Oregon Legalizes a Breakthrough Treatment: Magic Mushrooms

Oregon will license and regulate psilocybin-assisted therapy by 2023. Some health care professionals aren't willing to wait.


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"I always had this kind of idea that, 'Oh, magic mushrooms just grow like deep in the forest and they're hard to identify and all this stuff," says Sean, a Portland-based social worker who asked that we use only his first name in this story.

In 2016, he and his girlfriend were foraging for psychedelic mushrooms in a nearby state park, where the mushrooms were plentiful and easy to find, contrary to his expectations. But he was stopped by a park ranger.

"[The ranger] saw me bending down and screeched to a halt and came up and started questioning me," says Sean. "I knew it was illegal, but I thought, like, 'Oh, they'll give me a ticket or something.'"

He was arrested and spent the weekend in county jail.  He pled guilty to felony possession, which derailed his career. He was fired from his job at a community mental health agency, and it made him ineligible to receive insurance in his private practice.

"It was professionally kind of devastating, personally, it was devastating… It is still impacting me to this day," says Sean.

Four years later, Oregon voters decriminalized low-level drug possession. If that law had been in place in 2016, the park ranger would probably have ticketed Sean $100.

In a separate 2020 ballot initiative, Oregon voters also opted to legalize psilocybin—the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms—for use in therapeutic settings. Regulators have until January 2023 to begin issuing licenses.

"It's a great thing to be able to start to have this system in place [where] we'll be able to do that work above ground with legal protections," says Sean. 

But Sean didn't wait around for the state licensing program. He started treating his clients with psychedelics after his felony conviction destroyed his traditional practice, under the condition that the clients supply the drugs.

"Psilocybin from magic mushrooms has real potential to revolutionize mental health treatment," says Sean. "[Mushrooms] allow the sort of deep work that otherwise in therapy can take years to do effectively."

There's robust evidence that therapy with MDMA, or Ecstacy, is an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. And the FDA has deemed psilocybin a "breakthrough therapy" for treating severe depression.

Sean says that psilocybin has helped many of his clients overcome traumatic episodes, including a middle-aged man whose life was upended after he was robbed at gunpoint. No other treatment options had worked.

"He was desperate for some relief when he came to me," says Sean. "He considered [psilocybin-assisted therapy] a complete cure." 

Researchers have resumed studying the use of psychedelics in therapeutic settings—picking up on promising research that began nearly 80 years ago but that was halted by drug prohibition.

"When psychedelics were first discovered in the early '40s and then really distributed to psychiatrists around the world in the '50s, it quickly became apparent that psychedelics had the potential to become the cutting edge of psychiatric research," says Harbor-UCLA Medical Center psychiatrist Charles Grob, who published a seminal pilot study finding that psilocybin demonstrably alleviates the end-of-life anxiety of terminal cancer patients.

"Our [test] subjects, to begin with, were in great existential crisis," says Grob. "What we found over time with these psychedelic experiences, individuals found that they were able to re-establish that sense of self… and strengthen their sense of meaning and purpose."

Denver decriminalized psilocybin in 2019. Oakland decriminalized all naturally occurring psychedelics later that year, and Santa Cruz followed in early 2020. The California legislature is considering legalizing several psychedelics statewide. But Oregon is the first state that will establish a legal framework for the sales and use of psychedelics in a therapeutic setting.

"I don't believe that the state should have anything to do with what's going on in my mind," says Joe Eaton, a retired counselor who now works as a psychedelic sitter, taking care of his clients while they're tripping. "I never signed off, nor do I know anybody else who signed off and said, 'Yeah, you get to control what I put in my brain.'" 

It's unclear whether someone like Eaton will be eligible for a state license, and he says he isn't sure he wants one.

"I come to the substances with the idea that whatever you want to do with them is fine. You just want to party? That's fine. And then you want to hire me to keep you safe. That's fine. You want to do a search for God? Great. Let's do that. You want to do psychodynamic kind of work on your trauma issues? Sure. Let's do that."

Some psychiatrists, including Grob, are concerned that if psychedelic use is unregulated, it could put some patients, such as people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, in danger.

