Awareness of psychedelic therapies has emerged in the West with celebrity coverage such as the Netflix documentary, "Have A Good Trip," showing entheogenic compounds are no longer a social anomaly. Though, cannabis still faces issues federally while the decriminalization of these plants and fungi is working on a state-by-state basis. With the overwhelming promise in psychedelic research, grassroots communities and the state legislature are pushing to end the war on drugs. As these efforts begin to progress, these historically healing plants have a cultural and indigenous foundation to uphold.
THE GRASS COULD BE GREENER
Cannabis has demonstrated instrumental therapeutic effects prompting its legalization in many states. Research on cannabinoids, CBD, and THC has shown effective results in treating chronic pain, chemotherapy symptoms, HIV and AIDS, and appetite in cancer and anorexia patients. Cannabis has also shown promise in treating Multiple Sclerosis (M.S.), gut-related disorders, epilepsy, and other disorders. With that, it's no surprise cannabis has become a billion-dollar industry with its legalization. The latest cannabis research has shown cannabis can trigger breakthrough mystical experiences similar to those in psilocybin studies. With the potential to positively impact many lives, in 2012, Colorado became the first state in the United States to legalize the recreational use and sale of cannabis. Shortly after that, support for legalization rose, and recreational marijuana became legal in about 20 states– with Washington D.C. and Guam following suit. Despite marijuana being illegal at the federal level, support for marijuana legalization has become mainstream, and some state legislatures are still deciding if and how to legalize it. Several marijuana-related bills, including those aiming for federal decriminalization, have since been introduced in Congress.
Meanwhile, the pressure on federal legalization hits the V.A. Millions of American veterans consume cannabis, with 1 in 4 using it to treat a mental or physical condition. Due to the lack of federal recognition of marijuana, veterans have to account for their medical expenses. Currently, many bills are hoping to fight these issues, including laws to protect veterans from legal criminalization. The Chair of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee approved a bill to instruct the V.A. to research cannabis for treatment in depression, PTSD, chronic pain, and other ailments. However, the V.A. rejected, claiming they don't intend to expand its cannabis research, despite the push from Congress, doctors, and veterans. Currently, the V.A. continues to deny cannabis recommendations to veterans in 36 states that allow medical marijuana, leaving veterans to pay all costs out of pocket.
To add to legality issues, confusion over hemp-derivative Delta-8 has risen since the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp in the U.S. In this bill, hemp is a derivative of cannabis with a THC concentration of less than 0.3 percent. However, Delta-8, a naturally occurring substance in the Cannabis sativa plant, has psychoactive effects similar to THC but is manufactured from CBD. Delta-8 supporters argue that as long as Delta-8 products are also within this threshold, it should be legal. As of August 2021, around 20 states had either limited use or banned Delta-8 in some capacity. Texas announced a restriction in October but was temporarily put on hold while several other states reviewed Delta-8's legal status. In terms of where Delta-8 is legal, things are still unclear.
A MODEL FOR THE FUTURE
Ketamine, currently the only psychedelic legal for clinical use, may be prescribed by licensed practitioners for various mental health conditions like treatment-resistant depression and PTSD. Some patients have also shown an improvement in reducing suicidal ideation after receiving ketamine treatment. Since the FDA's approval of Spravato, a nasal spray that contains a ketamine derivative, interest in ketamine has skyrocketed. Ketamine clinics across the globe are becoming models for the future of psychedelic therapy. Psychedelic pioneers like Field Trip are providing medically guided, psychedelic therapy sessions.
More movement in the potential of ketamine booms as Entheon Biomedical began recruitment for a clinical research study to determine the electro-neurophysiologic effects or the brain activity change in response to ketamine. What's more, is Novamind, a leading mental health company specializing in psychedelic medicine, has obtained approval from four major health insurance providers like Blue Cross Blue Shield. This progress allows patients using ketamine for treatment-resistant depression (TRD) to access direct billing by their insurance to pay for ketamine treatment. As the frontrunners in psychedelic therapy, ketamine is showing rapid progress for the future of alternative therapeutic therapies.
With clinical use demonstrating effective results in the benefits of psychedelics, decriminalization efforts have surged. Promising studies from organizations like Johns Hopkins and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) have found that psychedelics like psilocybin have therapeutic benefits in treating several conditions, including anxiety and depression, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and alcoholism. As these traditional medicines emerge as potential breakthrough therapies in the West, decriminalization efforts are underway across the U.S. The push for the decriminalization of entheogens by community-based groups, non-profits, and businesses has begun to make progress. These efforts usher the importance that decriminalization includes protecting individual rights to consume these substances. Doing so provides safer access to substances that are already widely available on the unpermitted market and broadens the cultural and therapeutic potential of these consciousness-expanding medicines.
