By Owen Woods | email@example.com
DENVER in 2019 was the first city in U.S. history to decriminalize psilocybin-containing mushrooms. Since then, the push to legalize and decriminalize, expand access, use, and research for psychedelic mushrooms has seen some serious headway. A statewide initiative called the Natural Medicine Health Act (Prop. 122) will be on this election’s ballot.
Mushrooms such as psilocybe cubensis, psilocybe aztecorum, psilocybe semilanceata, psilocybe zapotecorum, are just a few, among many, of the fungi that contain the psychedelic compounds psilocybin and psilocin. There are upwards of 140 species of psilocybe mushrooms on Earth.
Psilocybin is a psychedelic compound that produces profound experiences for many people. The molecule is very keen on attaching to one of the brain’s serotonin receptors. The effects of those experiences have been said, and noted, to treat depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and terminal illness anxiety.
Even if the state adopts this measure, these substances will remain federally illegal. Psilocybin is still a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance under the Controlled Substance Act, which states that “Substances in this schedule have no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.” Psilocybin is listed alongside drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine, LSD, cannabis, and MDMA and ecstasy.
If Proposition 122 is adopted, Colorado would be the second state to legalize therapeutic centers to open and decriminalize personal possession of these substances. Oregon adopted a similar measure in 2020. The proposition would allow for the personal use, possession, cultivation, and sharing of mushrooms for people 21 years or older. Treatment centers using these substances would be open to any person of legal age. It will also allow for a retroactive, no-cost record seal for previous possession convictions.
Advocates point out that psilocybin-containing mushrooms have been used for untold generations in Europe, North American, South America and parts of Mexico, such as Oaxaca, for ceremony and healing. Access to treatment remains a local and abundant affair in many parts of the world.
However, here in the U.S., getting your hands on mushrooms is not only illegal, but difficult. Established connections or a trust in the psychedelic cryptocurrency market are vital to today’s psilocybin trade. Local healers who work under clandestine guises have been feeding the psilocybin market for generations.
Prop 122 proponents say treatment centers would make the process much easier, safer, and legal.
An advisory/oversight board will be appointed by the governor if the measure is passed. The 15-member board will oversee regulations, substance testing requirements, create the framework for treatment centers, and choose to expand the program. Anyone can apply for the board.
According to Natural Medicine Colorado, seven members of the board must have experience in natural medicine therapy and research, mycology and natural medicine cultivation, EMS, mental and behavioral advisors, insurance advisors, public health, drug policy, and harm reduction.
Eight members, the majority, must have experience with the religious use of natural medicine, issues confronting veterans, traditional and indigenious use, past criminal reform efforts, and at least one of those eight shall have experience with the indigneious use of natural medicines or be indigenous.
“It can’t all be folks from the front range,” said Kevin Matthews, coalition director of Natural Medicine Colorado, the organizers behind the NMHA.
In 2026, the board could choose to expand the framework and access to three other substances: Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, which is endogenous to many plants; Ibogaine, found in Iboga trees and their roots; and Mescaline (excluding Peyote), which is a psychedelic alkaloid found in Peyote and San Pedro cacti.
OPPOSITION TO THE PROPOSITION
The largest opposition to this measure is not from anti-drug groups such as D.A.R.E or M.A.D.D, but straight from the heart of the psychedelic community. They worry that the new law could allow for a similar gold-rush of capital gains in the state – similar to what happened with the cannabis industry. They also fear there are too many gray areas in the law that could allow for law enforcement to overstep its bounds. Equity and a lack of mindful community engagement from the organizers of the Natural Medicine Health Act is also a key reason cited for the push to vote the law down.
Matthew Duffy, co-founder of SPORE spoke with Alamosa Citizen over the phone. SPORE was created out of the Decriminalize Denver movement in 2018. He’s also a part of The Mycoalition, which is a grassroots response to the NMHA. Their purpose is to represent proper psychedelic policy making and ensure equitable medicine stewardship, all created by the people. “We started The Mycoalition to make sure that communities voices were being represented in this process that was already 12 steps ahead of us.”
Duffy said the concern stemmed from one of the funders of the act, a PAC called New Approach. He says New Approach had no BIPOC representation in its initial stakeholder group and was aiming toward a less-than-desirable equitable policy.
“We rang an alarm,” he said. They then gathered people to find common values and find an ethical framework to present to New Approach and the drafters of the initiative to “make sure community was represented as much as possible.”
He said that process involved a lot of “inauthentic inclusion” from New Approach. The priority he fears is heavy-handed toward industry and market establishment which puts “commercialization over community.”
Duffy said the act’s use of the word “necessary” in the personal use section of the law creates too much to interpret. He said specific amounts are needed to avoid arrests.
Is there any good that can come out of this policy? Duffy said that depends on how people come together. “It’s not a guarantee that this policy is going to shape out in any one direction,” he said. “Some of the potential directions are disastrous. I’m not apocalyptic about it. I feel like our destiny’s in our hands.”
If the law passes, Duffy and Mycoalition will create a People’s Medicine Pact and People’s Medicine Council which will gather diverse stakeholders to create an ethical framework for policy. The People’s Medicine Council would be the representative body that upholds and advocates the values of the policy. The future would be to advocate policymakers and influence implementation of the NMHA. “The NMHA is just gonna open up the door, the real work happens after the vote in interpretation and implementation.”