"The [psychedelic] experience, particularly under adverse conditions, may push them over the edge into a psychotic state," says Grob.  

But Eaton says that a regulatory apparatus isn't necessary to protect this population.

"I don't think [we need to] keep it in the hands of the professionals who have clearly shown that they're going to screw it up… They listened to Nixon for the past 40 years. I just don't have a lot of respect for any of the professional organizations," says Eaton.  

Oregon's law created the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board to work with the health department to create licenses and training programs for manufacturing, selling, and testing psilocybin as well as providing broadly defined "psilocybin services."

"I can at least kind of imagine certain kind of training programs," says Sean. "But I don't think that somebody needs to have gone to, uh, uh, you know, through a master's program in social work, through an MD program in psychiatry, to be able to safely and effectively dispense and guide the use of these substances to facilitate their therapeutic use."

The good news is that practitioners like Eaton, who may not be obtaining an official license, will likely be protected thanks to Oregon voters' decision to decriminalize low-level drug possession.

Sean plans to apply for a license as soon as he can.

"I already had pretty strong opinions about the drug war, and having that personal experience, you realize just how severely it can impact a person's life to get tangled up in the criminal justice system like that," says Sean. 

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by John Osterhoudt. Graphics by Tomasz Kaye and Isaac Reese.

Photo credits: Martina Kovacova/Newscom

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  1. Doing something you know is illegal right next to the road may not be the best move.

    That said, I have read a number of studies that purport to show psilocybin as very effective in treating depression.

    1. Yeah evidently the hallucinations stimulate the creation of new nerve endings which basically allows your brain to start bypassing neural pathways that tend to also induce depression. It is also had promise to treat PTSD- another disorder that is thought to be caused when your brain establishes neural paths being set with trauma.

      It is actually very interesting research. Consider many of the things you do out of habit because you are set in your ways. If you could help induce a state of neural plasticity at those points when you are making a different decision, it can help the new habits set faster. Fascinating.

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  2. Speaking of tripping balls: I want to transport myself to a place on the internet where people faint with the vapors the minute some quack is kicked off of Twitter, but at the same time celebrate the practice of having federal agents whip Black migrants who are trying to make a better life for themselves.

    Can psilocybin take me to this mystical dark realm full of goofs and gaslighting fucking right-wing mushroom dickheads. To be honest, maybe I don’t need drugs as I think I’m already there.

    1. You already live in the world of fainting couches over J6

      1. Exactly wrong. I considered J6 to be an embarrassing yawlp by a bunch of geezers who were thrown in with, what, the thousand or so Nazis and fascists who still want a place for the White Nation to flourish. If that was an example of the civil war that right-wingers intend to bring about the rest of us have nothing to worry about.

        Read up on Fidel Castro and Nguyen Giap if you guys want to learn how it’s done.

        1. your description of J6 actually shows me to be right.

    2. You sound pretty traumatized to me. Clearly, the people who go through war to require psychoactive compounds to treat their depression are better men than yourself.

      1. First principles: maybe people that invade other countries should check a.) their own principles and b.) read more books before resorting to unproven medical techniques like vaccines and magic mushrooms.

    3. Immigrants haven’t had it this bad since the last democrat president.

    4. Get a job and you can pay for whatever you want, but it will be a while before you fizbyoir flavor of stupid.

  3. >>”The [psychedelic] experience, particularly under adverse conditions, may push them over the edge into a psychotic state,”

    Syd Barrett was an outlier everything will be fine.

  4. Mushrooms and antifa with lasers and smoke…. what can go wrong?

  5. Psychedelics have had a very positive impact on everyone I know who took them.

    By altering thought processes, they have lots of potential for helping opioid addicts, alcoholics, cigarette smokers, and people with mental illnesses.

    Psilocybin and MDMA provide milder trips than LSD.

    The best advice for tripping on hallucinogens is do them with a friend (or friends) in a relaxed setting for at least 6 hours.

    1. with a stream of Simpsons 1994 – 2002

    2. Mescaline is the best.

    3. Mushrooms+MDMA>> MDMA or Mushrooms.

    4. Agree, except with the milder comment. Dosage is what matters the most. So to add to your good advice for beginners, take a small dosage (about a gram of shrooms) for your first time out.

