The use of psychedelic mushrooms continues to grow in Maine — no pun intended — popping up in medical use and in the Legislature.
The growing acceptance of psilocybin, the psychedelic compound found in what are commonly called “magic mushrooms,” is reaching the state level in Maine. National scientists and researchers, too, like those from the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, backed by $17 million in funding, are working to understand the effects of the compound on the brain and studying its potential for alternative medical treatment.
The newly proposed LD 1914, “An Act to Enact the Maine Psilocybin Health Access Act,” will be in the next legislative session in June. If passed, it would remove criminal penalties for personal use of psilocybin mushrooms for Mainers 21 and over, and establish a program under the Department of Health and Human Services to access psilocybin services with the support of licensed professionals.
BJ McCollister, a political strategist with the Resurgam Group (and, until 2021, the Chief of Staff of Maine Senate President Troy Jackson), believes the bill is in a strong position to pass — and with bipartisan support.
“There’s a lot of momentum for good reason,” McCollister said. “The research shows that this is an effective tool folks should have as we battle many of the mental health crises that we confront as a society today.”
Acting as a backbone for the legislation and for continuing to educate the public on the topic, a group called the Maine Consciousness, Healing, and Living Medicine Project is hosting the second annual Maine Fungi Fest this weekend at the Holiday Inn by the Bay. The group is run by Jonathan Leavitt, who founded the pro-legalization Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative more than a decade ago. According to its site, the convention runs Friday through Sunday, and will feature informational panels and presentations “celebrating all things fungi,” including the medical benefits of psilocybin.
Dr. Dustin Sulak, a general practitioner and osteopathic physician in Maine — and also a guest at the event — said newly proposed legislation would support the psychedelic’s use in Maine. Which, he says, is already happening.
“There’s an ever-growing number of people in the state that are using psilocybin-containing mushrooms to treat their symptoms, getting good results and doing so illegally,” Sulak said. “The question is why should they need to continue to do so?”
Sulak says that according to the law, he is able to discuss psilocybin use with his patients and provide recommendations, but he and other physicians can’t legally provide it to patients. From his discussions, Sulak said he’s seeing “incredible results” from the outcomes on depression, anxiety, pain and more.
Sulak thinks there’s a good likelihood that decriminalization of psilocybin could happen in the near future, whether it’s through legislation or a peoples’ referendum. There’s already a “de-facto decriminalization” that’s happening anyway, Sulak said, as more people in the state continue to use psilocybin mushrooms and growers and retailers advertise it more.
Psilocybin is currently a “schedule X” drug in Maine, possession of which is a Class D crime, which can result in up to a $2,000 fine and a year in prison. A New York Times article from February citing the growth of psychedelic drug use also notes that the risk of using the drugs is elevated for those who are predisposed to schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
Psilocybin therapy was declared a “breakthrough therapy” by the Food and Drug Administration in 2017 for treatment-resistant depression. The FDA uses the “breakthrough therapy” designation when preliminary evidence shows that it can provide improved treatment compared to what’s readily available.
According to McCollister, Maine could lay the groundwork and be prepared for the FDA’s upcoming ruling.
“The therapy offers all the benefits of many of the prescription medications that are on the market, but the side effects are fewer or less severe,” according to McCollister.
But enshrining it into Maine law would help drive people to a safer medical model so residents can be ensured they have access to trustworthy products and facilitators that can help guide them and make the treatment that’s already pretty safe even more so.
Sulak sees precedent in the state’s new medical cannabis program.
“It’s not perfect, but we know that we can take a natural medicine and set up an infrastructure for people to use and have safe access to it,” Sulak said. “It would be very similar for mushrooms.”
Education on the topic is still key, Sulak said — which is exactly the purpose of the Fungi Fest, which is not limited to psilocybin and includes workshops on foraging for culinary mushrooms, making herbal tinctures and dyeing fabrics. The program even boasts a mushroom-themed burlesque show.
The movement to decriminalize certain psychedelics made its way to Portland last fall, when the city’s Public Safety and Health and Human Services committee heard a presentation from Decriminalize Maine, a grassroots organization working to promote the use of natural medicines.
The discussion at the committee was about decriminalizing certain psychedelics at the city level, though there was hesitation from city councilor Mark Dion, who voiced concerns about a possible citywide policy change outpacing legalization by state representatives.
But with LD 1914, state legislation could very well be in the works. If events like the Fungi Fest give us any euphoric visions about our future, Maine might see the decriminalization effort move forward in 2023.