Oregonian activists are laying the legal groundwork for therapeutic magic mushrooms

Psilocybin or “magic mushrooms” are seen in an undated photo provided by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in Washington.
Psilocybin or “magic mushrooms” are seen in an undated photo provided by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in Washington.
Image: Reuters/ U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency
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The first states in the United States are working to legalize magic mushrooms. The movement is in its nascent stages, but following the path of the cannabis in the US, different models of decriminalization are already emerging.

In May, Denver voted to decriminalize all possession, use, and growth of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Oregon already had plans to vote on a similar ballot initiative in 2020. But last week, the state’s attorney general put forward a title for another ballot measure, this one laying the groundwork for magic mushrooms to be legalized as therapeutics.

Oregonians are far from guaranteed a chance to vote on the issue; the petitioners, who also put forward the earlier Oregon ballot measure, must get 110,000 signatures to qualify for the 2020 ballot. But the new proposal, which would require the Oregon Health Authority to create a new division overseeing the production, delivery, and administration of psilocybin (the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms), lays out a more medical approach to legalizing the product. Oregon Health Authority did not respond to a request for comment.

The draft ballot measure would not legalize magic mushroom use at home, but instead advocates the creation of “psilocybin service centers,” which would allow clients to take psilocybin under the supervision of a trained facilitator. This move reflects the growing body of scientific literature suggesting that psychedelics are effective treatment for addiction, obsessive compulsive disorder, end-of-life anxiety, and depression.

It’s also in line with a large, ongoing study on psilocybin to treat depression. Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave this research “breakthrough therapy designation”; if the study delivers strong results, medical psilocybin could be approved across the US in the coming years.

Decriminalizing magic mushrooms for therapeutic uses would demand very different infrastructure and regulation than general decriminalization. Medicalization would require training facilitators and licensing clinics, for starters. But emerging private corporations are prepared to work with either model of decriminalization.

Ronan Levy, founder of Field Trip Ventures, a company planning to build psychedelic research and clinical facilities, said he’s preparing for all eventualities. “We theorized around all the possible outcomes around psychedelics, whether it emerges into a more cannabis style industry, with natural plant or fungal products, or if it’s more pharmaceutical-orientated,” he said. All the businesses set up under Field Trip Ventures will be created to work in both situations, he added. 

Just as an industry has emerged around legal cannabis, Levy sees business potential in the production of psilocybin. Field Trip Ventures could offer everything from clear quantities of psilocybin, so people don’t inadvertently take more than they’re expecting, to a well-designed setting for taking magic mushrooms. (Studies show psilocybin therapy works best in a pleasant environment.) “Any time you’re producing anything that people ingest, it’s prudent to make sure it’s done in facilities that are clean, operating properly,” he said. 

Oregon’s new ballot proposal is designed to limit the influence of corporations; it would block big chains by banning businesses from owning more than five service centers, and has guidance on how psilocybin products can be marketed. While it’s not certain if psilocybin will be decriminalized or under which model, if any proposals are approved, it’s inevitable that a magic mushroom industry will follow.