Dr. Bronner’s Donates $150,000 in Matching Funds to Support Signature Drive
Last night it was my honor to join Tom and Sheri Eckert, experienced Portland-based therapists who are the chief petitioners for Oregon’s statewide ballot initiative to legalize psilocybin-assisted therapy, as they welcomed famed mycologist Paul Stamets and special guests for an event at the Newmark Theatre in Portland. At the event, they announced the launch of a signature drive for the Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative (PSI 2020), and I announced our company’s matching contribution of $150,000 to the initiative.
My family is no stranger to severe depression and anxiety. We understand the pain and frustration of many Americans for whom current treatments do not work—for whom pharma drugs provide too little relief and too many undesirable side effects. We yearn for better solutions, and we firmly believe that the integration of psilocybin therapy, to which the FDA recently granted a special “breakthrough designation,” is crucial to healing epidemic rates of depression, anxiety, and addiction. Clinical trials at major universities have found promising results. This therapy appears to enable people to process difficult and traumatic emotions and experiences, break destructive patterns of thought and behavior—and to love, integrate and forgive themselves and each other. People connect to the deeper spiritual ground of their being and to the miraculous living natural world we are one with.
No better insight into the healing potential of psilocybin therapy can be found than in Michael Pollan’s groundbreaking cover article in the New Yorker, “The Trip Treatment,” followed by his excellent book, “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.” Together they have sparked a serious national conversation about how important it is to integrate psychedelic therapy into mainstream culture in a responsible way.
As the Eckerts explain on the PSI 2020 website: “The intent of the 2020 Psilocybin Service Initiative of Oregon is to advance a breakthrough therapeutic model currently being perfected in research settings at top universities around the world. The service model involves a sequence of facilitated sessions, including assessment and preparation, psilocybin administration, and post-therapy integration. We envision a community-based framework, where licensed providers, along with licensed producers of psilocybin mushrooms, blaze trails in Oregon in accordance with evolving practice standards.”
Highlights of the 2020 Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative:
- Safety, practice, and ethical standards for trained and competent facilitators
- Services open to adults who are not medically contraindicated
- An affordable framework outside the medical / pharma system
- Establishes an advisory board to work with state and federal officials
- An extended development period so the state health department can successfully roll out the program
- Prohibition of cannabis-style branding and marketing of psilocybin products
We believe Oregonians, along with all Americans, are beginning to embrace psilocybin and psychedelic therapy generally. An early poll of an earlier version of the measure, that was not as tight in the therapeutic frame as the current improved measure, still showed a majority of Oregon voters in favor. Psychedelic therapy, long stigmatized and forced underground, is enjoying a surge of legitimacy and support largely as a result of:
- The incredible clinical research on psilocybin therapy sponsored by Heffter, Usona, and others, conducted by academic researchers like Roland Griffiths (Johns Hopkins University), Charles Grob (UCLA), and Steve Ross (NYU), showing psilocybin therapy’s efficacy in healing end-of-life anxiety, major depressive disorder and addictions to alcohol and tobacco. This research has set up FDA “breakthrough status” for phase 3 trials conducted by both Usona and Compass Pathways, with full commercialization expected in 2023. (Shout out to Bob Jesse of the Council of Spiritual Practices for his strategic visionary guidance behind the scenes every step of the way).
- The indefatigable efforts of Rick Doblin and friends at MAPS demonstrating the remarkable efficacy of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for treatment-resistant PTSD, moving now to phase 3 clinical trials with full commercialization expected in 2021, while earning FDA’s special “breakthrough designation” status. (I’m on the board of MAPS and my family has pledged $5 million to this effort).
- Epidemics of depression, addiction, trauma and suicide that are resistant to traditional pharmacological and talk therapies.
- Michael Pollan’s excellent, widely-read and discussed writing on the subject.
- Medical cannabis, formerly stigmatized as a dangerous drug with no accepted medical use, now widely being accepted as a safe effective medicine for numerous acute and chronic conditions.
- Ketamine now being widely used for depression at clinics, and also the go-to anesthetic / dissociative for military paramedics dealing with acute injury.
- The successful and relatively non-controversial decriminalization campaign in Denver of mushrooms, followed by broader decriminalization of plant medicines in Oakland. Many more cities are expected to follow suit in 2020.
- Johns Hopkins recent launch of a new Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research (thank you Tim Ferriss!).
- All the other rock star leaders and efforts to communicate the safety and efficacy of psychedelic therapy and wisdom of plant medicine traditions over the past couple of decades, in the face of drug war hysteria and misinformation.
Considering the broader movement
I want to acknowledge the concern from various quarters in the research community invested in the FDA approval process—that Oregon’s ballot measure goes too far too fast, and threatens to create a cultural and regulatory backlash against all the progress they are making, much like occurred in the 60’s. This is largely a strategic concern, as I know that most of these researchers are aligned in terms of the ultimate goal: we all hope for a world where psilocybin therapy is widely available and accessible to all people, in responsible supervised therapeutic contexts (except for those with contra-indications like schizophrenia). Their clinical research itself is informed and inspired by the incredible work and experience of the underground psychedelic therapy community, as well as the long history of safe ceremonial indigenous use. This was certainly a legitimate concern during the height of the War on Drugs, when only careful methodical research, mostly conducted under the radar, could chart a path and make the progress we made.
