Psilocybin Proponents Push Medical Benefits of Drug, Ballot Initiative

Sandra had never done drugs before in her life, but a broken back and multiple opioid prescriptions later, she was addicted to painkillers. Not only that, but she was also severely depressed.

Her doctor tried to wean her off one opioid while pumping up her dosage for another, but that didn't work. Amid her struggles with addiction and depression, Sandra decided to visit her daughter in California, and it was in the Golden State that she was introduced to psilocybin. Skeptical at first, Sandra eventually came around and tried psilocybin at her daughter's suggestion. The results were profound.

"Psilocybin definitely saved my life," Sandra says.

According to her, it cured her depression, and the positive benefits lasted for months after that one dose; she now takes a dose every few months.

Local advocates, including Sandra, who asked that her full name not be used for this story, met this week to discuss psilocybin's use as a medicine for end-of-life care and a ballot initiative that they hope will decriminalize it in Denver.

Hosted by the Psychedelic Club of Denver, the meeting included speakers Dr. Shannon Hughes and Dr. Robert Colbert, researchers with the Nowak Society, where they study the benefits of drugs like psilocybin for end-of-life treatment. A study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology showed that terminally ill patients treated with psilocybin had "substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety." More commonly known as "magic mushrooms," psilocybin for medicinal use is ground into a powder and put into a capsule. Patients who take the pills are often monitored by a physician and go through psychotherapy before or after the experience. They can also opt to take psilocybin the more traditional way: by consuming dried mushrooms at home or in nature.

Hughes and Colbert are working to raise awareness about the Right to Try Act, which "allows terminally ill patients to access investigational treatments that have passed basic safety testing (Phase I) with the FDA but are not yet available on pharmacy shelves." Such treatments could include psilocybin.

Despite Colorado being the first state to pass similar legislation in 2014, few people have taken advantage of psilocybin because it's not readily available, according to Kevin Matthews, campaign director of Denver for Psilocybin. Additionally challenging is the fact that "doctors and prescribers are unfamiliar with the law," he says. Under the Right to Try Act, prescribers can direct terminally ill patients toward psilocybin treatment after all other treatment options have been exhausted.

Matthews and his team are finalizing their final ballot initiative to decriminalize psilocybin in Denver. According to Matthews, the group will turn in the final language to Denver City Council for review on Friday. To get on the May 2019 city election ballot, the initiative needs approximately 5,000 signatures by March. The initiative allows for possession of up to 28 grams and cultivation of up to 280 grams.

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