Psychedelics

Psychonautical Journalist Michael Pollan Says the FDA, Not Voters, Should Decide Who Gets to Use Psilocybin

The approach Pollan prefers will not get us to the destination he says he wants to reach.

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Michael Pollan, who last year published a fascinating book about psilocybin and other psychedelics that includes vivid and detailed descriptions of his own experiences with them, argues that voters should not be trusted to decide the legal status of these substances. "As much as the supporters of legal psilocybin hope to follow the political playbook that has rapidly changed the status of cannabis in recent years, they need to bear in mind that psilocybin is a very different drug, and it is not for everyone," he writes in The New York Times, responding to the psilocybin ballot initiative that Denver voters approved this week. "I look forward to the day when psychedelic medicines like psilocybin, having proven their safety and efficacy in F.D.A.-approved trials, will take their legal place in society, not only in mental health care but in the lives of people dealing with garden-variety unhappiness or interested in spiritual exploration and personal growth. My worry is that ballot initiatives may not be the smartest way to get there."

FDA approval of psilocybin as a prescription medicine may seem like a smarter way to Pollan, but it will not lead to the destination he says he wants to reach. Even allowing for off-label use of a drug approved for a specific indication (depression, in this case), doctors will not be prescribing psilocybin for "spiritual exploration and personal growth." Anyone who wants to obtain psilocybin for those purposes will have to persuade a doctor that he qualifies for a recognized psychiatric diagnosis. And while that sort of thing might happen from time to time, it is a fundamentally dishonest approach that reinforces the pseudoscientific medicalization of the human condition.

The pressing problem right now is what should happen to people who defy the government's arbitrary ban on psychoactive mushrooms. "No one should ever be arrested or go to jail for the possession or cultivation of any kind of mushroom," Pollan writes. "It would be disingenuous for me to say otherwise, since I have possessed, used and grown psilocybin myself."

Pollan therefore should have no objection to the Denver initiative, which makes arrests for possession of psilocybin mushrooms the city's "lowest law enforcement priority" and prohibits the use of "any city funds or resources" for that purpose. Even if Denver police make only 17 or so psilocybin arrests a year, that is 17 too many.

Since the Denver initiative applies to "propagation of psilocybin mushrooms by an adult for personal use," it protects people like Pollan from the prison sentences they might otherwise face. If he had grown his mushrooms in Colorado, he would be eligible for a prison sentence of two to four or four to eight years, depending on how much the mushrooms weighed.

An initiative that could appear on the 2020 ballot in Oregon, which Pollan mentions, would go further than the Denver measure, authorizing state-licensed producers and suppliers of psilocybin mushrooms. "Under the proposed measure," its backers say, "any individual over 21 years of age, upon attaining medical clearance from a physician, could participate in a sequence of sessions, provided on-site at an independently licensed psilocybin service facility. A client would not need to be diagnosed with a qualifying medical condition to access these services." Production, distribution, and possession of psilocybin outside of this system would remain illegal.

The rules described in the Oregon initiative, which require that clients have medical clearance and take psilocybin only under the supervision of trained "facilitators" in licensed locations, would seem to address Pollan's concern that psychedelics should be treated with appropriate care and respect. Yet he is holding out for FDA approval of psilocybin as a prescription drug, use of which would require "a qualifying medical condition." The approach he prefers would prevent people from using the drug for "spiritual exploration and personal growth" unless they were willing to accept a psychiatric label and could find a doctor willing to apply it.

Pollan also mentions an initiative that California activists are working on. The 2018 version, which failed to qualify for the ballot, would simply have eliminated criminal penalties for "possession, sale, transport and cultivation" of psilocybin by adults 21 or older. While that is closer to the policy I'd like to see, I assume Pollan would prefer the more restrictive approach described in the Oregon initiative.

Either way, state legislators are not about to pass anything like either of these initiatives, and the FDA does not have the power to do so. Expecting FDA approval of psilocybin as a medicine to address the unjust treatment of people who use the drug for "spiritual exploration and personal growth" (or just for fun!) is like expecting FDA approval of Marinol, Epidiolex, or Sativex to address the unjust treatment of cannabis consumers.

