A coalition of Pennsylvania lawmakers introduced a bill this week that’s meant to promote research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms for mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—the latest example of how the psychedelics reform movement is gaining momentum.
Led by Rep. Tracy Pennycuick (R), the legislation, titled the Public Heath Benefits of Psilocybin Act, would establish “a framework for research in this Commonwealth to discover innovative methods to optimize the public health benefits of psilocybin.” It would prioritize studies that focus on veterans, retired first responders and their families.
Under HB 1959, which was formally filed with 19 cosponsors on Wednesday, the state Department of Health would authorize at least two entities to “plant, grow and cultivate natural psilocybin mushroom product solely for use in the clinical studies of psilocybin.”
Pennycuick, an Army veteran herself who lives with PTSD, told Marijuana Moment in an email that she has “great compassion for all those searching for treatment options, and am impressed with the initial reports I have read on the potential effectiveness of psilocybin.”
“A couple other states are starting studies on this treatment, and with Pennsylvania being home to the fourth largest population of veterans in the United States, it only makes sense we are among the first to take action on clinical studies that could help our military men and women,” she said.
In a cosponsorship memo filed in July with Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D), the lawmakers wrote that “as traditional treatment has proven inadequate at both the individual and public health level, the Commonwealth has a responsibility to research alternative options.”
“A growing body of research provides a reason for hope that psilocybin, administered in a controlled setting, will be the most effective tool at our disposal to combat the suicide, opioid and overall mental health crisis burdening the Commonwealth,” they wrote to colleagues. “Indeed, studies conducted by world renowned medical institutions indicate that psilocybin has shown efficacy, tolerability and safety in the treatment of conditions including but not limited to addiction, depression, anxiety disorders and end-of-life psychological distress.”
They also noted legislation on psychedelics research for veterans that the Texas legislature passed earlier this year, which the governor allowed to become law without his signature, as an example of commonsense psychedelics policy that Pennsylvania should pursue.
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In addition to PTSD, the Pennsylvania legislation would also authorize studies into psilocybin’s potential benefits in treating depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, bipolar disorders, chronic pain, migraines, substance use disorders and traumatic brain injury.
The psychedelic substance could be administered to patients in a number of scenarios, including a “supervised group setting” or a “controlled, outdoor setting.”
“Achieving the optimal public health benefit of psilocybin requires the Commonwealth to invest in and facilitate research using naturally grown psilocybin mushrooms, which would be infeasible if conducted through private funding,” the legislation notes.
State officials would need to prepare a report by January 1, 2025 that outlines the findings of the research and makes recommendations for the “implementation of a regulatory system governing the use of psilocybin and psilocybin-assisted therapy with the goal of minimizing cost and maximizing the public health benefit of treatment.”
The proposal is just the latest in a growing list of psychedelics-focused state legislation that’s being filed around the country.
The top Democrat in the Florida Senate introduced a bill last month that would similarly require the state to research the medical benefits of psychedelics such as psilocybin and MDMA.
The governor of Connecticut signed a bill in June that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.
A New York lawmaker introduced legislation in June that would require the state to establish an institute to similarly research the medical value of psychedelics.
In a setback for advocates, the U.S. House of Representatives recently voted against a proposal from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would have removed a spending bill rider that advocates say has restricted federal funds for research into Schedule I drugs, including psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA and ibogaine. However, it picked up considerably more votes this round than when the congresswoman first introduced it in 2019.
Report provisions of separate, House-passed spending legislation also touch on the need to expand cannabis and psychedelics research. The panel urged the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to support expanded marijuana studies, for example. It further says that federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions.
There was an attempt by a Republican congressman to attach language into a defense spending bill that would promote research into psychedelics therapy for active duty military members, but it was not made in order in the House Rules Committee last month.
For what it’s worth, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a longstanding champion of marijuana reform in Congress, said on Wednesday that he intends to help bring the psychedelics reform movement to Capitol Hill “this year.”
NIDA also recently announced it’s funding a study into whether psilocybin can help people quit smoking cigarettes.
An official with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also said at a recent congressional hearing that the agency is “very closely” following research into the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics like MDMA for military veterans.
In May, lawmakers in Congress filed the first-ever legislation to federally decriminalize possession of illicit substances.
Oregon voters passed a pair of initiatives last November to legalize psilocybin therapy and decriminalize possession of all drugs. On the local level, activists in Portland are mounting a push to have local lawmakers pass a resolution decriminalizing the cultivation, gifting and ceremonial use of a wide range of psychedelics.
In California, the Arcata City Council unanimously approved a referendum on Wednesday that effectively decriminalized a wide range of psychedelics. That marked the third California city to decriminalize psychedelics, following similar reforms that lawmakers have enacted in Oakland and Santa Cruz.
In Oakland, the first city in the country where a city council voted to broadly deprioritize criminalization of entheogenic substances, lawmakers approved a follow-up resolution in December that calls for the policy change to be adopted statewide and for local jurisdictions to be allowed to permit healing ceremonies where people could use psychedelics.
A bill to legalize psychedelics in California advanced through the Senate and two Assembly committees this year before being pulled by the sponsor to buy more time to generate support among lawmakers. The plan is to take up the reform during next year’s second half of the legislative session, and the senator behind the measure says he’s confident it will pass.
California activists are separately collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to legalize psilocybin mushrooms in the state.
Seattle’s City Council approved a resolution on Monday to decriminalize noncommercial activity around a wide range of psychedelic substances, including the cultivation and sharing of psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, ibogaine and non-peyote-derived mescaline.
In Massachusetts, the Northampton City Council passed a resolution in April stipulating that no government or police funds should be used to enforce laws criminalizing people for using or possessing entheogenic plants and fungi. Somerville and Cambridge have also moved to effectively decriminalize psychedelics.
In Michigan, the Grand Rapids City Council approved a resolution last month calling for decriminalization of a wide range of psychedelics.
Elsewhere in Michigan, the Ann Arbor City Council has already elected to make enforcement of laws prohibition psychedelics like psilocybin, ayahuasca and DMT among the city’s lowest priorities—and lawmakers recently followed up by declaring September Entheogenic Plants and Fungi Awareness Month.
After Ann Arbor legislators passed that decriminalization resolution last year, the Washtenaw County prosecutor announced that his office will not be pursuing charges over possessing entheogenic plants and fungi, “regardless of the amount at issue.”
A local proposal to decriminalize various psychedelics will also appear on Detroit’s November ballot.
At the same time that local activists are pursuing decriminalization, a pair of Michigan senators introduced a bill earlier this month to legalize the possession, cultivation and delivery of an array of plant- and fungi-derived psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline.
Washington, D.C. voters also approved a ballot measure last year to deprioritize enforcement of laws criminalizing psychedelics.
Meanwhile, Denver activists who successfully led the 2019 campaign to make the city the first in the U.S. to decriminalize psilocybin possession have set their eyes on broader reform, with plans in the works to end the criminalization of noncommercial gifting and communal use of the psychedelic.
In Pennsylvania, lawmakers have also taken a special interest in marijuana reform in recent weeks.
A Democratic state lawmaker on Tuesday announced his intent to file a reform bill that he’ll be working on with a Republican senator who announced his support for the policy change a day earlier.
There are also two other Pennsylvania legalization proposals that have been separately announced—one of which was formally introduced late last month and the other still being drafted.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia City Council has placed a referendum on the local November ballot urging the state to enact legalization. The hope is that the local vote could further motivate the legislature to move ahead with legalization.
Read the text of the Pennsylvania psilocybin research bill below:
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