Yes. There is more than enough research to know that criminalizing these plants and criminalizing substance use more broadly is a failed public health strategy that makes unsafe use more likely. And psychedelics have proven benefits for relieving mental health issues, particularly when combined with life coaching, counseling, and talk therapy after an experience. A meta-analysis from two decades of clinical trials concluded that these plants have statistically significant effects for treating depression and PTSD (PubMed).
And while research is important on everything — including the known-carcinogen alcohol that kills tens of thousands a year—it is difficult for researchers to get money for clinical trials on psychedelics because of prohibition and stigma. That's why the former Chief Psychiatrist of Mass General Hospital, Jerry Rosenbaum, has endorsed decriminalization alongside Bay Staters (DigBoston). Bay Staters advocates for local and state measures to legalize research at our world-renown universities. We don't just talk the talk. We walk the walk.
The problem with the "needs more research" excuse for inaction on this issue is that it enables foreign companies, like Atai Sciences and Compass Pathways, to take advantage of the high costs of getting federal exemptions to the Controlled Substances Act while small entrepreneurs and scientists risk arrests for research. This system is creating a situation where billionaire-funded corporations like Compass Pathways and the MAPS corporation will charge tens of thousands of dollars for strictly controlled version of psilocybin and MDMA therapy when we should instead decentralize this healing for affordability. There is no reason why you should be forced to pay that much or face jail time for sitting by yourself, a friend, or a trusted facilitator to have these experiences.
Access to life changing experiences. There are many countries and localities where the war on drugs has been ended in a variety of ways. Jamaica, Nepal, the Bahamas, the Netherlands, Peru, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, Costa Rica and New Zealand all allow decriminalized access to psychedelic plants—many Americans with the means to afford retreats already go to these countries for ceremonies and treatments, as do some veterans with the help of American nonprofits. Portugal has long decriminalized possession of all controlled substances, but the public health authorities have not embraced growing and exchanging psychedelic plants as a means to reduce addiction and improve mental health. Across the world, many laws are ambiguous or riddled with loopholes that allow creative entrepreneurs to offer retreats and services including in Spain, Poland, Italy, Iceland, and Austria just to name a few.
Similarly, laws against psilocybin in the United States have many loopholes that render prohibition an impossible proposition. In all but three states—California, Georgia, and Idaho—it is legal to buy psilocybin spores for microscopy research purposes (but obviously many people use them to grow). The cities of Denver, Oakland, Santa Cruz, Ann Arbor, Somerville, Cambridge, Northampton, Easthampton, Seattle, San Francisco, Arcata, and Detroit are among those that have deprioritized enforcement. Four of these are cities in Massachusetts that have also deprioritized possession of all controlled substances. The state of Oregon and City of Baltimore have functionally decriminalized possession of all controlled substances, and many localities across the United States unofficially adopt decriminalization because the addiction crisis is so acute.
In Denver, the first U.S. community to decriminalize, an official policy review panel of the city found that there were no adverse public health consequences. Denver hospitals have not reported any uptick in visits or accounts of people acting violently. They recommend training for first-responders in how to respond to people having uncomfortable experiences, strongly recommending harm reduction practices that are long overdue for all controlled substances including alcohol. There has been no detectable increase in calls to poison control, reported use by children, or any other adverse impact in other cities. In Oakland, California, which decriminalized shortly after Denver, the County Health Department reported that there were only two hospitalizations for hallucinogens — which is not a statistically significant departure from before the measure passed and could be due to random chance.
Increasingly, people are growing their own to ensure that they have a sustainable supply: especially people with neurological conditions like cluster headaches that require a consistent supply. For other controlled substances like ibogaine and ayahuasca, it is all about who people know. It can be very difficult to source or get an invite to an underground ceremony. For our part, Bay Staters provides free training in growing legal mushrooms, but cannot and will never condone illegal activity. Similarly there are many community members who attend our public events who are very generous with their advice, but we act in full accordance with the law.
Most people obtain psilocybin mushrooms by purchasing them from a mutual friend or acquaintance, and many of these distributors also sell illicitly grown cannabis or illicitly manufactured substances like LSD, DMT, MDMA, MDA and others. Many distributors connect with clients on platforms like instagram, using cryptocurrency or the dark web to facilitate purchases. These markets are far from ideal with many people vulnerable to being ripped off, sold a low-quality product, or very tragically sold controlled substances cut with fentanyl or methamphetamine. Fortunately, psilocybin mushrooms cannot be cut with these other substances.
Most people who try psychedelics only do so a few times throughout their lives, making this a market very unlike cannabis or other controlled substances. This rare frequency of use makes profiting off the home growing of psilocybin mushrooms a difficult, low-margin proposition. We envision communities where people can grow their own and share with friends but do so in an informed and safe way with reverence for how powerful they are. This will always be preferrable to profit-focused, commercial sale like what happens in Oakland and Vancouver. All in all, more transparency means improved public safety and access.
