, legal but controlled distribution is the only responsible way to administer psychedelic drugs.