Psilocybin mushrooms, known as magic mushrooms or shrooms, are a naturally occurring psychedelic substance that grows all around the world. Several indigenous cultures have noted their use of mushrooms for medicinal, spiritual, and religious purposes, and recent studies have found scientific evidence to prove the validity of these indigenous claims.
However, hallucinogenic mushrooms have been illegal in the United States since the 1970s. The federal government created new drug policies that classified entheogenic plants and substances like peyote, DMT, ibogaine, mescaline, and psilocybin mushrooms as illegal. Despite being naturally occurring, they remain labeled as Schedule I controlled substances under federal law.
Nonetheless, many Americans still use hallucinogenic substances like psychedelic mushrooms for natural medicine and personal use. Furthermore, more studies regarding psilocybin show promising results as a treatment for various health concerns. Even though psilocybin remains federally illegal, several states have decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms for medical and recreational use.
Psilocybin has gained support from various studies as a natural remedy for mental health conditions like addiction, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and treatment-resistant depression.
According to previous research conducted by Johns Hopkins Medicine, psilocybin-assisted treatment was found to alleviate symptoms of major depressive disorder in adults for up to one month. More recent studies have demonstrated that the combination of psilocybin and psychotherapy can offer long-lasting symptom relief in some patients for at least a year.
In another double-blind clinical trial, participants were given a 25-milligram dose of synthetic psilocybin and found that it effectively reduced symptoms of treatment-resistant depression. The participants who received the treatment along with talk therapy experienced improvements in their mental health for up to twelve weeks (1).
Because of the compelling evidence demonstrating psilocybin’s effectiveness as a treatment for depression, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has designated it as a breakthrough drug for patients who have had no luck with other available drugs. A substance receives a breakthrough therapy classification if studies show it to be more effective than any other treatment for the condition. This designation allows the drug to undergo accelerated research to expedite its approval and availability to those in need.
The renewed scientific exploration of psilocybin has prompted several state governments and law enforcement agencies to consider permitting patients to use the psychedelic substance to treat their medical conditions.
Although many other psychedelics have clinical potential for treatment, psilocybin is one of the most widely acknowledged due to its natural occurrence and extensive research over several decades.
There is often confusion regarding the difference between decriminalizing and legalizing psilocybin mushrooms. Currently, psilocybin mushrooms are not legal for recreational use in any state in the U.S. Despite some states legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for medical purposes, recreational use remains prohibited. This distinction is important to understand as more states explore alternative approaches to drug policy and consider reforming laws related to psilocybin mushrooms.
If psilocybin mushrooms were completely legalized, any adult of legal age would be permitted to consume and cultivate specific amounts of the substance without any form of legal repercussions. Oregon and Colorado have legalized psilocybin mushrooms for medical purposes only, with the states determining medical necessity. Clients can obtain psilocybin through a licensed facilitator at a psilocybin-assisted therapy healing center.
Alternatively, many states have been opting for decriminalization to reduce drug classification for natural substances like mushrooms. This would imply that while magic mushrooms would remain illegal, individuals caught consuming, cultivating, purchasing, or possessing psilocybin mushrooms under a certain legal limit would not face significant legal penalties. Ultimately, law enforcement officials would give lower priority to psilocybin cases, and individuals facing punishment would likely receive a minor fine or warning.
Advocates and government researchers have found that decriminalizing drugs is more effective at driving away drug-related crimes than prohibition (2). Those struggling with addiction can receive the treatment they need and be managed as patients rather than criminals. Additionally, the regulation of drugs allows for safer outlets and government taxes, which could be used for drug prevention programs. Furthermore, decriminalization allows for fewer cases of police profiling which leads to high amounts of racial disparities in the prison system.
Oregon was the first state to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms and legalize them for therapeutic use. In November 2020, the state voted in Ballot Measure 109, otherwise known as the Oregon Psilocybin Services Act. Clients in need of psilocybin treatment would receive “preparation, administration and integration sessions provided by a licensed facilitator.” The treatment is given in state-regulated centers and offers psilocybin in combination with talk therapies to treat individuals searching for a novel remedy for their conditions.
This comprehensive measure set the framework for licensing and regulating “the manufacturing, transportation, delivery, sale, and purchase of psilocybin products and the provision of psilocybin services.” The Oregon Health Authority was tasked with creating rules and regulations for the new psilocybin law to ensure proper policies were being followed. This framework includes twelve guidelines addressing various aspects, such as facilitator training, product tracking, and equity-centered background checks. The framework also emphasizes the need for partnerships with diverse communities.
