By David Connell, Ketamine News
Thursday, January 27, 2022

A pair of state legislators in Oklahoma recently filed a bill that, if enacted, would decriminalize adult use and possession of psilocybin and other psychedelics while also encouraging and regulating research into their possible therapeutic benefits.

Reps. Daniel Pae (R) and Logan Phillips (R) introduced the legislation last week. Their proposed bill is designed to give the state legislature various options to expand scientific and medical studies in the state. Furthermore, Pae’s bill would also decriminalize possession of up to one and a half ounces of psilocybin. Possession of these amounts would be punishable by a fine, vs. the current criminal charges that possession carries

Pae’s bill also streamlines studies using psilocybin and other psychedelics. Specifically, it would authorize research into psilocybin’s potential use and efficacy for treating ten different conditions, including treatment-resistant depression (TRD) and Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as substance abuse disorder.

“Even for Oklahoma—a place that people traditionally consider us extremely conservative Republican(s) — we’re not above helping,” he said. “We want to see measures and methods, even for those non-traditional medicines, if it brings peace of mind mental health to our communities, our citizens. We’re going to be for that.”

Rep. Daniel Pae (R)

These proposed changes to how Oklahoma handles psychedelics have the potential to be beneficial for the state’s veteran population. U.S. military veterans have a nearly 50% greater risk of developing PTSD, depression, and suicidal ideation vs. the countries’ non-veteran population.

Decriminalization and streamlining the research process for substances like psilocybin present caregivers with new and better avenues into medical research around psilocybin’s efficacy in treating PTSD, depression, and substance abuse disorder. That said, there are some strings attached for individuals interested in participating in potential studies.

Individuals who participate in any studies that would occur if the legislation passes would be required to obtain a written certification. Researchers would also be required to obtain a license. At the same time, any studies conducted without the proper licensing and authorization would carry a maximum fine of $400 but would pose no risk of jail time.

Oklahoma is Just One of Many States Proposing Psychedelic and Drug Policy Reform.

The Sooner State is just one of the many states where legislation pushing drug policy reform has been proposed. In late January, a committee of the Virginia state senate discussed and reviewed and bill to decriminalize psilocybin. This measure, like others, has some bi-partisan support, and like the Oklahoma bill, it would decriminalize possession of small amounts of psychedelic mushrooms and some other naturally occurring psychedelics.

Elsewhere, both Utah and Kansas have seen state legislators introduce bills that would either decriminalize possession of a small amount of psychedelic drugs or set up task forces to study the potential benefits of therapeutic uses of psychedelic drugs. These bills wouldn’t just cover psilocybin. A proposed bill in Michigan would also decriminalize mescaline, and other plant-based psychedelics, including psilocybin.

Further west, California Sen. Scott Wiener (D) has proposed a bill to legalize the possession and adult use of psychedelics. Wiener has stated that his bill has a good chance of being passed, believing its chances to be around 50/50. If passed, the bill would be one of the most progressive pieces of drug reform legislation passed in any state in decades. The bill has already passed through two state Assembly committees in the last twenty-four months.

Other states with significant psychedelic drug reform bills on the table include Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Colorado. In Oregon, voters passed an initiative in 2020 to legalize psilocybin treatment for mental health. Neighboring Washington State currently has a similar bill on the books, while Seattle, WA, has legalized psilocybin for supported adult use.

State Drug Reform Efforts Match up With Shifting Public Opinion regarding Psychedelics and Psychedelic Based Medicines.

Efforts by state legislators to reform drug control and criminalization policies closely follow a trend of shifting public opinion. A recent survey conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) polled 800 respondents. The survey showed that 83% of respondents believe the war on drugs to be a massive failure. 82% percent of all respondents, including independents, democrats, and republicans, supported federal drug policy reform.

Recently a survey of Americans with major mood disorders like depression showed that 53% of respondents would be interested in trying psychedelic-based medications as an alternative therapy to treat their conditions. 73% of Americans feel that medical psychedelics should be legalized on a federal level.

Past Drug Criminalization has Been Political in Nature and Has an Outsized Impact on Minority Communities.

Unfortunately, drug criminalization policies are often politically motivated and often have the heaviest impact on minority communities. This has long been the case in the U.S. since Nixon and the early days of the War on Drugs. Policies that criminalize marijuana, psilocybin, ibogaine, and peyote disproportionately impact people of color, particularly African Americans, who are significantly more likely to face jail time for possessing similar amounts of drugs as their white counterparts.

At the same time, these policies have served as a way to effectively criminalize the religious practices of a swathe of Native American tribes, who have used peyote, ibogaine, and psilocybin as central pieces in spiritual and shamanistic practices for thousands of years.

“A different reality—one where we treat people who use drugs with dignity and respect, and one where drugs are no longer an excuse for law enforcement to surveil, harass, assault and even kill Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people—is 100 percent possible, and these results clearly prove that. Fifty years later, it is no secret the devastation the drug war has caused to our communities, and yet drug possession remains the most arrested offense in the United States. And so, it should come as no surprise that Americans are ready for a drastically different approach, one where drugs are no longer used as an excuse to hold us down.”

Kassandra Frederique, the executive director of the DPA

This inequity carries on into the U.S. veteran population. Military veterans face significantly higher risks of developing a mental illness or committing suicide when compared to the nation’s civilian population. The criminalization of psychedelics continues to rifle research into potentially life-saving medicines that could radically benefit veterans.

One Legal Psychedelic Showcases the Medical Potential of This Class of Substances.

Among psychedelics with promising medical applications, only one is currently legal and actively used to treat mental health conditions. Ketamine, an anesthetic with psychedelic-like effects, is now used off-label to treat many mental health conditions. While a derivative of ketamine, SPRAVATO ® is FDA approved for the treatment of depression.

First developed in 1950, ketamine was given FDA approval for anesthetic use in the mid-1970s. From there, it was rapidly adopted by the U.S. military as a battlefield anesthetic and would become one of the most widely used psychedelic compounds in the U.S. and abroad.

Ketamine is also the preferred anesthetic for pediatric use due to its safety profile. Unlike other common anesthetic medications, like propofol, ketamine does not have a depressive effect on the respiratory system, making it relatively safe for use with children and at-risk populations such as the elderly or those with breathing conditions.

In the early 2000s, ketamine gained popularity as an off-label treatment for depression, treatment-resistant depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Studies have shown that ketamine is 70% more effective at combating treatment-resistant depression (TRD) vs. traditional treatment options like SSRIs.

Ketamine serves as an excellent example of the potential that psychedelic medications have, with psilocybin, MDMA, and even LSD showing similar and, in some cases, greater efficacy for treating the above conditions.

As opinions around psychedelic medicine continue to shift towards the positive, the public must be educated on the reality, safety, and efficacy of psychedelic medicines. There are various ways readers can learn about, support, and track drug decriminalization and legalization efforts in their states. Marijuana Moment offers a live tracker of state-level drug reform proposals and organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Open Society Foundations (OSF), Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), American Psychedelic Practitioners Association (APPA), and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) offer a range of ways to support state and federal efforts to change the U.S. approach to drug control.

David Connell is a U.S. Air Force Veteran writer and author of Cooking with Magic: The Psilocybin Cookbook. David holds a B.A. in Communications and Creative Writing from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Connect with him about drug policy reform, his thoughts on research in novel psychedelic therapies, creative writing, and his unabashed love for Science Fiction on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

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