Psilocybin: The Next Medical Marijuana or a Trip Not Worth Taking?

October 30, 2023

Medical Marijuana has become a relatively mainstream and popular treatment alternative for pain and other health conditions. In several states, including Pennsylvania, workers’ comp carriers are reimbursing the cost of its use.

Is psilocybin next?  The State of Oregon believes so, and effective January 1, 2023, it became the first state to legalize adult use of Psilocybin, the psychotropic substance found in around 200 varieties of “magic” mushrooms.  In March of this year, Oregon’s Department of Health awarded an inaugural group of students a certificate for competing a state approved Psilocybin Facilitator Training Program.  The certificate prepares students to become “state licensed psilocybin service providers.” In order to become one, these students must still pass a test administered by the State of Oregon.

This training program is akin to the programs provided to doctors who recommend medical marijuana.  However, while many participants in the Oregon program have medical and psychological backgrounds, a certificate can be earned by individuals without a medical background.

The Oregon psilocybin program

is still a work in progress.  It mirrors medical cannabis programs as there will be state-licensed growers/ cultivators, licensed testing facilities and licensed sellers of the product. Unlike marijuana, the psilocybin is dispensed on site at a licensed center in a carefully monitored session.  It is anticipated that “licensed service centers” will open later this year to the public.  Psilocybin will not be provided to clients at the initial “preparation session,” but at a later at a monitored “administration session.”

I have been unable to locate how the determination of whether psilocybin is an appropriate treatment will be made.  Clients must be at least 21-years-old, but are not required to be Oregon residents.  It remains illegal to use psilocybin in Oregon, except at an “administration session.”  Presumably, this will be a cash-only transaction.

Psilocybin is found in certain mushrooms and is known to be a hallucinogen.  Like marijuana, the DEA classifies it as a Schedule I Controlled Substance, meaning the DEA does not consider it to have any legitimate medical use.  It is also not addictive, and its use by Indigenous North and South Americans goes back thousands of years.

Johns Hopkins University is a leader in psilocybin research. Their studies suggest that one session can provide relief from depression for one month to a year. They also have several government and outside funded studies ongoing as to the effect of psilocybin on smoking cessation, OCD, depression, alcoholism, anorexia and Lyme Disease.  Johns Hopkins has also studied the proper microdosing of psilocybin (microdose being the lowest effective dose).

The study of psilocybin is not new.  In 1959, scientist Albert Hoffman was able to isolate psilocybin from mushrooms and was able to synthesize the drug into pills produced by Sandoz Pharmaceuticals (a major pharmaceutical company) which did studies of its use for various psychological and medical conditions, including schizophrenia, autism, anxiety, PTSD, depression and cluster headaches.

At this juncture this is an interesting developing area of medicine worth monitoring.  There are few work injuries where psilocybin would even be a treatment option, except PTSD and psychological.  Even so, it is very unlikely workers comp will be paying for magic mushrooms anytime soon.  It will take years of research to determine if this is a viable treatment option and likely decades or a generation for public attitudes to change if the research is supported. Unlike marijuana, psilocybin is not widely used by or understood by the public, and poses the risk of side-effects not seen with marijuana.

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