5 Things to Know About Colorado’s Psychedelic Ballot Initiative

Colorado could become the second state after Oregon to allow the use of certain psychedelic substances that are illegal under federal law.

But while voters in Oregon in 2020 endorsed the supervised use of psychedelic mushrooms, the citizens’ initiative on the Colorado ballot in November goes further. Proposition 122 would allow personal use of psilocybin mushrooms and certain herbal psychedelics by adults 21 and older, but prohibit sales except at licensed “healing centers,” where people could ingest them under the supervision of trained facilitators.

Psychedelics, which can alter a person’s perception and cause hallucinations, are Schedule I controlled substances, which is the federal classification given to drugs considered to have a high potential for abuse and serve no purpose. legitimate medical. However, a body of research still in development has found that psychedelic mushrooms may have health benefits, such as treating depression.

In June, 15 cities and other local US jurisdictions decriminalized possession of psilocybin or downgraded the policing, prosecution or arrest of users. Denver’s 2019 voter-approved initiative made adult possession and use of psilocybin mushrooms the city’s lowest law enforcement priority, and it banned spending resources to enforce related sanctions.

Here are five key things to take in about the initiative in Colorado:

1. What does the Colorado initiative do?

Proposition 122 is one of 11 statewide ballot measures Colorado voters will decide in the Nov. 8 general election. The measure would allow adults to grow, possess and use mushrooms containing the chemicals psilocybin and psilocin, and decriminalize three herbal psychedelics: mescaline (although it specifically excludes peyote cactus), ibogaine (from the root bark of the iboga tree), and dimethyltryptamine (a compound in ayahuasca tea). It would also require the state to create regulations for facilities where adults 21 and older can purchase and take supervised psychedelics. The sale of drugs outside of these facilities would remain illegal.

The measure sets a timeline for the regulatory process and facilities to be operational by the end of 2024 for psilocybin, and the state could expand the list of psychedelic substances to include mescaline, ibogaine and dimethyltryptamine in those facilities starting in 2026. If voters approve the initiative, people who use these psychedelics would be protected from professional discipline or loss of public benefits, and criminal records from prior convictions for offenses made legal under the measurement could be sealed.

The measure goes beyond Oregon’s 2020 voter-approved law allowing people to be treated with a variety of psilocybin, called psilocybe cubensis, in supervised facilities. In Oregon, no facilities have yet opened and state health officials are still finalizing regulations.

2. What are the potential health benefits?

The main argument of proponents for passing the measure is that psychedelic mushrooms and plants have potential mental health benefits. Emerging research and clinical trials are investigating the substances’ effectiveness as an alternative treatment for conditions such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Proponents of the measure say the regulations would increase access for people struggling to find effective mental health care. They also say that psychedelic mushrooms are non-addictive and pose no risk to public safety.

3. What are the risks and unknowns?

Opponents warn that the measure is too far ahead of the science and that the research still in development should not be used to legitimize the legalization of psychedelic mushrooms and plants for medical or recreational use. They also point out that much of the research conducted has involved psychedelic mushrooms and that relatively little is known about the effects of mescaline, ibogaine and dimethyltryptamine.

According to officials from the Department of Justice’s National Drug Intelligence Center, ingestion of psilocybin can produce negative physical effects, such as vomiting, weakness, and lack of coordination, as well as negative psychological effects, such as inability to distinguish fantasy from reality. Psilocybin can trigger episodes of psychosis, so people with a personal or family history of psychosis are generally excluded from studies. Psilocybin can also make heart problems worse.

Many people claim that because psilocybin is derived from plants (technically, mushrooms), it is safer than pharmaceutical drugs created in labs. This distinction has no basis. Many plants are poisonous and many pharmaceutical drugs are derived from natural substances.

4. What does science say?

Early studies have shown that psilocybin can help treatment-resistant depression or anxiety and depression in patients with terminal illnesses. Although the results are promising, the researchers caution that larger samples and more research are needed to understand neurobiological factors and the long-term effects of psilocybin. In 2019, the FDA called psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy,” a designation intended to speed the development of promising drugs. No psychedelics have been approved for medical use so far.

Of the drugs being considered in the Colorado initiative, psilocybin is the most studied. Clinical trials have tested psilocybin in combination with therapy. Unlike antidepressants, which must be taken regularly, psilocybin has been shown to have lasting therapeutic effects after just one, two or three doses. It is unclear whether psilocybin has any health benefits outside of psilocybin-assisted therapy protocols used in clinical studies.

Some research findings show that psilocybin-assisted therapy may be helpful in treating substance use disorders, including nicotine and alcohol addiction. Clinical trials for mescaline, ibogaine and dimethyltryptamine are still in the preliminary stages.

5. Will it spawn another industry like marijuana?

Because psilocybin is naturally occurring, people tend to assume that its path to legalization will follow that of cannabis. However, the compounds have key differences in how they affect people. Psilocybin is unlikely to gain approval as easily as marijuana, which is legal for medical purposes in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Nineteen of those states and DC also allow recreational use.

The Colorado measure expressly prohibits the sale of psychedelics outside of licensed establishments. However, the potential for legalization in the state and elsewhere in the United States has spurred the launch of dozens of companies eager to commercialize the sale and treatment of psilocybin. Some hold retreats in Jamaica, Peru, or Mexico, where they perform ceremonies that reflect the traditional use of psilocybin and other natural psychedelics that date back centuries.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with policy analysis and polls, KHN is one of the three main operating programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed non-profit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.


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