Politics

WA considers legalizing psychedelic mushroom treatment


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The Washington state Legislature is considering Senate Bill 5660, a bill that would make the psilocybin found in psychedelic mushrooms available to patients in controlled therapeutic settings.

The Olympian

The first time Maria Hines tried psychedelic-assisted therapy was the first time she felt relief from her depression and anxiety.

“I felt like I was freed from this big dark cloak that had just been clouding my brain,” Hines told McClatchy in a phone interview. “Everything was just light and there was this levity.”

Having tried multiple antidepressants previously with no success, Hines decided to try psilocybin-assisted therapy for her symptoms after reading about it. She said she began to research studies such as one from Johns Hopkins University that showed promising results for people who suffer from depression and PTSD.

With her intense depression, there were days when she couldn’t get out of bed. Apathy took over. Her panic attacks from anxiety could get so bad she would pass out. The antidepressants only gave her brain fog, and she said even happy moments felt “dampened.” Despite being on a low dose of Lexapro, she said she still ended up addicted to the medication.

“I was like, this can’t be the answer,” Hines said. “I don’t want to live like this.”

The benefits after her first therapeutic session with psychedelic mushrooms lasted about three months, and Hines said she has done other sessions since. She said because of the sessions she was able to look at her problems in a pragmatic way. Although Hines acknowledges that the psychedelic therapy can’t cure every problem in her life, she said that she is more OK with where she is now because of the peace and clarity brought on by her sessions.

Hines, who lives in Seattle, shared her experience during testimony before the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee last Wednesday during a public hearing for Senate Bill 5660, a bill for the supported use of psilocybin under regulatory authority.

Psilocybin is a schedule 1 controlled substance. The bill does not decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms, but would make psilocybin available to patients in controlled therapeutic settings.

Jesse Salomon, D-Shoreline, is the bill’s prime sponsor and said he first became interested after reading multiple research studies. He explained how end-of-life patients have used psilocybin-assisted therapy to reduce anxiety, and how psilocybin has shown positive results in addiction treatment.

People signed in to the hearing in support of the bill, including those who have tried psilocybin-assisted therapy, and several doctors and researchers.

Dr. Nathan Sackett, an addiction psychiatrist and assistant professor at the department of psychiatry in behavioral sciences at the University of Washington, testified that he supports the bill because psilocybin compounds are non-addictive and “may help some people find significant relief in a setting of disorders that are increasingly fatal.”

He said the bill would create a pathway for treatment for people who struggle with a range of psychiatric pathology, including addiction. He asked the committee to consider monitoring the “infrastructure development” because there are still “numerous unanswered questions.” Sackett also said he has seen the positive effects firsthand.

He told McClatchy during a phone interview that he’s seen promising results for alcohol use disorders, tobacco use disorders and polysubstance abuse disorders with the use of psilocybin compounds and therapy. The use of psychedelics is promising because it capitalizes on two routes, biological and behavioral, Sackett explained. Psychedelics can be the catalyst for people to make behavioral changes, he said.

However, Sackett stressed the importance of psychotherapy alongside the use of psilocybin.

“It’s the psychedelics that re-open that critical window of learning in the brain, and then combined with the therapy you can actually absorb some of those lessons,” Sackett explained. But, he cautioned, the full effects are still unknown, which is why the bill would be an important step to open up more possibilities to research.

Psychedelic-assisted therapy requires multiple sessions, according to Sackett: preparatory, the “medicine session” where participants sit for up to six hours with a professional, and a few “integration” sessions to help patients process their experience.

If access eventually becomes more available, Sackett is interested in finding ways to make sessions more available to people who may not have the means to afford multiple appointments. He wants to make the experience scalable, so he would like to see more research done around using psilocybin compounds in group therapies or even shorter alternatives to a six-hour session such as using DMT, which generally last about 20 minutes, he said.

During the public hearing Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, voiced concerns about the bill and “putting the cart before the horse.” She said she would like to see more research instead of just clinical studies before taking a vote.

Sackett said while that is a legitimate concern, if this treatment was able to move from the “underground” to a regulated environment with medical professionals, the probability of harm would be “significantly reduced.”

“There is more harm right now when you get patients who are desperate for care and are going to great measures to get that care, putting themselves in potentially dangerous situations,” he said. “The benefit would outweigh the risk.”

Hines agreed. She too cautioned against using psychedelics without some sort of guide or outside of a therapeutic environment. She said the fact that the bill made it to hearing is a “win.”

“This isn’t about a criminal thing or drugs, this is a mental health issue,” Hines said.

Indigenous people have used psychedelic mushrooms ceremoniously and medicinally for thousands of years.

After being banned in 1970, most research on safety and efficacy in treating certain disorders was halted on psychedelic compounds.

Oregon passed Measure 109 in 2020 to legalize psilocybin in therapeutic treatment.

Shauna Sowersby was a freelancer for several local and national publications before joining McClatchy’s northwest newspapers covering the Legislature.





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