Last week, in a significant move toward progressive drug policies, the California Senate signed Senator Scott Wiener's Senate Bill 58. This groundbreaking legislation removes criminal penalties for personal possession and use of specific naturally occurring psychedelics, including psilocybin (the active compound in ‘magic’ mushrooms), N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and mescaline (excluding peyote). The bill applies exclusively to personal possession of limited amounts of psychedelics. Moreover, the bill initiates a crucial process for crafting policies related to the therapeutic use of psychedelics. With a 21-14 vote, SB 58 is now on its way to Governor Newsom's desk for the final review. If passed, the bill is due to go into effect on January 1, 2025.
Today, we will delve deeper into the specifics of Bill 58, its implications for individuals faced with mental health challenges, and examine both the advantages and disadvantages that may arise if the law is passed.
This legislation is a significant step forward in acknowledging the potential of plant-based psychedelics to address some of the most challenging mental health issues facing our country.
"Veterans and anyone suffering from PTSD and depression should not face criminal penalties for seeking relief. Plant-based psychedelics are non-addictive and show tremendous promise at treating some of the most intractable drivers of our nation’s mental health crisis," - Senator Wiener.
California is not the first to embrace such progressive measures. Similar local efforts have already succeeded in Washington, D.C., Oakland, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz, while states like Colorado and Oregon have passed successful ballot measures. In 2021, Senator Wiener's SB 519, aimed at advancing psychedelic legislation, passed the Senate but stalled in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
Research has consistently shown that removing criminal penalties for the possession of plant-based psychedelics has no negative impact on public health or safety. For instance, a recent analysis of data in Colorado found that there was no increase in public health or public safety issues associated with psychedelics following the state's decriminalization of these substances.
Moreover, studies indicate that the substances included in SB 58 do not lead to addiction and hold promise in treating substance use disorders and alcohol dependence. Notably, a peer-reviewed and controlled study involving 44,000 Americans with a history of opioid use found that using psilocybin was associated with a 27% reduced risk of past-year opioid dependence and a 40% reduced risk of past-year opioid abuse.
The significance of this legislation is underscored by the potential impact on veterans struggling with conditions like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and treatment-resistant depression. Veterans have been advocating for the decriminalization of psychedelics, recognizing that these substances can be lifesaving. Veterans Affairs is even studying psychedelic therapy due to the high rate of suicide among veterans (In 2020, there were 6,146 veteran suicides, which averages to 16.8 veterans dying by suicide every day).
Research consistently highlights the potential of psychedelics in treating mental health and substance use disorders. Clinical trials have demonstrated that psilocybin can reduce symptoms in patients with treatment-resistant depression. Studies have also shown decreases in depression and anxiety among cancer patients using psilocybin and promise for smoking cessation. The FDA has even recognized the potential by issuing Breakthrough Therapy distinction to psilocybin.
Bill 58 represents a significant shift in California's approach to mental health treatment. By decriminalizing the personal use of specific psychedelics and paving the way for responsible therapeutic use, the state acknowledges the potential of these substances to transform lives.
With mounting evidence supporting their safety and effectiveness, this legislation may offer hope to countless individuals seeking relief from debilitating mental health conditions. As California leads the way, we can only hope that other states will follow suit, prioritizing compassion and evidence-based solutions for those in need.
I strongly advocate for individuals' freedom to use substances, including psychedelics. The United States was founded upon the core principles of safeguarding life, ensuring liberty, and enabling the pursuit of happiness. Consequently, one must question why the government prohibits Americans from altering their state of consciousness with substances it deems illegal. The prohibition of drugs has not only frequently proven to be ineffective and unjust but also infringes upon individuals' autonomy to live life according to their own choices, limiting their freedom and impeding the pursuit of happiness.
If this bill is approved, it will provide access to these potent therapeutic substances, potentially benefiting countless individuals burdened by mental health issues or who have found our current treatment options to be ineffective or potentially harmful, such as some antidepressants (side effects and risks of SSRIs).
While I support the legalization of psychedelics, it is also important to acknowledge the crucial role of regulation. It is imperative that psychedelics be subject to oversight for safe and appropriate use. The implementation of legal drug regulation would significantly reduce drug-related fatalities stemming from unintentional overdoses. A substantial portion of these tragic deaths is attributed to substances that have been adulterated and obtained from the illegal market. This is the grim reality we face, particularly concerning drugs laced with fentanyl. In a regulated marketplace, characterized by consistent quality standards, the consumption of contaminated drugs would become virtually obsolete, drastically reducing the incidence of fatal accidental drug overdoses.
My greatest concern, however, would be the misuse of psychedelics when employed for therapeutic purposes in addressing mental health issues. Given that I have personally witnessed the absolute necessity of proper preparation, integration, and aftercare at our ketamine clinic in San Luis Obispo, California, I am apprehensive that people may turn to psychedelics without adequate guidance in their quest for healing, potentially exposing themselves to challenges and harm.
Seeking professional guidance, as provided by a licensed medical provider or therapist specifically trained in psychedelic-assisted therapy, will offer essential support throughout psychedelic journeys, ensuring safety and aiming for lasting healing. I anticipate scenarios where individuals might resort to psychedelics with the expectation of a “quick fix”, leading to harmful experiences. Psychedelics have incredible potential to both heal and harm. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of approaching psychedelics not as one would with antidepressants (i.e., taking them daily to alleviate symptoms). The true benefits arise from self-awareness and having a well-structured plan for integrating psychedelic experiences to facilitate ongoing healing and relief from mental ailments.
Bill 58 represents a significant shift in California's approach to mental health treatment. By decriminalizing the personal use of specific psychedelics and paving the way for responsible therapeutic use, the state acknowledges the potential of these substances to transform lives. With mounting evidence supporting their safety and effectiveness, this legislation offers hope to countless individuals seeking relief from debilitating mental health conditions. However, this does not come without risk and I hope that this risk potential is recognized by those who choose to use psychedelics if this bill is passed. As California leads the way, we can only hope that other states will follow suit, prioritizing compassion and evidence-based solutions for those in need.
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