Psilocybin therapy, in which trained mental health professionals administer a dose of psychedelic drugs and then guide patients through their “trips,” is gaining popularity as a new form of psychotherapy. Research has demonstrated its effectiveness for many chronic conditions that don’t respond to standard treatment methods like antidepressants or opioids.
Healthcare professionals and researchers are investigating the safety and effectiveness of treatment with magic mushrooms while attempting to optimize treatment protocols. While psilocybin is currently federally prohibited, it is legal in Colorado and Oregon. Additionally, multiple states have authorized clinical trials and studies based on the success of past clinical research and the need to push the boundaries of psychiatry.
If you suffer from a condition that resists conventional therapy or lacks effective interventions, psilocybin therapy may be an option. While laws and societal rejection of psychedelics halted studies for decades, the field is rapidly evolving. This article outlines the trajectory of psilocybin research, its current legal status, and the future of studies and legalization.
History of Psilocybin Research
The first significant study of the hallucinogen psilocybin happened in 1958 when Swiss scientists isolated the compound from psilocybe mexicana. Researchers at Harvard studied psilocybin’s effect on humans through the 1960s. They also began exploring the medical applications of psychedelic treatment.
At the time, psilocybin was widely covered by the media and even touted as a potential medical miracle. Shifting cultural norms and backlash to the perceived “counterculture” led to a national reassessment of drugs in the 1960s. The federal government enacted the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, banning psilocybin as a Schedule I substance.
This classification meant the compound offered no medicinal value in the eyes of the government. While mycologists continued studying magic mushrooms, it was impossible to research the treatment applications of psychedelics.
Advocates began calling for the right to investigate psilocybin in the 1990s. Johns Hopkins University became the first institution to receive federal regulatory approval for psychedelic research with healthy participants in 2000. This achievement sparked a renewed interest in psilocybin that exploded over the next two decades.
Researchers published papers on the effects of psilocybin and its safety. As the body of evidence grew, the government granted permission to begin studies on patients with medical conditions to assess the compound’s therapeutic value.
By 2018, psilocybin therapy was deemed a “breakthrough therapy” as an intervention for treatment-resistant depression by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Today, nationwide studies assess the therapeutic applications of psilocybin for many conditions.
Research into the effects and therapeutic value of other psychedelic substances like LSD, DMT, ketamine, and MDMA have informed recent psilocybin studies.
As of February 2023, psilocybin remains federally prohibited and classified as a Schedule I substance. This classification defines the psychedelic compound as a drug that has no medicinal value and a high risk of abuse. Scientists and lawmakers have urged the DEA to reclassify it as a Schedule IV drug. This designation will place psilocybin in a class of regulated drugs alongside sleeping pills and anxiety medications.
Patient advocates and researchers have long championed psilocybin legalization. Many individuals with chronic depression and other conditions who underwent psilocybin therapy outside the U.S. shared their success stories, helping educate the American public about the treatment’s potential.
Local governments began considering psilocybin decriminalization in the 2010s. Eventually, cities in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Michigan updated their legal codes to permit low-level possession and use of psychedelics. Oregon legalized psilocybin in 2020 and opened treatment centers in 2023. Colorado legalized psilocybin in 2022 and plans to open treatment centers.
Observers predict 2023 may be a turning point for psilocybin legalization and research. Both New York and California are considering laws to legalize psychedelics. Movement by these two large states could spark other states to enact similar legislation.
How to Participate in Psilocybin Studies
Participating in a psilocybin study allows you to receive psilocybin therapy and advances the cause of science. Step one is to find an authorized trial near you. The National Institutes of Health has a searchable database of open studies. Compass Pathways and the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research also conduct studies on a regular basis.
Psilocybin research studies are active or recruiting in Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Wisconsin. Studies have application criteria for their healthy volunteers regarding age, health, history of psychedelic use, and medical conditions.
When enrolling in a clinical trial, it’s essential to answer all of the recruiter’s questions honestly and ask questions you have about psilocybin and safety. Researchers need accurate data to draw appropriate conclusions for their work. Disclosing details about your health history to rule out potential contraindications or risks is critical.
Clinical trials and studies adhere to strict ethical rules, undergo tight oversight, and maximize patient safety. The scope of the research dictates the experience. Generally, you will take a small dose of psilocybin, receive a therapeutic intervention and/or undergo a supervised “trip,” and then fill out a questionnaire and/or complete follow-up consultations where clinicians interview you about the psychedelic experience.
Future of Psilocybin Research
The promising results of current psilocybin studies and trials are spurring further investigations. Researchers have investigated how psilocybin can treat mental illnesses such as major depressive disorder/severe depression, anorexia, anxiety, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even substance abuse. Many of these mood disorders lack effective interventions, fueling the movement to research psilocybin treatment.
Many psychedelic advocates expect the next major step to be FDA approval of psilocybin therapy for depression. While regulatory bodies move slowly, the mounting clinical evidence proving psilocybin’s therapeutic effects has made researchers optimistic.
Psilocybin research will also continue to proliferate thanks to the field of neuroscience. Evolving insights into brain functioning have informed researchers’ understanding of how psilocybin affects the mind. Doctors will be able to conduct higher-caliber clinical trials examining the various ways in which psilocybin can improve humans’ well-being, which is an essential step for FDA approval.
John DiBella is a medical marijuana advocate, owner of The Sanctuary Wellness Institute, and a writer. When he’s not writing blogs about medical marijuana, he enjoys hiking, camping and sailing.