Last year, I wrote about how Denver could become the first U.S. city to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms and now it looks like it might actually be happening. On Feb. 1, the Denver Elections Division announced that Decriminalize Denver, the group dedicated to creating a state-level framework for the measure, gathered the 4,726 signatures required to place their initiative on the ballot for the May 7, 2019 municipal election. According to Decriminalize Denver, the group collected 8,524. Denver Elections verified 5,559.
Denver voters also decriminalized weed years before the state took the same step in 2012. The current measure, containing language based on a 2007 effort that decriminalized recreational cannabis in Denver, would not outright legalize hallucinogenic mushrooms, which contain psilocybin (sy-loh-SY’-bin) as an active ingredient, but it would make the use and possession of psilocybin by people above age 21 the city’s “lowest law enforcement priority” and “prohibit the city from spending resources to impose criminal penalties.”
Decriminalize Denver, a grassroots volunteer group comprised of about 50 people, has four months to fundraise, execute a multi-faceted education campaign, and solidify endorsements and organizational collaborations.
Like pot, psilocybin is a Schedule I drug, a category for substances with no known medical benefit. While the measure would not change the drug’s classification, it would impact how city officials view psilocybin and law enforcement would no longer be able to prosecute cases related to psilocybin if the measure passes in May.
Many Americans have shifted their opinions on cannabis in recent years, and scientists are now reassessing the effects of psychedelics. A growing number of recent studies have shown that psilocybin could help reduce anxiety in people with cancer and could be used as a treatment for anxiety, depression and alcoholism.
Earlier this year, researchers at Johns Hopkins University made headlines when they said psilocybin should instead be labeled a Schedule IV drug, a category that includes Xanax and prescription sleeping pills. They also noted that the use of psilocybin should still be strictly controlled, since people with psychotic disorders and those who take high doses are at risk. Combined use with alcohol or taking them in unfamiliar settings can also put people at risk for a bad trip, which can include anxiety, panic and short-lived confusion.
While there is always a risk to putting substances in your body, magic mushrooms are one of the safest of all the drugs people take recreationally. According to the Global Drug Survey, of the more than 12,000 people who reported taking psilocybin hallucinogenic mushrooms in 2016, just 0.2 percent of them needed emergency medical treatment, a rate at least five times lower than that for MDMA, LSD and cocaine.
Even bad trips can have positive outcomes. Two professors at Johns Hopkins surveyed almost 2,000 individuals about their single most psychologically difficult or challenging experience with magic mushrooms. Of that group, 2.7 percent received medical help and 7.6 percent sought treatment for enduring psychological symptoms. Nevertheless 84 percent of those surveyed said they benefited from the experience.
It could take at least five years for the Food and Drug Administration to reclassify psilocybin because it would need to undergo a series of tests.
Denverites may not be the only ones voting on psilocybin decriminalization in the near future. An effort to change the laws is also underway in the Pacific northwest, but it goes a step further toward legalization. A group of activists in Oregon are preparing a measure for the 2020 ballot that would allow adults to use psilocybin if they receive approval from a doctor and participate in at least one session of physician-supervised consumption. If the measure passes, the state would allow hallucinogenic mushrooms to be manufactured for medical use under a license.