Aspen electeds just say no to pushing magic mushrooms for therapy
Aspen City Council members say it’s not municipal government’s place to advocate for psilocybin mushrooms as part of psychedelic therapy
The majority of Aspen City Council on Monday shot down any notion that the municipal government ought to join the movement to promote psychedelic-assisted therapies as suggested by Councilman Skippy Mesirow.
Specifically, psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient found in mushrooms, remains a schedule 1 drug by the federal government, and Aspen has no place in attempting to remove that classification, council members agreed during a work session.
“I don’t want to be on the bleeding edge on this one,” said Councilwoman Rachel Richards, adding it’s for agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, the Colorado Public Health and Environment and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to sort out. “I think there could be some beneficial uses for people and I would support allowing such treatments within our community when there have been federal protocols developed and it is a monitored practice in the appropriate safe settings.”
Mesirow first introduced the concept of psychedelic-assisted therapies along with psychotherapy to help with mental health issues, whether it’s suicidal thoughts, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or addiction.
“I brought this forward because our community has had a mental health crisis for a long time,” Mesirow told his fellow council members on Monday, making a case for Aspen to use the world stage and take a leadership role in healing, mental illness and mental health. “We have four X the national suicide rate, we have two to three times the rate of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and COVID has made this stuff worse.”
The use of illicit psychedelics, which also includes MDMA, known as “molly” or “ecstasy,” to treat mental health disorders has been happening for decades and, in some cases, centuries around the world.
In recent years, clinical trials have been launched and proven effective in treating those with mental health and addiction disorders.
“I ended up having several friends whose lives were changed, if not saved, by these therapies and I ended up following their lead and having my own experiences with these therapies that were absolutely life altering,” Mesirow said.
He said he wasn’t interested in decriminalizing psilocybin but wanted the city to champion the movement going forward.
His colleagues agreed that the municipal government has other priorities but encouraged Mesirow to move forward with a working group of those leading the effort.
“I do think this would really be prime for a non-governmental task force,” Councilman Ward Hauenstein said. “I don’t want City Council to be involved in this, but I certainly encourage Skippy’s involvement not as a representative of city government.”
Hauenstein added that the city chooses not to enforce possession of mushrooms, citing only one arrest for possession in the past few years.
Councilwoman Ann Mullins agreed that the city of Aspen is not the entity to promote psychedelic-assisted therapies, although there is optimistic research showing efficacy, yet there are potential risks.
“(I support) reaffirming support for continued research … but in terms of the city taking a firmer stand, I don’t think that is our role or that it would be effective and that staff time should be devoted to going much further than this,” she said.
Voters in the city and county of Denver passed an initiative in in 2019 that revised the municipal code so that the personal use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms of those 21 years or older was the local law enforcement’s lowest priority.
It also prohibited the city from spending resources to impose criminal penalties for the personal use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms.
Voters also approved allowing a sober sitter or guide on hand to steward a person through their experience, and establish a psilocybin mushroom policy review panel to assess and report on the effects of the ordinance.
Established in 2020, Denver’s Psilocybin Mushroom Policy Review Panel as part of Initiative 301 is expected to make recommendations this year on progressive policies to Denver City Council, including the ability to share the drug.
The panel also is expected establish a working group to explore a psilocybin research site for first responders and military veterans struggling with PTSD.
Oakland, California, has enacted similar legislation, and the state of Oregon also has taken measures to create programs to permit health care providers to administer psilocybin.
Aspen Mayor Torre agreed with council members that the city is supportive of ongoing clinical trials monitored by professionals and that they continue to investigate the efficacy of the practice.
“I would really advocate that on the state level,” he said. “This is more of a legal issue than a health issue.”
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