Mushroom provided by Pixabay
Graphic by Peyton Manning / The Mainstream

Measure 109: Psilocybin mushrooms explained

Measure 109 just passed in Oregon, legalizing the usage of hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms and fungi for medical purposes on persons who are at least 21 years old. According to Ballotpedia, the Oregon Health Authority will create the psilocybin program and regulate it, under the advisory of an Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board, and will be given two years to do it. Under their standards, clients will obtain and consume the mushrooms under the supervision of a facilitator after going through a preparation procedure.

Photo provided by Hans Braxmeier, Pixabay

But what exactly are psilocybin mushrooms? Are they dangerous, or are they harmless? Is there actual evidence to suggest these fungi can be medically relevant, or is it mostly conjecture?

According to Jeremy Daniel and Margaret Haberman in their study “Clinical Potential of Psilocybin as a Treatment for Mental Health Conditions,” the definition is “psilocybin, a classic hallucinogen, is a chemical produced by more than 100 species of mushrooms worldwide. It has high affinity for several serotonin receptors, including 5-HT1A, 5-HT2A, and 5-HT2C, located in numerous areas of the brain, including the cerebral cortex and thalamus.” They studied the effects of these mushrooms in treatment for depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, alcohol misuse, and tobacco misuse.

Daniel and Haberman explain that these mushrooms can be cultivated in a lab, and those farmed in a lab are typically about 10 times more potent than those found in the wild. These mushrooms are very similar to lysergic acid diethylamide, more commonly known as LSD and mescaline, due to possessing similar chemical structures. They both travel down serotonergic pathways.

Pros and Cons of mushrooms
Graphic by Peyton Manning / The Mainstream

In an article for Journal of Psychopharmacology, Studerus, Kometer, Hasler and Vollenweider did eight studies of about 110 people in order to test whether these mushrooms are safe for human consumption. According to them, “Short- and long-term safety was evaluated, and there was no indication of increased drug abuse, persisting perception disorders, prolonged psychosis, or other long-term deficits in functioning. The number of adverse reactions from psilocybin was few in number, resolved quickly, and was mostly associated with the highest doses of psilocybin. The subjects were followed for 8 to 16 months post psilocybin administration and exhibited no long-term negative side effects.”

Hendricks, Johnson, and Griffiths, also for Journal of Psychopharmacology, published their own study that showed psilocybin is useful for reducing suicidal ideas, depression and anxiety: “The patients had significantly increased ratings of positive attitudes, moods, social effects, and behavior with the psilocybin sessions compared to the methylphenidate sessions.” The study showed, “The 14-month follow-up showed no evidence of adverse effects due to psilocybin exposure based on patient review.”

However, the usage of these mushrooms is not entirely without their adverse effects. Archives of General Psychiatry had a publication by Grob, Danforth, Chopra, Hagerty, McKay, Halberstadt and Greer that showed patients with high levels of anxiety and/or some kind of anxiety disorder experienced heightened blood pressure and a faster heart rate a couple of hours after being administered the mushrooms, but they also experienced a reduced level of anxiety one to three months later.

Overall, many studies have found that these mushrooms are very helpful in reducing less-than-ideal moods and behavior, including anxiety and depression. These same studies also show that the mushrooms have little adverse effects, both long-term and short-term. However, anything can be abused; mushrooms are no exception. Does Measure 109 do anything to help prevent these drugs from being misused?

Ballotpedia claims that no other state has decriminalized mushrooms yet, and they are still illegal under federal law. Measure 109 states that although they can be administered in licensed service centers, they are still illegal to possess and consume outside of these service centers. Measure 110, which was also passed, does say that this is no longer above a Class-E violation or about a $100 fine. The website states that, while mushrooms are not legal under other state laws yet, some other states have lowered the penalties of being caught with them. Denver, Colorado approved Initiated Ordinance 301 in 2019, which made possession of these the lowest law enforcement penalty and forbade the city from spending funds on enforcing their related penalties. Two cities in California, Oakland and Santa Cruz, and one city in Michigan, Ann Arbor, have legalized the drugs not through state law but local ordinances. Washington, D.C. decided in November of this year to treat possession of these mushrooms as the lowest possible law enforcement priority. While the legalization of these mushrooms may currently only be an Oregon decision, it seems that Oregon is not the only state thinking about it. Most of the evidence seems to point that these mushrooms do a lot of good, and as long as they’re regulated and managed responsibly, they may help a lot of people that need it.

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