But Tom and Sheri accurately see that the cultural tide is shifting, and that now is the time for a responsible measure like PSI 2020 that creates a safe, strictly regulated environment to bring the underground therapy movement aboveground, and provides an example outside of the traditional pharma model for responsible regulated adult access to psilocybin therapy. It’s also important to understand that the state ballot measure process is the only political mechanism that exists for providing this kind of broad responsible adult access. Much like the medical cannabis trajectory, passing this measure will invite federal officials to consider tolerating a responsible innovation in state law via our federalist states’ rights system, even where those state policies differ from federal policy.
Steve Ross directs the Psychedelic Research Group at NYU, where he is the principal investigator of psilocybin therapy trials for end-of-life anxiety, and closely involved in the studies for alcoholism, smoking cessation and religious professionals, and knows better than anyone both how effective this therapy is and what the mood of the FDA is. At a recent lecture series I helped organize, Steve expressed confidence in his presentation that neither Denver and Oakland’s Decriminalize Nature campaigns nor Oregon’s more careful and responsible therapeutic model, will have any effect whatsoever on the ongoing research that the FDA welcomes and authorizes in this space, or their approval of psilocybin therapy after phase 3 studies conclude. In fact, I believe a resounding yes vote by Oregonians affirming their right to access responsible psilocybin therapy will only galvanize research and interest, and send a clear message to federal regulators to allow Oregon’s program to go into effect without federal interference, much like state medical cannabis programs that also technically conflict with federal law.
Dr. Bronner’s also supports the decriminalization of mushrooms as an important incremental step to liberate this powerful medicine from draconian drug warrior control, and we were one of the top contributors to the Decriminalize Denver campaign. We are sympathetic to the idea of including decriminalization of mushrooms as a secondary adjunct to the existing Psilocybin Therapy portion of the Oregon measure. However, we also need to be careful as a society that this powerful medicine is integrated responsibly and carefully, and that we optimize therapeutic healing outcomes for those most in need. Even people otherwise deeply experienced with psychedelics have no idea how powerful and healing a high-dose, carefully-prepared for and supervised therapeutic session can be—going inward with a blindfold, together with a trusted facilitator holding space, allowing patients to fully release into the experience. The therapeutic context developed by leading researchers at John Hopkins and NYU also minimizes what can be real bad experiences when people take this powerful medicine in uncontrolled environments, or without the proper internal preparation. Its also important to note that under Denver and Oakland’s decriminalization policy, it is still illegal to grow and sell mushrooms; purity and quality of medicine is not regulated; and in the case of Oakland, sustainable sourcing of peyote isn’t addressed (e.g., the strain placed on peyote gardens in Texas that are already in crisis is not taken into account). Oregon’s Psilocybin Service Initiative creates a regulated framework for psilocybin therapy that will be fully legal under state law, from production and testing to delivery and administration in licensed supervised facilities.
That said, no one should go to jail for simply possessing mushrooms outside such a facility. But we were made aware by our allies at the Drug Policy Alliance that they were contemplating a separate broad-based health-based approach to drug addiction in Oregon through a separate measure. Hopefully treatment options will soon also include psilocybin therapy, which has shown so much promise in early trials on smoking cessation and alcoholism. Aside from public health, broad-based decriminalization is also a social justice issue. It’s a means to ending mass incarceration that disproportionately impacts people of color. As a society, we need to be able to give people the help they need without destroying their lives and families. This is a much bigger concern than decriminalizing mushrooms, which are less than 0.0001% of the problem within the War on Drugs. The Drug Policy Alliance is exploring ideas that will shift Oregon policy on drug addiction to a health versus criminal approach like in Portugal. We are in solidarity with our allies at DPA on this and feel that the two campaigns perfectly complement each other, in that one of the most promising areas of psilocybin therapy is helping people end destructive patterns of emotion and thought, helping them care about their lives and the lives of those around them, and end powerful addictions to substances.
I made a handy chart here to summarize the pro’s and con’s of the FDA approval route, versus the Decriminalize Nature route that was taken in Denver and Oakland, versus what I believe to be the visionary direction that the Oregon PSI 2020 campaign is taking. The reality is that they all will proceed side by side in our culture, ultimately being complementary and helpful to one another. For all these reasons, my expectation is that movement concerns about Oregon’s measure will rapidly evaporate in favor of a broad consensus that this is indeed a strategic tightly-regulated and well-timed model to introduce into the culture, of responsible adult access to psilocybin therapy outside the pharma medical system. This measure is at the leading edge of the psychedelic therapeutic renaissance, and we should join together to restore hope, health and joy to so many of our suffering brothers and sisters. All-One!