Under the informational overdose of the US presidential elections, interesting things have happened in some states of that country. Without going any further, Oregon has become the first to legalize “magic mushrooms” (psilocybin) for therapeutic use. From the outset, it may seem like something foreign to us, but as soon as we reflect on the matter we realize that, under a discreet vote in a remote US state, it hides a trailer for what’s to come.
And it is that for more than a decade, the US has become the spearhead of a social, economic and political change in our relationship with drugs that has ended up entering the Spanish public debate. Therefore, the case of Oregon is interesting beyond its character of “laboratory mouse” and allows us see live and direct how tensions between biomedical sciences and legislation can create difficult problems to solve.
“Magic mushrooms”? “Psilocybin”? Therapeutic use?
Lets start by the beginning. Psilocybin is, along with psilocin, one of the best known hallucinogenic triptamine alkaloids. Although they were initially located in the fungi of the genus Psilocybe, there are almost a hundred other species that also synthesize it. Its consumption produces mydriasis, muscle relaxation, lack of concentration and, this is what has traditionally interested us, visual and auditory hallucinations without loss of consciousness.
Even though for decades it has been one of the “great” recreational drugsIt is true that if we look back it seems that it had a prominent role in some rituals typical of the Amerindian medical systems. Perhaps that is why, following Youyou Tu’s trail with traditional Chinese medicine, in recent years, several top-level university teams have wondered if it could also play a role in modern medicine.
In fact, if we rummage through the available research we can see that there is a growing number of jobs who find psilocybin an interesting ally to treat emotional illnesses such as depression or stress. Especially those linked to other chronic diseases such as cancer.
However, the studies are small and the effect sizes are modest. Partly because their use and possession was illegal, the investigation related to psilocybin finds itself unable to pay the checks its most enthusiastic advocates keep writing at the media level. It is something interesting and worthy of study, but it is far from becoming a therapeutic option for use. In fact, in the vast majority of countries in the world (if not all) even if it were legalized, it could not be used as treatment: it is not authorized.
A legal battle that goes beyond what science says
This is also the case in Oregon. To this day it is not clear how this legalization of therapeutic use will work. It is in the hands of the State Health Authority to implement the regulatory mechanisms and sanitary measures to allow the cultivation, distribution and sale of psilocybin. Because we do not have, we do not even have clear treatment guidelines to which we can adapt. A therapeutic use has been approved that we do not know what it consists of.
This is logical because, in the US for example, both the FDA (the health authority) and the DEA (the administration for drug control) must approve any investigation with psychedelic drugs regardless of what the State in question says. This has prevented the country’s National Institutes of Health from doing studies large enough to support the therapeutic use of this drug.
This social and legislative pressure to approve uses that are not proven is bittersweet. On the one hand, it lays the foundations for the necessary studies to be carried out. But on the other hand, as it happened at the time with other drugs, often what is attempted is legalization de facto of recreational uses which has the consequence of creating a climate of misinformation about the potential and real dangers of using the drug in question.
This is why Oregon is important: its success or failure will mark the near future of an industry that, as in the case of marijuana, may be much more important than we can imagine.
Image | Michael fousert