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Our View: Mushrooms to treat mental health: Pass Initiative 58

In the treatment of mental health, psilocybin is too promising to ignore. For this reason, along with legalization’s removal of a criminal element, we support passing Initiative 58, the measure to legalize psychedelic mushrooms and create a system of state-licensed healing centers with trained facilitators.

Benefits outweigh risks, according to a plethora of scientific study results. In clinical trials, psilocybin and psilocin are used to treat severe depression, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, alcohol withdrawal, and addictions to nicotine and hard drugs. Alcohol, opioid and nicotine addictions alone resist traditional treatment. Any progress in beating them is welcome, hopeful news.

Psilocybin has been closely studied since 2018, when the Food and Drug Administration labeled it a “breakthrough therapy,” speeding up development and reviews to treat serious conditions. Currently, about 67 drug trials are being conducted at well-known academic medical centers with regulatory approval. Research isn’t conclusive yet, said Paul Hutson, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who leads psilocybin research. But Hutson expects enough evidence for the FDA to approve psilocybin capsules to treat some disorders within the next five years or so.

And why wouldn’t we be open to a regulated medicine with potential to help those who need it most? Initiative 58, also called the Natural Medicine Health Act, opens doors to health for people who haven’t found anything that works.

With so much talk about psilocybin, we have to do something now anyway. The word is out on newly changed lives, free from the chains of addiction and disorders. Legalized, legitimate treatment means those curious or suffering won’t be tempted to buy illicit shrooms from a dealer in a dark parking lot. This is when things could go wrong. When someone on a bad trip wanders into traffic. Or worse. Psilocybin must be managed as the medicine it is.

No drug is without risks. But if protocols are in place with pre-appointments before guided hallucinations, then exacting dosage for supervised experiences, then followup therapy, psilocybin’s risks are reduced. Psilocybin could be what newly discovered penicillin was to infections. And if we could wean opioid users and change the trajectory of the crisis, we’d prevent overdoses and deaths, and the crime spawned from desperation.

And crime is part of this conversation. When we hear about horrific shootings, for example, lawmakers often say it’s a mental health issue, not a gun issue. Well, Initiative 58 allows ways to better understand – and treat – mental health.

Quitting smoking alone is a tough one, with only a third who stop being successful. Uniquely, psilocybin alleviates not only chemical dependencies but stress-valve dependencies, those moments when users under duress reach for cigarettes or other drugs for comfort.

The legalization of psilocybin is different from the legalization of cannabis. There would be no dispensaries, no retail. Youth wouldn’t get into parents’ stash because they would be no stash. Again, psilocybin users would ingest the drug in a licensed facility. It would not be prescribed and taken outside of a controlled space to share or sell, like opioids.

Critics say the fentynal crisis is bad enough. But fentanyl, a devastatingly deadly synthetic opioid, is worlds away from psilocybin. Psilocybin offers another tool for opioid addicts to get clean.

If we want to remove the stigmas of mental health and help those who need it most, passing Initiative 58 is a compassionate choice. Maybe those mushrooms do hold some magic.