Husband and wife Tom and Sheri Eckert of Beaverton are gathering support for a ballot measure that could help legalize psilocybin, the psychoactive substance found in so-called “magic” mushrooms, in the state of Oregon.
Two years ago, the couple decided to bring together several likeminded fungi lovers to create the Oregon Psilocybin Society, united by the goal of making the use of psilocybin legal in therapy in order to treat mental illness, addiction, and the effects of trauma. The Eckerts submitted a Psilocybin Service Initiative to the state’s Office of Legislative Counsel in January of 2017, and are currently working hard to get this measure on the ballot.
The Oregon Psilocybin Society
In 2016, the Eckerts tripped on magic mushrooms while camping in the woods. Later, the pair came to an epiphany about psilocybin. According to an open letter posted on the Eckerts’ website, the Oregon Psilocybin Society was created at the very moment the two realized they shared an “entheogenic vision.”
“As the ancient forest went dark,” explained the Eckerts, “the Golden Teachers, a noble strain of psilocybin mushrooms, came alive.”
Together, they decided to form a society dedicated to legalizing the drug they had just ingested, describing the notion as a “child of invention; a living energy conceived in psychedelic revolution for which it was designed.”
Since then, the Eckerts are working with the OPS to raise funds and awareness about psilocybin-based psychotherapy, and to collect signatures for their ballot.
Potential Benefits of Psilocybin
The Eckerts provide links on their site to a number of articles exploring recent studies and research of the benefits of psilocybin use as a part of psychotherapy, released by various sources including some popular publications like Rolling Stone, Forbes, and The New Yorker.
A 2016 article published in The New York Times, entitled “A Dose of a Hallucinogen From a ‘Magic Mushroom,’ and Then Lasting Peace” describes a recent study conducted at both Johns Hopkins and New York University wherein psilocybin was used to help relieve the emotional stress, anxiety and depression affecting cancer patients.
The experiment showed marked decreases in depression and anxiety in cancer patients that were administered a dose of psilocybin over the term of an 8-hour therapy session: the published results of the study state that 80% of patients showed “clinically significant reductions in both psychological disorders, a response sustained some seven months after a single dose.” Side effects were reported as only minimal.
Most studies listed on the OPS site show that the supervised consumption of magic mushrooms—which proliferate in our damp Oregon forests—can successfully treat numerous mental conditions including anxiety, PTSD, depression, addiction, and migraines.
In addition to listing these benefits of psilocybin on their website, the Eckerts write that some human descriptions of the psychological effects of psilocybin date back thousands of years. Like many other supporters of legalization, the Eckerts claim that archaeological evidence shows that psilocybin mushrooms—of which there are currently about 200 varieties—were likely used in many ancient healing rituals and ceremonies.
DEA Schedule and Warning
The federal government made psilocybin illegal almost 50 years ago and the fungi is considered a Schedule 1 drug, with possession carrying the penalty of anything from a state jail felony to a 1st-degree felony, punishable up to Life sentence. (Murder and aggravated assault also fall under this category).
The DEA’s drug reference publication, entitled Drugs of Abuse: A DEA Resource Guide, can be found at https://www.dea.gov/pr/
The site lists the possible risks of usage and other dangers relating to most known illegal substances, including those of psilocybin-containing mushrooms, and the reasons that this particular drug is still illegal.
“The psychological consequences of psilocybin use include hallucinations and an inability to discern fantasy from reality,” states the guide, adding that an “overdose” of psilocybin would result in “longer, more intense ‘trip’ episodes, psychosis, and possible death.”
The DEA also warns of a far greater danger—not one caused by consuming psilocybin itself, but always a risk to anyone planning to consume poisonous mushrooms—the possibility of mistakenly eating the wrong kind of mushroom, and dying from its toxic effects. “Abuse of psilocybin mushrooms could also lead to poisoning,” states the manual, “if one of the many varieties of poisonous mushrooms is incorrectly identified as a psilocybin mushroom.”
The DEA does not describe death as a side effect of consuming psilocybin but does list death as a risk factor and as the main reason for the harsh scheduling of magic mushrooms.
The benefit of having a medical professional involved in the process, as described by the Eckerts, would be that they would be able to administer the correct fungi at the correct dosage in order to avoid death from a poisonous mushroom or to the effects of an overdose. On their website, the Eckerts describe a toxic dose of psilocybin as an amount 1000 times greater than a normal threshold dose.
The DEA claims of magic mushrooms having “no therapeutic value” and creating “a high potential for abuse” may ensure that psilocybin stays illegal, whether or not the Eckert’s initiative ends up on the Oregon ballot.
Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo allowing states to make more of their own decisions regarding the state legality of the low-risk recreational drug, marijuana, it seems extremely unlikely that the federal government would ever be willing to modify the scheduling of a substance as high on the list as magic mushrooms.
The OSP’s Campaign
The Eckerts created a website to help those interested in their campaign and to educate those who want to learn more.
Both Tom and Sheri are passionate about their cause and promise that no matter what happens with the law, they will continue to educate Oregonians about the benefits of psilocybin. The more that locals learn about it, they believe, the more likely the substance could be accepted into mainstream society, especially when used as a form of psychotherapy.
The couple created a detailed plan for legalizing and regulating psilocybin, which includes deciding how the psilocybin therapy will be funded, how officials will regulate the program, and how future facilitators and therapists will be trained to ensure that a patient’s trip is safe and healthy. One of the most important aspects of that training would be granting legal protection to anyone administering psilocybin to a patient.
For more information about the Eckerts and their colleagues, visit https://www.opsbuzz.com/
By Kiki Genoa