As for the decriminalization efforts, Oregon has decriminalized all drug possessions in small amounts. Law enforcement tends to turn a blind eye to psilocybin possession, and those caught and punished receive a fine of no more than $100, similar to that of a minor traffic violation ticket.
Denver, Colorado, was the first city in the United States to decriminalize magic mushrooms. Colorado is the second state to decriminalize psilocybin and legalize it for facilitated treatments. In November 2022, Colorado passed a ballot measure to decriminalize certain entheogenic plants and fungi. Proposition 122, or the Natural Medicine Health Act, works very similarly to Oregon, as treatments are to be done in regulated “healing centers” by well-trained and licensed facilitators. The proposition was designed to increase the safety and accessibility of natural psychedelic medicines for individuals facing mental illness concerns.
Additionally, anyone aged 21 and older can use, cultivate, and share psychedelic mushrooms as long as it’s for personal use. Although it would not necessarily be legal, decriminalizing the substance removes any criminal penalties from law enforcement.
D.C.’s Initiative 81, the Entheogenic Plant and Fungus Policy Act of 2020, decriminalized psilocybin and made entheogenic-related offenses the lowest priority for the Capitol’s law enforcement. The ballot measure received a 76% vote, with support from Decriminalize Nature DC, an advocacy group sponsored by David Brunner of Dr. Bronner’s soap company. The bill went into effect on March 15, 2021.
On October 4, 2021, Seattle lawmakers unanimously passed a resolution to decriminalize psilocybin and other entheogens within the city. The resolution prevents the prosecution or arrest of individuals who use, cultivate, or share psilocybin “in religious, spiritual, healing, or personal growth practices.” Later that year, Port Townsend adopted a similar resolution to decriminalize natural psychedelics.
In January 2023, Washington state senators proposed Senate Bill 5263, or the Psilocybin Services Wellness and Opportunity Act, which aimed to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use in legal adults while decriminalizing the substance. Despite overwhelming bipartisan support, the bill was gutted and changed to a proposal that aims to study the use of psilocybin through a regulated program before rolling out the actual services to any clients.
Ann Arbor, Detroit, Washtenaw County, and Hazel Park have all decriminalized psilocybin mushrooms due to efforts from entheogenic advocates. All of the passed bills protect individuals from being arrested for having entheogenic plants or fungi to “reestablish human’s inalienable and direct relationship to nature.”
Lawmakers plan to add the Michigan Decriminalization of Psilocybin Mushrooms and Other Plants and Fungi Initiative to the ballots in November 2024 to decriminalize entheogens statewide.
In California, the cities of Oakland, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and Arcata have all decriminalized adult possession and cultivation of magic mushrooms. Lawmakers in California initially introduced Senate Bill 519 to decriminalize certain hallucinogenic substances. However, lawmakers put the bill on hold since the state legislature required it to forgo more amendments. The new bill SB 58, revised the former bill to exclude any artificial psychedelic substances. SB 58 was introduced during the 2023 legislative session and is awaiting legislative review and approval.
Currently, the cities of Cambridge, Somerville, and Northampton have all decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms largely due to efforts from the advocacy group the Bay Staters for Natural Medicine. The same decriminalization terms apply to these cities, as psilocybin offenses are deprioritized so that individuals can practice using plant medicines without fearing prosecution. In January 2023, Massachusetts passed both a Senate and House bill to decriminalize natural medicine use in adults of legal age. SD 949 and HD 1450 are still awaiting approval.
Several other states have followed suit this legislative session, including New York, Missouri, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and West Virginia. With more ballot initiatives underway, drug laws appear to be changing rapidly. The new research on psilocybin’s impact has altered the mindset of both citizens and lawmakers alike regarding a substance that has been classified as highly illegal for over five decades. In fact, last year, the Biden Administration anticipated that the FDA would approve psilocybin and MDMA as designated breakthrough treatments for depression and PTSD by 2024.
Although some people compare the swift decriminalization of psilocybin to the legalization efforts of cannabis in various states, the new psilocybin laws are expected to be more strictly regulated. Psilocybin will likely remain decriminalized and only be legalized for medical purposes rather than recreational use.