SALEM, Ore .-- Oregon voters are considering Measure 109, which if approved would legalize the therapeutic use of psilocybin, a hallucinogenic compound found in what is commonly referred to as "magic mushrooms."
According to experts, psilocybin acts on serotonin receptors in the brain, altering the mind and distorting perception. Supporters of Measure 109 believe that it can promote mindfulness and help users see things in a new light. They point to studies from research institutions like Johns Hopkins that say the compound shows promise as a treatment for depression, anxiety, addiction and more.
"I see the potential of profound benefit, maybe for not very large numbers of patients, but very profound benefits for some patients," said Dr. Nick Gideonse, medical director of two hospice centers in the Salem and Portland areas.
"At any given time, a substantial number of them, not most, but a substantial number, can really be stuck in cycles of anxiety and depression over profound distress at what they are facing in their end-of-life care. Really existential questions, doubt and dread," he said.
He hopes that psilocybin would help those patients make breakthroughs.
The Food and Drug Administration has only designated the compound as a breakthrough treatment for major depressive disorder, which the Oregon Psychiatric Physicians Association believes is reason enough to limit psilocybin to a medical setting.
"We take rare political stands, but when we are concerned about our patients, that's when we take a stand. That's what we've done with Measure 109," said president Dr. Nicole Cirino.
According to Cirino, the compound can worsen or unmask psychiatric illness, and psychotic disorders, among other side effects. Without proper medical oversight, she fears Oregon could be a testing ground for a potentially dangerous therapy that has not been fully researched.
"What they've kind of done is stripped medical and mental health monitoring from the facilities by not requiring a prescription, not requiring a diagnosis, a medical evaluation or a mental health evaluation and they are in facilities that are not medical facilities," she said.
The measure would legalize the production and distribution of psilocybin, but not recreational use. The actual administration of the drug would be done under supervision.
The process involves three steps. A preparation session in which facilitators look for risk factors, the administration session, when the client consumes the psilocybin under supervision for as long as six hours, and the integration session in which they reflect on the experience.
The measure would require the Oregon Health Authority to develop regulations over a two-year period under the supervision of a council consisting of various stakeholders, including medical professionals.
They would regulate the specifics of how these sessions work, including how clients are screened and how facilitators are trained. The text of the measure requires only that facilitators have a GED, complete a training and pass an examination.
"Competence and safety are our top values going into this, and it's doable," said Tom Eckert, who is the measure's chief petitioner.
According to Eckert, opponents want to see psilocybin regulated like a pharmaceutical drug. He believes Oregonians should take into account the fact that the compound is natural, and has been used for thousands of years.
"I see no reason to stop anyone from accessing these services as long as they can safely benefit because we are all kind of wounded and kind of have growth to do and that's what this is all about."
The measure states that taxes on psilocybin would pay for it's own regulatory program, but the two-year development period, possibly ending during December 2022, would cost $5.4 million, coming from the state's general fund.