Already, we see support to end the war on drugs at a state and communal level. Following Seattle, Denver, Washington DC, Santa Cruz, and Oakland, the state of Oregon have already decriminalized certain psychedelics. Meanwhile, California remains on the edge of its bill to decriminalize all psychedelics– needing only a vote from its House of Representatives and its Governor's autograph to become a law. In the meantime, the Los Angeles County District Attorney, George Gascon, requests courts to refrain from prosecuting drug possession offenses. At the same time of these decriminalization efforts, injustice brought on those who have suffered criminal convictions involving psychedelics still remain. Local organizations focus their efforts to successfully pass resolutions to remove criminal penalties for possession, cultivation, and sharing of entheogens. The Last Prisoner Project leads the way in balancing the criminal justice system in cannabis through legal intervention, public education, and legislative advocacy.
More recently, Detroit voters passed Proposal E, an effort to decriminalize possession and therapeutic use of entheogens, making them the lowest priority of law enforcement. Moreover, Ann Arbor City voted to decriminalize the use of certain entheogens, including ibogaine, ayahuasca, magic mushrooms, and other hallucinogens. Becoming the fourth Massachusetts city to vote to decriminalize the possession of many psychedelic substances, Easthampton official's say the use and cultivation of some entheogens are now among the lowest law enforcement priorities. With so much movement at the grassroots level, it proves to be a historic time in the shift of political perspective and the direction of drug policy.
ADVANCEMENTS IN PSILOCYBIN
Federal Research in psychedelics continues as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently gave its first federal grant for psychedelic research in 50 years to John Hopkins. The grant aims to support research on the impact of psilocybin on tobacco addiction. This hallucinogenic compound in magic mushrooms has repeatedly displayed potential as a breakthrough therapy. Psilocybin has shown to have long-lasting and clinically significant therapeutic effects in treating many mental disorders, such as major depressive disorder, OCD, and anxiety, with interest in this compound only gaining momentum. Compass Pathways commences the largest-ever psilocybin study with concluding it as a highly effective therapy for treatment-resistant depression. Adding to these discoveries, psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy has been shown to positively impact both cognitive and neural flexibility in patients with major depressive disorder.
With this, researchers are now taking notice of psilocybin as a potential treatment in neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease (A.D.) and Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). They're finding promising results suggesting psilocybin may affect neurogenesis and neuroplasticity and reduce inflammation in the brain. Eleusis, a psychedelic research company, is currently conducting a clinical trial studying the effects of microdosing LSD in patients with Alzheimer's. Equally, John Hopkins' Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research has also announced a study investigating psychedelic-assisted therapy to treat depression in people with Alzheimer's disease. Meanwhile, some companies are already researching applications for delivering psilocybin. PharmaTher's research program completed its first clinical study to develop a suitable prototype of the MicroDose-MN™ patch, a proprietary microneedle patch for the intradermal delivery of psilocybin. As decriminalization and research efforts continue, psilocybin is proving to be the next therapeutic advancement in mental health.
HONORING THE WISDOM
With the ongoing clinical research, decriminalization efforts, and rapid entrepreneurial and communal movement in psychedelics, concerns about indigenous reciprocity have been understandably raised. Investment opportunities in psychedelics have many wondering if indigenous communities will receive prioritization to this movement. As the cannabis industry showed massive commercialization upon decriminalization, upholding these plant medicines' indigenous and traditional efforts must be a significant priority. Indigenous communities have in-depth knowledge and understanding of these entheogens. Many cultures communicate with the plants directly, receiving valuable insight. Institutions that uplift and prioritize indigenous cultures support psychedelics' future by giving back to those who founded the long-standing traditions that form the basis of psychedelic therapies. Foundations like Woven Science's El Puente focus on achieving just that by connecting psychedelic pharmaceutical companies with indigenous peoples using psychedelic medicines in traditional practice. The organization recently released a policy paper and corporate social responsibility initiative exploring how public policy makers in collaboration with companies can offer indigenous communities influence over product development, consumer preferences, profit sharing, and public perception. While measures to make psychedelics accessible are underway, we must ensure our approach and efforts go back into the cultures who brought these medicines to the West.
Article written by: Bre Jenkins of INWRD
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