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Mushroom measure not such a far-out idea

Ballot Measure 109 sounds scary, if you think it would mean letting people take hallucinogenic mushrooms just for fun and wander the streets. But that wouldn’t happen under the very strict controls built into the measure, which could help some people struggling with severe depression, anxiety and addiction. Studies also have shown promising results in helping terminally ill patients come to terms with death.

The measure would not decriminalize psilocybin, allow it to be used recreationally or permit sales to the general public. Instead, it would set up a system of licensed facilitators who would administer the drug therapeutically in a controlled setting. Patients would ingest the drug only at a licensed facility, and would not leave until the effects were gone. No one would be allowed to take the drug home or ingest it anywhere else. Participants would have to be 21 or older.

Cities and counties would be permitted to impose regulations on the operation of licensed therapy establishments, and local governments could ask voters to prohibit facilities in their communities.

Measure 109 also requires a two-year development period before any therapy would occur. The Oregon Health Authority would use that time to set up a system to regulate its use. A 15% tax on the sale of therapeutic doses would be imposed to cover the state’s costs of administering the licensing and regulation.

Psilocybin is a Schedule I drug under federal law, meaning it has no currently acceptable medical use. But the Food and Drug Administration has given it the designation of a breakthrough therapy for treatment resistant depression and major depressive disorder under the direction of physicians and scientists.

A decade of research at Johns Hopkins University, NYU and others has indicated that psilocybin is uniquely effective in treating depression, anxiety, addiction and end-of-life psychological distress. Researchers found a single dose was found to ease anxiety and depression in patients months or years later. Oregonians who have undergone the therapy — in facilities outside the United States — report a single session had a profound effect on their outlook and their well-being.

Nick Gideonse, a hospice physician with Oregon Health & Science University, says in a voters pamphlet argument in favor of the measure that studies indicate psilocybin can help patients cope with the sadness and fear that follow a terminal diagnosis.

Supporters include several veterans groups, who say veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress and are at risk for suicide can benefit from psilocybin therapy. The measure was written by a husband-and-wife team of psychotherapists who want to be able to treat patients using the drug.

This measure appears to have been written with great care, to set up thorough review and licensing regulations before any therapy takes place. Unlike marijuana legalization, it does not create a retail market or generate large amounts of tax revenue.

The therapy may not be for everyone, and it clearly isn’t intended to be. It may not be successful for everyone who tries it. But for patients who have had no success with traditional medications or therapies, it offers hope.

We recommend a yes vote on Ballot Measure 109.