We recommend that, if you chose to use using psilocybin mushrooms, to do so for the first time with a trusted friend or trusted facilitator who has had the experience before, which is why we have created this free training folder and our network of facilitators to provide harm reduction advice. Our team is specially trained to help you determine if this experience is safe for you, help you set goals, help you set up a comfortable environment, serve as a source of comfort during the experience, and help you integrate lessons into your life style going forward. This experience is not for everyone, and many of the spiritual benefits are most pronounced when combined with coaching and ongoing mental health alternatives. That is why setting up an appointment with your therapist in the week following an experience, when the brain has neuroplasticity, is recommended.
Decriminalization is a very beneficial policy for our communities' children that helps parents become the best version of themselves and enables honest education with youth about the risks and harms of controlled substances. Bay Staters works hand in hand with youth advocates, including in Easthampton where our measure educated parents on keeping medications, cannabis, and these plants in lock boxes that children cannot access. Here are some additional benefits for kids:
Better Parents: a two-decade meta-analysis of controlled clinical trials has shown that mushroom assisted counseling can effectively treat PTSD, depression, and autism-linked anxiety. By easing intergenerational trauma, these compounds can help parents achieve more stable, nurturing environments for kids. In other words, these plants help heal the child within adults struggling with childhood trauma a chance to find peace and reconnect with their youthful innocence
No Increase in Use Among Children: Schools are educating kids about controlled substance use more honestly than ever before. Psychedelic use among teens is at 10 and 15 year lows despite social media and greatly increased social acceptance. Decriminalization in a dozen cities nationwide and one state has coincided with a 2% increase in use, and it is impossible to evaluate whether this effect has been causal: it likely has not been.
Honest Conversations: ending legal charges for using or distributing psychedelics will make kids less afraid to talk to their parents, teachers, and doctors. They will ask about the risks without fear of getting in trouble or call their parents if they do happen to try substances they shouldn't and are having a bad time. As with cannabis, supply chains will become more transparent with decriminalization so that telling on peers won't ruin said peers lives. This will make it easier for school administrators and parents to identify high-risk teens and take appropriate but non-criminal disciplinary action. Teens know that adults use drugs like alcohol and cannabis so "just say no" rhetoric makes us look hypocritical and makes drugs a "forbidden fruit."
Breakthrough Treatments: Parents of children suffering painful migraines, traumatic brain injuries, or terminal illness anxiety should be allowed to consult with care providers to help their children. Putting cluster headaches in remission for one in two sufferers and having an 80% clinical response rate for terminal illness anxiety, these plants may one day help countless suffering kids under the advisement of medical professionals. A study of 40 Brazilian adolescents who consumed the traditional plant ayahuasca (DMT) observed lower rates of substance use disorder and anxiety. Within indigenous traditions, breastfeeding women and young children are sometimes given small doses of these medicines, including peyote and ibogaine. Caution is extremely important but decriminalization allows greater research and education to occur: the threat of arrest is very real and holds back science.
Like any substance, psychedelics are not for everyone and are not suitable for all circumstances. People who have previously experienced psychotic episodes with cannabis or any controlled substances are well-advised to refrain from using these substances too. That being said, places that have decriminalized drugs, like Portugal, often see that decriminalization lifts the recreational “forbidden fruit” allure of drugs, reducing uncontrolled use and increasing the public’s awareness of harm-reduction.
People who experience a phenomena sometimes called “bad trips” often cite them as spiritually fulfilling experiences despite emotional discomfort. After all, processing trauma or the parts of ourselves that need improvement is never a walk in the park. In a controlled setting, like at home with a supportive friend, working through negative emotions, traumas, and fears can help people move past these feelings and heal. By normalizing these substances as the extremely powerful and spiritually-focused compounds they are, we can have honest and compelling dialogue with young people urging them to avoid use in uncontrolled settings. Maintaining an illegal market and “forbidden fruit” stigma only makes risks and unwise use more likely.
The phenomena of flashbacks, where some experience psychedelic visual distortions after an experience has occurred, is not well understood. Like any extremely positive experience in life, such as an amazing relationship or favorite song, users may recall similar feelings at later dates. Needless to say, these feelings are very unlikely to inconvenience people in the moment. That being said, our team advices urges people to use psychedelics, particularly LSD, in moderation: no more than once or twice a year in large doses as a precaution.
Huge implications. And Bay Staters regularly fundraises to support organizations across the state that work in criminal justice reform, reentry services for inmates, and mutual aid.