Leighton Burt, a psychedelic user and advocate, and opponent of Prop. 122 told The Citizen “if it weren’t for psychedelics, I wouldn’t be alive.”
In 2020, Burt said he didn’t feel like he had a place and counseling couldn’t crack him open. Then, hea said, a life-changing LSD experience led him to realize more about his current habits and was able to look at life a little differently. Using psilocybin, he said, made him “more aware of myself.” He was able to pull back and look at life through an objective position.
He found traditional pharmaceuticals always came with secondary side effects that “almost zombified” him. Now he’s in a much better place.
Even though he supports psychedelics and their use, he doesn’t support Prop. 122. His concerns range from the lack of broad decriminalization to the lack of grassroots community representation within the NMHA.
SUPPORT FOR THE PROPOSITION
Natural Medicine Colorado, the organizers of Prop. 122, presented an informal question and answer session at Alamosa’s Rec Center on Monday, Oct. 24. Matthews, director of the group, led the discussion. A small group gathered to hear more about the measure.
They gave a general “30,000-foot overview” of the measure and what it means. They also provided a timeline for when the ball would begin to roll if the measure is passed. By the end of January 2023 the advisory board will be formed and then over the course of 22 months a regulation program will be established. Starting in Sept. 2024, the board can begin to receive applications for treatment centers.
June 1, 2026 is the deadline for the board to choose to expand the access to the three other substances. Matthews said the Department of Regulatory Agencies can provide licenses for testing facilities.
Co-chief proponent of the measure Veronica Lightning Horse Perez said making sure advisory board members have previous psychedelic experience is vital to the experience.
“The awareness of the need for respect for this medicine beyond the strength of it and its capabilities needs to be something that is consistently held at the forefront,” Perez said.
The measure limits owners of treatment centers to five facilities. This is to keep the franchising and industry “mind frame” at bay, Perez said.
Jason Lopez, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran and proponent of the measure, spoke on its importance as an option for veterans. Regulating the market, he says, ensures there are checks and balances, which allows for veterans and first responders to seek treatment without recourse. He also drew a comparison to the cannabis industry in how it opened up a new avenue for economic development.
Under the promised measure, pre-existing conditions would not be required to seek treatment. Anyone of legal age could seek treatment. A screening process would be required before someone can begin therapy, with at least one preparation session is required before treatment can begin. However, there would be no limit on the number of preparation sessions. Comfort and trust play a role in ensuring the best possible outcome from treatment.
Matthews said even though DORA has the final say on rules, the board carries influence over financial decisions and can make sure the treatments remain affordable.
Dean Berlinerblau, operations associate for Natural Medicine Colorado, said that incorporating the measure into insurance programs and Medicare and Medicaid is a “baby-steps” process, but that is the end goal.
“Regardless of what happens with this campaign, the work that we’ve done in the past 15 months has really done enough to push this conversation along. This is obviously an issue that is so critically important to so many people,” said Matthews.
Natural Medicine Colorado is confident the votes will favor the measure. But if it doesn’t pass, Matthews says that education will continue. They will bring the conversation to the national level. “We’re kind of creating a new wheel here with our measure…. To keep it concise, education is the priority.”
WHAT ABOUT THOSE OTHER SUBSTANCES?
DMT, or dimethyltryptamine, is a potent and powerful psychedelic compound found naturally in many plants, such as the bark of the Mimosa Hostilis tree. The main ingredient from the plants and vines ritually used in the brewed drink ayahuasca is DMT. DMT is also often smoked in crystalline or powder form, producing out-of-body experiences similar to near-death-experiences. From 1990-1995, Dr. Rick Strassman conducted the first clinical study of controlled DMT use at the University of New Mexico. He dubbed it “The Spirit Molecule” for its common and shared effects on subjects.
Ibogaine comes from the Iboga Tree’s root bark, native to Gabon, Africa, and used among many indigineous tribes in spiritual ceremonies. It’s been sought after because of its studied anti-addictive properties. But because there have been noted deaths and serious side effects after consumption, Ibogaine has seen a lag in research. Ibogaine administered and studied in controlled settings could help experts better understand how it affects human physiology. The sustainability of the Iboga tree remains an issue for future use, so alternatively, Ibogaine can be semi-synthesized from the more abundant Voacanga africana tree.
Mescaline, the psychoactive compound found in peyote and San Pedro cacti, is also a psychedelic substance. It has been used in Mexico and South America for generations. Mescaline was the first psychedelic substance to undergo scientific study. Lophophora Williamsii is the most common cacti that contains mescaline, and it is endemic from the Valle Rio Grande to the Mexican Mesa Del Norte.
Over-development in southern Texas and northern Mexico has put the cacti on the brink of extinction. The peyoteros of old are slowly dying, so passing along that knowledge is vital to peyote’s continuing existence. The argument to legalize its use both ceremonially and therapeutically hinges on the plant’s survival.
So why does this measure exclude mescaline derived from peyote? According to Matthews this was due to two reasons. First, Colorado has an existing law allowing the use of peyote for religious ceremonies. Second, Matthews said, was that the Native American Church specifically requested that they not include peyote due to its overharvesting and religious use. If Mescaline is enveloped into the measure it will come from the San Pedro cactus. San Pedro grows in abundance in the South American Andes, and has been used for ceremonies for thousands of years.