In June 2019, Oakland, California, became the second city in the United States to decriminalize natural psychedelic drugs. Denver, Colorado, was the first city in the country to do this. Oakland’s ruling expanded beyond Denver’s law to decriminalize possession or use of even more substances. While these substances remain illegal under California state law, prosecutors will not continue pursuing old cases or start new cases related to the use of entheogenic, or hallucinogenic, plants. The technical wording of the bill states that investigation and arrest of adults using entheogenic plants is the lowest priority for city law enforcement officials.
Entheogenic plants come in many forms, such as fungi like mushrooms and other plants like cannabis. Substances included in this classification include:
- Indole amines
- Psilocybe mushrooms
- Plants similar to Ayahuasca
Oakland’s move to decriminalize the possession and use of these substances is part of the broader conversation across the nation regarding mental health and natural wellness practices.
What Are Psychedelic Substances Used For
“Magic mushrooms” and other psychedelic substances are types of entheogenic plants and substances. These plants, plant parts and plant derivatives have psychoactive properties that may provide relief, comfort or overall well-being to people with many different physical conditions. Fungi, cacti and other natural plants have been used by native cultures for generations as medicinal alternatives. Some of the ailments treated by these substances include:
- Post-traumatic stress
- Palliative care
The National Institutes of Health’s Palliative Care center recognizes that therapies which include the use of psychedelic drugs may provide benefits to patients. These substances carry no toxins and can provide relief for mental and physical distress. These drugs have hallucinogenic properties that can significantly reduce mental stress and may even lower the experience of physical pain. Adverse effects, however, are present and may include extreme nausea and psychological distress from disassociation or hallucinations. Research continues as experts seek to uncover whether these substances may be more significantly utilized in medical treatment.
Are Psychedelics a Treatment Option for Mental and Physical Conditions?
There are many reasons leaders and representatives in Denver and Oakland supported the decriminalization of psychedelics. In their respective motions, officials cited the use of magic mushrooms in clinical trials and their relative absence of side effects and toxins. Fungi and cacti have been used throughout recorded history in native cultures as being beneficial for healing, knowledge and spirituality in addition to providing pain relief and treating other physical functions.
Native cultures use psychedelic or hallucinogenic plants to induce visions or out-of-body experiences. Certain groups also use natural plants as medicinal alternatives to treat a variety of ailments. Arguably, pharmaceutical drugs began with natural sources and have only been synthetically produced for the past few generations.
The rate of mental health complaints in the United States is high and growing. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that, in 2017, nearly 3 million adults in the United States reported major depression that severely impaired their ability to perform daily functions. It could be that leaders in Oakland recognize that we must leverage every source of potential relief for people who suffer from challenging mental health conditions. Psychedelics may provide a viable source of treatment or management for people with these conditions.
Who is Researching Psychedelic Drugs?
The national attitude toward controlled substances of all kinds is experiencing a monumental shift. From the legalization of marijuana in many states to not prosecuting the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs, many places in the nation are adjusting their approach to the legality and criminality of certain substances.
Opiate misuse and substance misuse persist as important national issues and it’s important to note that certain hallucinogens can lead to addiction and substance abuse. However, experts from the National Institutes of Health’s Neuropsychopharmacology department are researching the use of natural and synthetic hallucinogens and, as of 2018, the FDA has approved trials for the mushroom psilocybin in depression trials.
Non-profit and community efforts are also providing research and education on psychedelic substances. These include organizations like the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). Locally, advocates in Oakland are promoting the use of alternative medicines like psychedelics in groups like Decriminalize Nature Oakland. There is a myriad of government organizations and community initiatives that all have an invested interest in understanding more about the nature and correct use of psychedelic drugs.
City of Oakland California Legislation. “City Resolution Decriminalizing Entheogenic Plants From: Councilmember Gallo.” Published June 4, 2019. Accessed June 22, 2019.
Decriminalize Nature Oakland. “News Articles.” N.D. Accessed June 22, 2019.
Gander, Kashmira. “FDA Approves Psychedelic Magic Mushrooms Ingredient Psilocybin for Depression Trial.” Newsweek Health. Published August 23, 2018. Accessed June 22, 2019.
Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). “Other Psychedelic Research.” N.D. Accessed June 22, 2019.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “The National Survey on Drug Use and Health: 2017.” Published September 2018. Accessed June 22, 2019.
The US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. “Common Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs.” Updated February 2015. Accessed June 22, 2019.
US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health Journal of Palliative Medicine. “Taking Psychedelics Seriously.” Published April 1, 2018. Accessed June 22, 2019.