By Michael Ollove
Alex Jones says a trip to Jamaica saved his life. Not a trip at Jamaica: a hallucinogenic journey in Jamaica.
A severe depression hit her at the age of 10 and remained there, unabated, for the next two decades. She couldn’t work, couldn’t bear to see herself in the mirror, and for days could barely lift herself off her couch. The temptation to get it over with has always been on the periphery.
“I felt like I was walking dead,” said Jones, who is now 34.
She endured hours of talk therapy and went through 30 different therapy regimens. She did light therapy and then dark therapy. She tried an experimental ketamine nasal spray, then a ketamine infusion. She underwent cycles of electroconvulsive therapy and sleep deprivation. She submitted to transcranial magnetic stimulation, where she wore a large helmet fitted with magnets.
None of this worked, or at least not for long, and some resulted in serious side effects. Doctors told her she was ‘resistant to treatment’, which apparently means beyond help.
But in 2019, she came across a “60 Minutes” report on clinical studies showing very encouraging results in the use of psilocybin, a psychedelic agent derived from mushrooms, to treat patients suffering from depression, anxiety and of dependency. Outside of trials, the treatment was not available in the United States, where psilocybin remains illegal under federal law.
Jones booked a week-long stay at a Jamaican retreat. There, under supervision, she underwent three sessions of psychedelic mushrooms, followed by sessions with “facilitators” on the island and alone for months at her home in Tacoma, Washington, unraveling the psychedelic journeys she had experienced.
What she found was that she felt better. Much better.
“It woke me up,” she said. “I was alive, I was me again. I could see the beauty of the world. Even the physical changes were startling. The next day after my first dose, I was loading sand dunes. Before that, I had trouble climbing stairs.
Five months ago, she told lawmakers in Washington who were considering a bill that would legalize the use of psilocybin that the trips she had experienced in Jamaica “saved my life.”
A ‘tidal wave’ in psychology: Advocates call on lawmakers to approve psilocybin treatment
With research showing promising results for patients, lawmakers in other states and cities are also considering easing restrictions on psilocybin. A few states want to legalize psilocybin treatment for all adult patients, while others want to limit it to veterans or others with PTSD. Other states have formed working groups to study the issue.
Studies in recent years have shown that psilocybin and other psychedelics may have beneficial effects on a variety of mental health issues and other conditions such as PTSD, anorexia, chronic pain, fibromyalgia and the addiction. Indigenous populations around the world have recognized the beneficial effects of psychedelics for hundreds of years and incorporated them into spiritual rituals.
In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration called psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy” in the treatment of severe depression, a designation the agency applies to drugs that, in early trials, show substantial improvement over compared to existing treatments.
Not everyone is ready to give mushrooms the green light. In written testimony in February before Maine’s Joint Legislative Committee overseeing health and human services, which was considering a measure to legalize psilocybin, Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention State, warned that there were not yet enough recognized doctors. standards to ensure the safe use of psilocybin.
“While there may be early evidence for the use of psilocybin to aid in the treatment of intractable depression and PTSD, this research is ongoing and there are currently no clinical practice guidelines or treatments. FDA cleared to ensure safe and appropriate use of the therapy.” he said.
’50 times the interest’
In 2020, Oregon voters approved a ballot measure that puts the state on the path to a regulatory and licensing framework that, starting in 2023, will allow patients to take psilocybin under surveillance. Oregon is the first state to legalize psilocybin.
In its budget bill this year, the Connecticut legislature began the process of legalizing centers where veterans and first responders could receive psilocybin and MDMA, a synthetic psychedelic. Some veterans groups have long insisted that psychedelic treatments be available for veterans, especially those with PTSD.
Texas, Utah, and Washington State have established task forces or funded research into the medical use of psilocybin. Maryland has created a $1 million fund to study alternative treatments, including psychedelics, for PTSD or traumatic brain injury, and to pay for those treatments for veterans.
Ballot initiatives that would legalize psilocybin are underway in Colorado and California. Last month, the president of the New Jersey Senate introduced a bill that would legalize psilocybin to treat certain disorders.
