Washington is about to dive deeper into the world of psychedelic research
In a place where "magic mushrooms" grow freely, it's still illegal to possess them in Washington, but the state is preparing for a legalized future.
The Washington state Legislature has mandated that the University of Washington's Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Department study the drug's effects on the mind.
Dr. Nathan Sackett, co-director of the Center for Novel Therapeutics in Addiction Psychiatry, is developing the study now. About 40 military veterans and first responders will undergo therapy and supervised sessions on psilocybin. The study will focus on patients who have both post -traumatic stress disorder and alcohol use disorder.
Sackett expects the psilocybin treatment, paired with therapy, will help with PTSD and alcohol use disorder. Patients' sessions will begin by 2025.
“Our hope is that in targeting this specific population with these two co-morbidities, we could better understand if this could be a viable treatment moving forward,” Sackett said.
A growing body of research points to psilocybin, the psychoactive element in the mushrooms, as a treatment for depression, addiction, and other mental health ailments. In 2019, the FDA granted psilocybin "breakthrough therapy" status, which opened the door for expedited study of the drug.
However, “There are large gaps in the literature that need to be addressed before we make this a widespread, available treatment,” Sackett said.
Sackett will be looking for how effective the drug is, and how long effects last after the psilocybin session.
“For a lot of people, we have a story in our mind that kind of loops around, that’s informed from our childhood and our history and our experiences. That story is often reinforced, kind of day in and day out. And if your story is that you're depressed or that you have trauma or that you need to use alcohol or substances, it gets very difficult to step out of that story. My hypothesis is that, in using these compounds in a therapeutic setting, you are allowed to step outside of that narrative for a certain time period and question the validity of that story.”
This will be UW's second recent study involving magic mushrooms. It is the first ordered by state lawmakers. The previous study involved health care workers during the pandemic.
Washington is also keeping an eye on Oregon, where psilocybin is now legal for therapeutic uses. The effort to legalize psilocybin studies like this in Washington have been years in the making and previous legislative attempts have not passed.
Psychedelic mushrooms have remained a taboo, illegal drug in the United States since 1970, when Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act under then-President Richard Nixon. Laws around them are now changing, however.
Oregon and Colorado have legalized supervised use of magic mushrooms by adults. As of this month, the Ohio State University received a DEA license to grow the mushrooms — the first American university with that license.
The Pacific Northwest is a mushroom haven, where chanterelles, morels, and varieties of psychedelic mushrooms grow naturally and abundantly. Some of the world's leading mushroom experts have emerged from Washington state and are ready for the therapeutic revolution to come here.
Still, lawmakers in Washington have not been keen to lead on psilocybin legalization. The Legislature, in fact, just passed a new law making possession of Schedule 1 drugs a gross misdemeanor, punishable by jail time. Such drugs include magic mushrooms.