      Also best to have relieved yourself prior to eating them; taking a shit on shrooms isn’t fun and I personally hate the enclosure of a bathroom and looking at myself melt/morph in the mirror.

  6. It’s none of the government’s damn business what drugs I take.

    1. Now do abortion.

      1. It’s none of the government’s damn business what unborn babies I kill.

        Now do annual income.

        1. It’s none of the government’s damn business what my annual income is.

          Now do gun ownership.

          1. It’s none of the government’s damn business what guns I have.

            Now do vaccines.

            1. Mandates are good for us! Bow down to Holy Mother Gov!!!

              Just kidding. It’s none of the government’s damn business if I get vaxxed or not.

      2. Your mom did abortion. It didn’t take.

  7. Kellogg’s Shroomies! Put some vavoom into your breakfast! Snap, crackle and like wow man!

  8. To paraphrase the intro to the NBC 1970’s classic Project Blue Book:

    “‘Ezekiel saw the wheel…’ This is the wheel he said he saw…And this wheel will also be seen be by a Hell of a lot of people in Seattle soon…”

    1. I remember watching that show when I was a kid. I’m sure the remake didn’t use the same intro.

      1. There was a remake? I’ll have to search the streaming world to find that.

        1. I believe it was on the History Channel.

  9. I’d like to try psilocybin. I still get nightmares more than once a month. Stemming from an industrial accident I suffered 8 years ago.

  10. Fuck Oregon.

    1. This is about the only thing they did I approve of.

  11. A convicted felon social worker is going to apply for a license to practice psychiatry and administer Schedule I controlled substances?

    What is he smoking?

    At least the “psychedelic sitter” doesn’t seek government approval to practice his…whatever.

  12. In the most difficult, complicated moments, it is good to receive the warmth of those who love you because it ends up being a spectacular incentive to move forward.

  13. how could you be depressed when you’re high and hallucinating?

    1. one time I thought I saw Death in the mirror next to me

    2. If you are not in a good state of mind for the trip, mushrooms are very, very bad business.

      They reactivate neural receptors and stimulate new electrochemical signal pathways with a fairly unique compound if I recall the mechanism vaguely accurately.

      For the person taking it, that translates to pretty intense moments of introspection and a cognitive reorientation of perspective while tripping. If you go in feeling anxious and without support (trips alone are typically inadvisable for many reasons), you wind up in very dark places with your normal emotional barriers stripped.

  14. dude you wanna get high, do it at home and don;’t include anyone else in your extra-curricular activities. If you are using it as a tool in your practice, then by all means, you should have lost your license to practice forever. Legally giving people drugs because you feel it will help them, is stupid! Just like my sons last pediatrician wanted to give him Quilevent because she thought he was over-active, he’s fine now and we never gave it to him after he tried it and said it made him feel worse, like he wanted to kill people. SERIOUSLY, and he was only 8 years old. You idiots in the medical field don’t want to cure anyone, you just want to make a ton of money off people by giving them shit they don’t need. I’m glad you were arrested and your career was derailed! You deserve everything you get for forcing this crap on people, and the fact that oregon has legalized harsh drugs, they will reap what the have sewn. Have you ever seen someone high on meth, it’s not pretty and it’s not fun, how about heroine, crack, cocaine, LSD…. all you phuking softees want to say legalize it so that people who sell it will be the only ones getting into trouble for it, they aren’t the ones using it and causing issues, it’s the users. when will you see this, oregon is a stupid state so is washington as they have done the same thing, just as california did, which is why most are moving out of these states to more stable states. mark my words, you will reap what you sew, that is one thing for sure!

    1. Actually, shrooms are pretty damn good at what they do and rather safe. It’s been tested for treatment of PTSD on account of reactivating old memories and neural connections, then allowing an overlay of fresh data to be integrated more directly on the traumatic incident.

      To clarify, this is unique in that psilocybin aids in the direct alteration of that memory cluster, rather than building peripheral information to supplement. For those with psychological traumas they cannot overcome alone, it has offered stunning potential in recovering a fearless normal.

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