The cannabis train is in full swing and shows no signs of slowing down. The legalization of cannabis can be seen as a catalyst for other movements to gain confidence and traction, too. In the past few decades, cannabis has transformed from a taboo drug labeled as dangerous to a legalized and in some instances encouraged substance loved for its health and psychological benefits.
Ironically, cannabis—once called the “gateway drug” but now legal in many states—is inspiring a similar movement for psychedelics. Psychedelics, like cannabis before it, are now being seen as having positive benefits when used in a controlled setting.
Over the years, psychedelic drugs have experienced a resurgence in popularity. They are now being studied for their therapeutic potential and health benefits, which include treating anxiety and depression and relieving pain. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the history of psychedelics, the growing movements to legalize them, and how they can learn from cannabis.
Psychedelics are hallucinogenic drugs with sensory-enhancing properties that have been a part of human culture for millennia. In ancient times, psychedelics have been used by tribal shamans to enhance spiritual experiences that they believe bring them closer to their deities allowing them to carry out and reveal their commands.
In more modern times, the dawn of the new psychedelic era was kickstarted with Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman, who in 1938 synthesized LSD. A few decades after Hoffman, and after some notable experiments like that of psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond’s treatment of over 2000 alcoholics and the ill-fated MK Ultra experiments by the US government, word got out on LSD.
By 1960, a new wave of LSD use has gotten a grip on the US where young people saw it as a symbol of rebellion, free love, student activism, and anti-war protests. A few years later, in 1966, authorities began clamping down on psychedelics with the Drug Abuse Control Amendment passed by Congress. The legislation banned the manufacturing and sale of LSD for any purpose other than for pharmacologists and doctors who need it for research. This drove the LSD movement underground as individuals adjusted to the new status quo.
By October 1970, the Controlled Substance Act signed into law by Nixon, placed LSD into the Schedule I framework, a blanket ban on it and many other psychedelics, and appended strict sentencing guidelines on defaulters. The CSA and a series of legislation passed during the Nixon era brought almost all research activities into LSD and other psychedelics to a screeching halt.
In recent years, the debate over psychedelics has heated up again. This is due in part to the growing acceptance of cannabis and other psychedelic-based medications.
A 2010 study showed that up to 30 million Americans identify as psychedelic users. In 2017 MDMA, popularly known as ecstasy, got a breakthrough recognition from the FDA as it is now allowed to be studied for possible mental health treatment. LSD has also regained its status as an important research drug with dozens of clinical trials into its therapeutic effects in psychiatry.
Other psychedelics such as psylocibins or ‘magic mushrooms’ have also been undergoing vigorous research at John Hopkins University on possible benefits for cancer patients. Although these efforts are not yet full-scale legalization drives, experts say the growing support for them is a strong indicator that a psychedelic renaissance is underway.
Psychedelics vs Cannabis Demographics
Psychedelic use among young people rose to record levels in 2021. In a survey on drug use trends, 8% of youths reported having used psychedelics in the previous 12 months—the most recorded since the survey began twenty-eight years earlier. The same demographic reported using cannabis less frequently than before, with 3% reporting cannabis use in 2011 compared to 5% in 2016.
People who use psychedelics tend to be male, educated and wealthy compared to their counterparts on the cannabis spectrum, who are more likely to be female, uneducated and below the poverty line. The most popular psychedelics reported in the survey were MDMA (Ecstasy), LSD (Acid), magic mushrooms, mescaline and peyote.
Psychedelic Usage Trends
Recent research indicates that the use of psychedelic classics, such as LSD and psilocybin, has increased significantly in adolescents. This rise in popularity coincides with a decrease in the perceived risk associated with hallucinogenic use from 2002 to 2014 among all age groups. Additionally, psychedelic use only accounts for 3.3% of all substance use in the United States, so this remains a fairly small consumer base.
