Citing therapeutic benefits, Vermont lawmakers begin campaign to decriminalize magic mushrooms
A growing coalition of Vermont lawmakers is setting the stage for passage of legislation next year that would decriminalize the possession of psilocybin and establish guidelines for its use in therapeutic settings.
At a press conference in the Statehouse on Thursday, Stannard Rep. Chip Troiano said he introduced the bill earlier this session after learning that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs had launched clinical trials to study the effectiveness of psilocybin — the psychotropic compound in “magic mushrooms” — as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, opioid dependency and serious mental health conditions.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins have found that psilocybin therapy “relieved major depressive order symptoms” in adults for up to a year. The university has since launched the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research.
“When I saw that the VA was willing to look into this as a therapeutic mode, I thought this is just another tool in the toolbox that we can use to provide assistance from veterans who come back from war and suffer from post-traumatic stress,” said Troiano, a combat veteran who suffered from PTSD.
“The process of engaging in therapeutic psilocybin use is not as simple as using a drug, but is a carefully guided and supported process where people can heal from the wounds that they have experienced."Chittenden County Sen. Tanya Vyhovsky
The bill would decriminalize the possession of psilocybin and the mushrooms that contain it. It would also establish a committee of health professionals to make recommendations to the Legislature on how Vermont could move forward with a state-sanctioned psilocybin therapy.
The legislation is modeled in part on an initiative in Oregon, which decriminalized psilocybin in 2020. State health officials there are expected issue licenses later this year to providers who will be able to offer psilocybin treatment to patients.
Rick Barnett, a clinical psychologist and addiction specialist in Stowe, said evidence of psilocybin’s therapeutic benefits has become irrefutable.
“The research is unparalleled,” he said.
Barnett, along with a group of other health professionals, founded the Vermont Psychedelic Society of Vermont to raise awareness about the benefits of psilocybin use. He said the tryptamines in psilocybin target the same serotonin receptor that conventional antidepressant medications do.
Whereas patients have to take antidepressants every day, however, Barnett said psilocybin can be administered in one to three eight-hour dosing periods over the course of a year.
“There’s no neuro-adaption. There’s no particular tolerance that’s built. There’s no withdrawal symptoms that are built,” Barnett said. “And so it’s a very, very different way of working with the serotonin mechanisms in the brain.”
Sen. Tanya Vyhovsky, a clinical social worker, said she’s seen psilocybin induce dramatic transformations in people suffering from a range of conditions.
“The process of engaging in therapeutic psilocybin use is not as simple as using a drug, but is a carefully guided and supported process where people can heal from the wounds that they have experienced,” she said.
Troiano said that based on conversations with fellow lawmakers in both the House and Senate, he’s optimistic the bill will pass in the 2024 legislative session.
“I think it’s gained momentum,” he said.
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