The Path to Mushroom Legalization is Forged in Science

Written by Nick Congleton

The use of psychedelic mushrooms dates back as far as humanity itself. Despite this long history, not much is known about how these fungi interact with the body and the extent of the effects they produce. Part of the reason for this lack of understanding comes from the prohibition of psychedelic mushrooms in the United States and other countries around the world.

Somewhat recently, more insights have begun to develop into the science behind psychedelic mushrooms and their potential therapeutic benefits. Piggy-backing on the success of the cannabis legalization movement and widespread positive opinion of medical cannabis, many advocates for psychedelic mushrooms argue that these often misunderstood fungi fit the same pattern.

As the science develops, so do the laws. Some states and cities have begun the move to decriminalize and understand psychedelic mushrooms, and the FDA has even acknowledged their medical potential.


Psychedelics and the Evolving Law

In 2019, a historic vote in Denver, Colorado made it the first city in the United States to formally decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms. More specifically, they decriminalized the substance, psilocybin.

The next major moves for decriminalization came in November of 2020. In Washington DC, Initiative 81 passed. The initiative made possession and non-commercial cultivation of psychedelic mushrooms “among the lowest law enforcement priorities.” In essence, it decriminalized them.

At the same time, Oregon’s voters approved Oregon Measure 109 and Oregon Measure 110. Combined, these two ballot measures decriminalized possession of psilocybin mushrooms and established the first ever medical psilocybin program. As of yet, the state’s Oregon Psilocybin Services section of its public health division has yet to lay out all the rules for the medical program, but it is in the process of creating the necessary framework.


Psychedelics in Medicine

Outside of the initial push for decriminalization, psilocybin has been receiving increased attention from the medical and scientific communities which may pave the way for change.

The first real legal break for psilocybin in the medical world came in 2018, when Donald Trump signed the Right to Try Act, which allowed terminally ill patients to try experimental medications. Proponents of psilocybin feel that it qualifies under the act. In fact, in 2021, a doctor sued the DEA over their refusal of his petition to give psilocybin to terminally ill patients, citing the Right to Try Act as the legal justification for the request.

In 2018, the FDA made further progress in legitimizing psilocybin as a medical treatment by granting it a Breakthrough Therapy Designation for treating depression. The designation allows researchers to conduct studies on psilocybin without waiting for the usual approval process. In 2019, the FDA granted psilocybin the designation again.

Multiple studies have confirmed that psilocybin is an effective tool in treating mental illness, especially anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Studies as early as the 1940’s suggested that psilocybin could help patients with psychiatric conditions, but the War on Drugs shut down research for decades. Now, there’s renewed medical interest in psychedelics and an ever-expanding body of evidence of their medical benefits. [1]

One such study used survey data gathered from a large international sample of volunteers. [2] It found that users of psychedelics largely experienced decreased anxiety and depression after their psychedelic experience. The study also concluded that the use of psychedelics promoted psychological flexibility, which allowed the participants to overcome their anxiety and depression.

Even with the explosion in new research, there is still so much that remains unknown about psychedelic mushrooms. Hopefully, the current body of evidence is enough to persuade regulators that the medical potential of psychedelic mushrooms is worth investigating.



[1] Holoyda B. The rebirth of psychedelic psychiatry: recent research suggests psychedelic agents might help treat anxiety, depression, other disorders. Current Psychiatry. 2021;20(1):13-19,44. [journal impact factor = 0.23; times cited = 0]


[2] Davis AK, Barrett FS, Griffiths RR. Psychological flexibility mediates the relations between acute psychedelic effects and subjective decreases in depression and anxiety. J Contextual Behav Sci. 2020;15:39-45. doi:10.1016/j.jcbs.2019.11.004 [journal impact factor = 3.092; times cited = 62]

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Nick Congleton

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