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  1. >>>need to bear in mind that psilocybin is a very different drug, and it is not for everyone

    thanks mom?

    1. Peanuts aren’t for everyone.

  2. I’ve had many enjoyable experiences with psilocybin and look forward to the day when I may purchase some without fear of the big government boots stepping on my neck and then taking me to the gulag.

    1. >>>fear of the big government boots

      fun to look back and know it never stopped me

    2. They’re really easy to grow from spores that you can buy online.

  3. How about ME deciding what goes into MY body?

    What the fuck makes this clown think anybody else has any moral authority to decide what I do?

    Fuck off, slaver.

    1. “How about ME deciding what goes into MY body?”

      They think you make poor choices and therefore they must make better choices for you.

  4. “Doctors will not be prescribing psilocybin for “spiritual exploration and personal growth.” Anyone who wants to obtain psilocybin for those purposes will have to persuade a doctor that he qualifies for a recognized psychiatric diagnosis.”

    Or they’ll have to get it like they get it now–illegally through the black market.

    “Expecting FDA approval of psilocybin as a medicine to address the unjust treatment of people who use the drug for “spiritual exploration and personal growth” (or just for fun!) is like expecting FDA approval of Marinol, Epidiolex, or Sativex to address the unjust treatment of cannabis consumers.”

    I don’t know what the penalty is for prescribing antibiotics without a doctor’s license, but I believe it’s significantly less than what you’d get for distributing acid, magic mushrooms, etc. It can be illegal to distribute without necessarily throwing people in jail for possession.

    And isn’t this the way we came to see recreational marijuana happen? Doesn’t letting doctors prescribe it as a medication first get the camel’s nose in under the tent? If it’s easier to get people on board with legalization once they realize it has a legitimate medical use, then by all means, let doctors’ prescribe it first. Singles and doubles are fine. Not everything needs to be an out of the park home run.

    1. “Singles and doubles are fine. Not everything needs to be an out of the park home run.”

      But chicks dig the long ball!

    2. >>>Singles and doubles are fine. Not everything needs to be an out of the park home run.

      Charley Lau proud.

    3. Or they’ll have to get it like they get it now–illegally through the black market.

      Or pick them wild if you live in the right area.

    4. And isn’t this the way we came to see recreational marijuana happen? Doesn’t letting doctors prescribe it as a medication first get the camel’s nose in under the tent?

      That was the theory but it was messy and created a host of problems for the medical side once recreational marijuana was legalized. Let’s just say people were bitter- and one might even argue it slowed down the passing of recreational marijuana.

      1. it was messy and created a host of problems for the medical side once recreational marijuana was legalized

        ^ This. In CA it’s going on three years since legalization and it’s still a total clusterfuck. I just had to go out and get a new prescription to buy at the store I’ve been going to for years, so that now I have a prescription for something that’s legally sold over the counter if I go to a different store.

        It’s just so unbelievably stupid.

        To your point, it seems like states that went straight to recreational had a much easier time of it than this stupid “medical use” charade we’ve had in CA since the ’90s.

        1. But no taxes for the medical?

        2. But states might not have had an easy time at all going straight to recreational had not California and other states had years of experience with it in medical use by prescription.

    5. Presumably Pollan’s counting on a future rx-to-OTC switch, which possibility Jacob didn’t address. There would first be some years of experience with it as a prescription drug, and then a petition for a rule change would be made to convert it to nonprescription status based on its demonstrated safety. Once it’s over-the-counter, nobody’s going to ask what reason someone’s taking it for.

  5. I can’t say I’m really into magic mushrooms – I don’t have the expertise to pronounce on it – but neither can I say I’d want to drag consenting adults into a cage because of a mushroom.

    Just as I wouldn’t want to drag someone into a cage for reading an evil book like The Clansman.

    Freedom-fanciers should be up-front about the fact that there’s a “dom” in freedom, and people will sometimes misuse their freedom. But govt officials will also misuse their authority to put people in cages.

    1. Different than LSD, but for many they can have long term effects on your outlook on life and relationships (mostly positive) where LSD doesn’t seem to.

      1. I can’t speak for anyone else, but LSD definitely had significant effects on my outlook on life and the world in mostly positive ways.