Deprioritizing arrests for cultivation and exchange of plant medicines as well as minor possession for all controlled substances marries this movement to the causes of racial and economic justice as well, since an Oregon Criminal Justice Commission report found the state’s policy of deprioritized arrests will reduce racial disparities in drug crime arrests by 95%. After all, controlled substances are often legal in practice for people of higher socioeconomic class. Officers do not incidentally find cocaine in the Porsches lining the streets of Beacon Hill brownstones. They find drugs on people caught up with the law for petty offenses, usually in high-crime and minority neighborhoods like Roxbury and Dorchester. Financially advantaged people are far less likely to have high stakes interactions with police despite using drugs at higher rates than people in poverty
Our team's analysis of three years of Boston Police Department data from a public records request found a near two to one racial disparity in controlled substances arrests, despite people of all demographics using drugs at similar rates. Witnessing racial disparities makes many officers feel a sense of guilt enforcing drug laws that were written by national politicians over five decades ago. Many understand encounters for controlled substance possession can go tragically wrong, endangering civilians and officers alike while further eroding trust in law enforcement.
Arrests are not a public health strategy. They strip people of jobs when they are not able to show up the next day, traumatize and degrade people who serve time in jail (where fentanyl is ironically quite accessible), and further marginalize people who cannot afford huge fines associated with possession. A single possession charge can result in years in jail and thousands in fines. For those who are already incarcerated, however, plant medicines can be a godsend. A 2014 study of over 25,000 people found entheogenic plant therapies reduce the likelihood of recidivism. This in-turn will lighten the load and reduce the scope of local law enforcement.
Yes, and the legal departments of Somerville, Cambridge, Northampton, and Easthampton found no problems with our measures. Psychedelic plants are in the same federally controlled substances list as cannabis, and hundreds of cities have a rich legacy of experimenting with drug policy enforcement despite draconian federal and state laws. These federal drug laws were explicitly implemented to target Black Americans, anti-war protesters, and other politically threatening groups as Nixon's top domestic policy adviser John Ehrlichman admitted. Many federal drugs laws have questionable legality under the U.S. constitution, as the manufacture and distribution of many controlled substances often does not cross state lines and thus does not qualify as interstate commerce. Ironically, it is already legal both federally and in most states, including Massachusetts, to purchase psilocybin mushroom spores across state borders to study them under a microscope. But possession, cultivation, and ceremonies remain illegal. Our cities should decriminalize prevent corporate takeover of plant medicine locally and create momentum for equitable, statewide reform.
Following cannabis legalization by Colorado and decriminalization across many U.S. cities, President Obama’s Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued the “Cole Memorandum” which clarified that the federal government was going to direct scarce resources to explicitly focus on interstate commerce and violence caused by the underground markets that prohibition creates. It notes that outside these federal priorities, “the federal government has traditionally relied on states and local law enforcement agencies” to determine how to allocate scarce resources to enforce their own narcotics laws. This has reaffirmed a strong precedent and intention by the federal government to lean toward the constitutional value of federalism in allowing states and local governments to determine enforcement priorities. Moreover, statewide change can only gain the momentum in needs cities demonstrate leadership.
The support for this policy is overwhelming in Massachusetts. A poll of likely Massachusetts voters in 2017 by MassInc found 66% support for decriminalization, with another 10% undecided. Since then, views on drug policy across the nation have shifted substantially to the point where 66% nationally now support the same. A Boston Globe poll on our work suggests that nine in ten Massachusetts residents support our work
Many—yes. We believe that there are serious adverse consequences to drinking alcohol, using cocaine, using opioids, using methamphetamine, overusing cannabis, and huffing gas as just a few examples. But we do not pass moral judgement on people who do these things, and we believe that criminalization will always make use of these substances far, far less safe. We need to educate, not criminalize. Any substance, legal or not, can be misused. Many of us have first-hand lived experience with addiction and painful experiences with our loved ones. We take these issues very seriously and treat them with the reverence they deserve.
We also strongly discourage non-indigenous people from using peyote at this time because this sacred plant is on the verge of extinction. We strongly discourage the use of venom from Bufo Alvarius toads (so-called “Bufo”) and Phyllomedusa bicolor tree frogs (so-called “Kambo”). We urge people to leave these animals alone and instead explore man-made versions of these compounds that are far safer and more sustainable. Tree frogs and toads are not only on the edge of extinction, they are thinking, feeling beings who are exploited horribly in the supply chains. They are burned, stretched, run over, thrown in bags, crushed in transport, and dragged away from their families. No spiritual experience that comes from exploiting or torturing animals will make you a more enlightened person. Moreover, "Bufo" and "Kambo" experiences are extremely intense, sometimes inducing fatal vomiting. We recommend sticking to psilocybin mushrooms — a simple alternative