Though they have been used for centuries as a traditional medicine, psilocybin mushrooms have only recently been acknowledged by medical professionals as a possible breakthrough treatment for depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric illness. We are witnessing an era of promising discoveries in psychiatric medicine. Some even call it the “Psychedelic Renaissance”, given that psychedelics are seen to have somewhat fallen out of fashion since the 1960s. In May this year, Denver, Colorado became the first city in the United States to successfully decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms and a ripple effect is destined to follow in its wake.
This is not the first time that Denver has acted as a pioneer for decriminalizing and legalizing medicinal substances in the United States. In 2012, it became the first state to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, after having legalized it for medicinal use in 2005 in light of the extensive evidence of its benefits. Shortly after, Washington became the second state to legalize, and many other states soon followed suit. Now, a total of 10 states have legalized recreational use of cannabis and 33 allow its medicinal use. As a naturally occuring substance, the attitude toward cannabis can be somewhat compared to that of psilocybin mushrooms.
Psilocybin is still in its infancy when it comes to its application for medical use, and recreationally it’s not as commonly used as other substances, which may explain the narrow vote of 49% against to 51% in favor. However, there is mounting evidence that these mushrooms are significantly less harmful than commonly used drugs like alcohol, tobacco, and even cannabis.
Decriminalize Denver is the organization behind the movement in Colorado, and they are trailblazers for other states like Oregon and California, which are seeking to pass similar votes. Decriminalizing psilocybin mushrooms is not the same as legalizing them, as they are still illegal under state and federal law. On the other hand, they will be "amongst the lowest law enforcement priority" for individuals aged 21 and over. Advocates agree that it is a small step in the right direction to allow more research for psilocybin as a medicine, and to better understand the human psyche overall. But also, some, such as the activist and author Michael Pollan, caution that there is significant research still to be done before full legalization, as we still know relatively little about these powerful medicines for healing, and they may not suit everyone.
Similar to Decriminalize Denver is the campaign Decriminalize Nature, which is located in Oakland, California. Their goal is to inspire a statewide decriminalization of psilocybin mushrooms and other plant entheogens, such as ayahuasca, ibogaine, and cacti. Alongside California, Oregon is the next state likely to decriminalize psilocybin, and they are currently gathering signatures to qualify for the ballot next year. Both states are predicted to pass the measure in 2020.
Since this is all very fresh in the public eye, it will take some more time for psilocybin and other psychedelics to be re-evaluated by the majority of the population. The vote in Denver won narrowly and other cities and states may be biding their time to see the results, before passing similar measures themselves. Nonetheless, the mission to bring mushrooms into the mainstream, in particular for medical use, is steadily gaining momentum as scientists continue to uncover the benefits of these curious species of fungi.