        1. I don’t remember feeling different three weeks after taking LSD. I definitely had a changed outlook after ‘shrooms.

          I do know there’s a lot of research on Psilocybin’s long-term effects on changed perspective an life outlook. Fascinating stuff.

        2. LSD definitely had significant effects on my outlook on life and the world in mostly positive ways.

          Me, too. I discovered LSD shortly after dropping out of high school with less than a 1.0 GPA. I went on to graduate from UC Berkeley summa cum laude and going on to graduate school. Prior to that my parents were honestly concerned I would end up homeless. I tended to be depressive as a teenager and engaged in some somewhat pathological behaviors. That all changed pretty much instantly, and I never went back.

          1. In fact, ironically, when I was a teenager I was largely sober – never smoked pot, rarely drank (but did smoke cigarettes) – but a lot of people assumed I was super into drugs because of my general demeanor.

            Once I did get into smoking pot and taking hallucinogens, people thought I had turned myself around and straightened up.

      2. >>>your outlook on life and relationships

        the depths i would have been unaware of otherwise…

      3. LSD absolutely can have long-term positive effects in ways that are similar to psilocybin. It’s true that the experience itself can have a very different quality than a mushroom trip, but that doesn’t make it less valuable.

        1. Must be dinner time — I first read that as “a mushroom dip”.

  6. I guess once shrooms get FDA approval they will no longer grow on the native cow patties in the Gulf South, just sitting there waiting to be picked? LMAO

    1. That’s what’s always funny about these control schemes. Having different rules about it isn’t going to change the fact that most people who want to take mushrooms already do so. It doesn’t matter what Pollan thinks about how people should be able to get them. They will get them if they want them.

  7. What’s interesting about this express train to Freedom we’re on, is that Psilocybin has seen a tightening of laws around the world, and even relatively permissive places (mainly by legend) have cracked down on it.

    In The Netherlands, where the drug was once routinely sold in licensed cannabis coffee shops and smart shops, laws were instituted in October 2008 to prohibit the possession or sale of psychedelic mushrooms—the final European country to do so.[83]

    Interesting.

    1. Yet the truffle version is still legal there. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8vaRVwF0xA

  8. Until we accept that “because I want to get high” is a valid reason for taking something, this fight will never be over.

    We cannot even admit that this is the purpose for drinking alcohol. We say things like “I enjoy drinking socially” or “I enjoy a nice glass of wine with dinner”, eschewing the honest answer of “It is nice to get a little buzz and hang out with friends.”

    As long as this is the case, we still won’t have the better future that legalization promises. Companies need to be able to offer a drug that isn’t for medical purposes under “safe and effective” criteria. As in, this cocaine tea is safe and effective at delivering a slight pick-me-up. Or “this new inhaler of a heroin derivative we’ve developed will produce a really intense and immediate high that lasts about 15 minutes and is safe if used as directed”.

  9. I enjoy Pollan’s books but at the end of the day he is a self absorbed twat.

    One of his books described his experience hunting and it completely glossed over the fact that in his part of California this was really only accessible to the Uber rich.

    Now he wants fda approval for shrooms? On what basis are we to prove “safe and effective”? Effective for what? What is the clinical trial endpoint? Who will fund it? What is the informed consent for testing a drug known to make long lasting or even permanent mental changes?

    Stupid hippy.

    1. There’s been a lot of clinical research on the effectiveness of psilocybin and LSD for various issues including end of life anxiety, addiction, and depression. I agree that Pollan can be a bit insufferable but the book discussed in this post has a very thorough review of the research, which is indeed quite compelling from a medical standpoint. Of course if all laws against the substance were simply removed, medical progress would continue at an even faster rate.

  10. Why should voters or the FDA have any say? It’s your body, just don’t drive while you’re intoxicated.

  11. Pollen is one of those people who thinks he knows what he’s doing, but others don’t. It’s essentially a paternalistic outlook. As far as FDA approval, that would be great when it comes to treating specific conditions, but, recreationally, I would say it’s grandfathered into the pharmacopeia. And, as others have mentioned, nobody else’s business anyway.

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