Are Psychedelics Up Next?
The legalization of cannabis marks an important step in a larger effort to decriminalize and eventually legalize other drugs. The fascinating world of psychedelics is quickly making its way into public discourse. Just like cannabis, psychedelics (hallucinogens) are Schedule 1 drugs that are commonly used recreationally and are also subject of substantial debate for their therapeutic potential. Psychedelics are currently going through the same transition as cannabis did from regulatory prohibition to increasing recognition of their therapeutic potential. Psilocybin has already been “deprioritized” by 13 US cities (list below). This means that law enforcement doesn’t prioritize policing, prosecuting, or arresting people for possessing the drug, but the drug is still illegal.
List of US Cities “Deprioritizing” Psilocybin Law Enforcement Action
California: Arcata, Oakland, and Santa Cruz
District of Columbia: Washington
Massachusetts: Cambridge, Easthampton, Northampton, and Somerville
Michigan: Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County
Washington: Seattle and Port Townsend
Detroit Michigan and the State of Oregon have decriminalized psilocybin with Oregon legalizing the drug for therapeutic use. The State of Washington has also proposed Statewide decriminalization. Psilocybin is being investigated for depression, end-of-life anxiety and depression, drug dependence, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and even headache. The FDA has granted psilocybin breakthrough therapy designation for depression and although early research is promising, we will have to wait to learn more in the coming years.
Other psychedelics include LSD, and DMT, the active compound in Ayahuasca. These compounds have also been heavily researched. Psychedelics have been used for thousands of years throughout many cultures in the world. Due to their mind-altering effects, they were often used in rituals for spiritual purposes.
Psychedelics exert various effects on the brain and body in a different way than cannabinoids. One of the most notable effects is hallucinations which are false sensory perceptions that occur without an external stimulus. These effects are produced when psychedelics interact with a specific receptor in the brain, the serotonin type 2A receptor (abbreviated 5HT-2A). All psychedelics interact with this receptor resulting in similar acute effects such as changes in perception, cognition, mood, and emotion. Using psychedelics may also result in delayed, longer-lasting effects that could possibly even lead to positive changes in life attitudes.
Psychonauts & Drug Prohibition
A psychonaut is someone that aims to explore altered states of consciousness, often through the use of psychotropic drugs (including psychedelics). Terence McKenna, Hamilton Morris (Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia), and Edward Jessup (Altered States) come to mind as notable examples. There’s no certification or formal training to undergo to become a psychonaut. You simply explore experiences of mind and reality through meditation, mind-altering substances, or both. Throughout history, psychonauts have been forced to seek out mind-altering substances through clandestine channels that carry substantial risk with obtaining and using the drug(s). This political drug approval process we’re seeing in the US whereby drugs are decriminalized, and eventually legalized makes the psychonauts endeavor a little safer. At the very least, the psychonauts are safer from criminal prosecution when drugs are decriminalized and in the instance of legalization, regulations effectively improve consumer safety.
Some psychonauts may have a libertarian view on drug policy. From their perspective, drug prohibition doesn’t make any sense. It’s an individual’s decision to use a drug and to fully understand the risks, benefits, and consequences of that use. Throughout history, some famous psychonauts have become permanently disabled, suffered severe distress, or have even died in their quest to explore increasingly extreme states of consciousness.
The Law Enforcement Action Partnership, formerly known as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, takes a similar stance on drug policy (although for a different reason). Members of LEAP believe that drug prohibition is precisely the reason why drugs are lucrative to sell and that as long as widespread prohibition is in place, the war on drugs will be futile.
As psychedelics continue to progress through the political approval process, the pathway will likely become even more routine. Drugs that were once considered highly unsafe for widespread public use will eventually be decriminalized and even legalized for medical and recreational purposes.