Cities like Ann Arbor, Michigan; Denver; Oakland, California; and Seattle, passed measures that essentially decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms and sometimes other psychedelics derived from plants or mushrooms. Cities make no distinction between medical and recreational uses.
But even states that could set up a regulatory system would not do so in a medical setting, a concern raised by the Shah of Maine. Maine’s bill, which did not pass, provided for psilocybin centers, which Shah said would “operate as recreational facilities rather than medical treatment facilities, limits the Department’s ability to regulate safe use and do not incorporate sufficient public health behaviors and contribution to the structure.
Proponents say they are comfortable with using psilocybin outside of the medical system, but with regulations and licensing in place.
Washington State Senator Jesse Salomon, a Democrat, sponsored a bill this year that would have established a regulatory system like Oregon’s. It would have adopted standards for growing mushrooms and processing psilocybin as well as licensing centers and suppliers who would administer the drugs to patients.
The bill did not leave committee, but lawmakers earmarked $200,000 for a task force to study the matter. Salomon said the original bill generated a lot of interest, especially during a two-hour hearing in February, where several veterans testified.
“I had 50 times more interest in this bill than any bill I’ve ever done,” Solomon said. “I had no idea this would happen. I just threw it out there.
Although psilocybin remains a federally banned drug, Salomon and other proponents of legalization say they believe US law enforcement will take the same hands-off approach they use in the states. who legalized marijuana.
Possibility of remission
Legislative efforts across the country have been propelled by positive clinical studies of the effects of psilocybin.
An influential 2020 study in the American Medical Association Journal of Psychiatry found that 71% of patients with severe, previously treatment-resistant depression had “clinically meaningful improvement” that lasted at least four weeks and “low potential” for addiction. More than half were considered in remission at four weeks.
Can magic mushrooms help fight mental illness? A bipartisan group of Pennsylvania lawmakers think so.
“I would say that at this point, the research shows that in safe environments, it relieves some people of debilitating mental health issues,” said Alan Davis, one of the study’s co-authors, a neuroscientist. at Ohio State University and adjunct. professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research.
Davis said imaging conducted on patients shows that psilocybin causes changes in the brain, although further study is needed to determine the significance of these changes. What is clear is that the patients felt a mystical or spiritual experience during their travels, an experience that profoundly altered their perspective.
“They have spiritually meaningful experiences, not just short-term but long-term as well.”
And it’s obvious, he said, that psilocybin acts on the brain differently than other drugs used to treat psychiatric disorders.
“Usual [psychiatric] the drugs don’t cure anything,” he said. “But with psilocybin, with two or three doses, some people are in complete remission.”
‘The most crucial experiments’
Some veterans’ organizations, convinced of the benefits of psychedelics for treating PTSD and other mental health conditions, fund trips abroad where these substances are legal.
That’s how Matthew Griffin, a former Army Rangers captain with four combat tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, ended up in Costa Rica in 2017, where he consumed ayahuasca, another psychedelic made from plants. Diagnosed with PTSD and a traumatic brain injury at the time, he struggled with memory loss. His short temper and drinking made life miserable for everyone around him.
This hallucinogenic journey and the way he later unwrapped it, he said, “was one of the most pivotal experiences of my life,” he said. Since then he has traveled abroad four or five times on hallucinogenic trips, most recently using mushrooms.
“Emotionally, energetically, financially, sexually, everything in my life has improved since taking this alternative path to healing,” he said.
Other users describe similar experiences. “I learned to love, not only myself, but others as well,” said Corey Champagne, a Marine Corps veteran in Redmond, Wash., who used ayahuasca in Peru last year.
For Jones, the benefits of the drug have endured since Jamaica. “After 20 years of hating you, having deep depression, having bad cravings, and believing bad things to be true, I could never get away from those thoughts. But now I feel like myself again. It has changed the way I see myself and the possibilities for the future.
So much so that this month she left her forever home in Washington for a new life on the East Coast. (She didn’t want her new location disclosed.)
“It’s something that wasn’t even in the realm of thought two years ago.”
Michael Ollove is a reporter for Stateline.org, a project of the Pew Charitable Trusts, where this story first appeared.