Psychedelic Legalization by State
Over 1.2 million or just over 55% of residents in Oregon voted to legalize the use of psilocybin in 2022, making Oregon the first state in America where a psychedelic drug is legal. Personal use is allowed in Oregon, but users must have their magic mushrooms administered at designated service centers by trained personnel.
A wave of psychedelic enlightenment means that more and more people are willing to try them. The relative restriction on psilocybin administration compared to cannabis means that some people might still look for outlets via unofficial channels for their psychedelic experience.
The psychedelic movement can learn from its cannabis counterparts by pushing more scientific-based research that continues to emphasize their therapeutic uses. It will also help to standardize dosages that can be considered safe for at-home use.
There have been serious efforts to decriminalize the possession of psychedelics in California, most notably a series of bills that attempted to pass in August 2022. Although a statewide bill for legalization stalled, the city of San Francisco has successfully legalized the possession of magic mushrooms.
There are plans by lawmakers to reintroduce the legalization bill in 2023. More work in education needs to be done to convince voters of the safety of psychedelics.
The cannabis legalization movement has been much more successful in recruiting celebrities and other public figure advocates to further their cause. The psychedelics legalization campaign can learn from the cannabis movement's success by doing the same.
In the state of Massachusetts, city after city is deprioritizing the prosecution of people found to possess psychedelics such as psilocybin. Although there is no statewide legalization yet, cities like Sommerville, Northampton, and Cambridge have all voted to deprioritize plant-based psychedelic possession.
For everyone invested in the legality of psychedelics on the East coast, the journey still has a long way to go. LSD for example remains firmly illegal in the state. The cannabis movement on the East coast succeeded by investing heavily in education and large-scale research. The psychedelic legalization campaign can adopt these same tactics to help sway voters and lawmakers.
Are psychedelics legal in Michigan? The answer is not straightforward just like in other states mentioned above. So far, the cities of Detroit, Ann Abor, and Hazel Park have decriminalized its possession, while Washtenaw County has deprioritized its offense.
Lack of education, lack of prominent spokespeople and local champions for the cause, and misconceptions about psychedelics are among the movement’s most significant hurdles.
Cannabis and psychedelics users share common perceptions when it comes to using substances to enhance their senses. Psychedelics campaigners may find success by recruiting some of the most successful cannabis advocates to engage their wide base and champion their cause.
Two cities in Washington, Seattle, and Port Townsend have deprioritized psychedelics possession as an offense. A proposed statewide decriminalization is in the works that could pave the way for psychedelics legalization in Washington.
The Washington State Department of Health would regulate the program and anyone providing treatment would have to be certified and complete 40 to 80 hours of training. While the bill did not move out of committee, lawmakers appropriated $200,000 for a task force to study the issue. By remaining persistent and investing in strong regulations up-front, Washington may become the next state to legalize psychedelics.
In the most recent midterm elections, Colorado residents voted to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for adults 21 and over in “healing centers,” where the substances are ingested under the supervision of trained facilitators. The now-passed proposition also decriminalizes three other plant-based psychedelics: mescaline, ibogaine, and dimethyltryptamine. This law makes Colorado the second state in the country to have legalized psychedelics.
The regulatory process and facilities are slated to be operational by late 2024 for psilocybin, and the state is expected to expand the list of psychedelic substances to include mescaline, ibogaine, and dimethyltryptamine in the same facilities beginning in 2026.
The psychedelics movement in Colorado garnered a big win and must now pre-emptively plan for potential legal challenges to the law’s rollout. Early cannabis wins were marred by regulatory issues and poor resource planning. By learning from the cannabis movements mistakes, the launch of a legal Colorado psychedelics market might pave the way for other states across the country.
The Future of Psychedelics Legalization
Other states such as Connecticut, Texas, Utah, and New Jersey have also begun considering psychedelic legalization. With a strong coalition of lawmakers and activist groups pushing for psychedelics to receive the same treatment as cannabis, we may be closer to a psychedelic future than we previously imaged. If the psychedelic movement learns from the shortcomings of the cannabis movement, there is exponential room for growth as the industry finds its footing.
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