By Charles G. Lief
Please support Proposition 122, the Natural Medicine Act (NMHA). This will result in two main changes to the laws governing several natural medicines, including psilocybin. The first change decriminalizes the personal use and possession of drugs by people over the age of 21. The second allows for the creation of a regulated program of natural medicine services including rules regarding the growth, distribution and sale of drugs to licensed entities. Many other states are considering similar legislation, which has already been passed in Oregon.
Decriminalization is a societal decision to allocate law enforcement resources away from the control of adults’ personal use of certain substances. Denver has already decriminalized the personal possession of psilocybin, the use of which has been part of the spiritual practices of indigenous communities for millennia.
The focus of this commentary is the second impact of the NMHA, the creation of a regulated means for trained and licensed facilitators to deliver the drugs, starting with psilocybin. This recognizes the significant scientifically validated beneficial impact that carefully managed use has on a variety of mental health conditions often unrelieved by standard pharmaceuticals. These include depressive disorder, terminal illness anxiety, and PTSD. There are several FDA-approved clinical trials using psychedelic drugs with promising results.
The Colorado Division of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) will be responsible for creating a regulated access program.
Building on nearly 50 years of training licensed counselors and chaplains, and in anticipation of the growing legal use of drugs, Naropa University’s Center for Psychedelic Therapies trains clinicians (therapists, doctors and nurses ) as well as chaplains and social workers, to the use of these important drugs. We will also train other facilitators in accordance with individual national regulations.
Unlike currently available medications that often require years of use, with frequent harmful side effects, research shows that using psilocybin in just a few guided sessions can have a lasting impact. A leading researcher, Roland Griffiths Ph.D. professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found that “psilocybin not only produces significant and immediate effects, it also has a long duration, which suggests that it may be a particularly useful new treatment for depression”.
Well-directed drug use has two important components. The first is the basic need for ‘integration’, one or more facilitated, drug-free sessions in which the client’s experiences and ideas are explored.
Second, recognize what training and experiential skills are required for a multi-hour guided psilocybin session. Being with a client this long requires facilitators to know how to stay focused and understand how to provide a safe environment while allowing the medicine user the freedom to connect deeply with the transformative experiences resulting from the medicine session. The skill of being “present” is not easy to learn and requires personal discipline of mindfulness and compassion which is at the heart of Naropa’s educational approach for undergraduate, graduate and professional education. .
Another outcome will be a breakthrough in equitable access to mental health care, essential in the face of a mental health crisis. Conventional treatments for serious mental disorders are likely to be intensive and frequent therapy sessions and expensive pharmaceuticals. Such treatment is limited to those with wealth or good insurance. Even the best insurance policies are criticized for limiting mental health benefits. If we continue to see that a few guided sessions with relatively inexpensive medication have an impact, many more people will be able to afford treatment and insurers will be more motivated to provide coverage. The NMHA will also allow facilitators who are not licensed clinicians to be certified as guides for a natural medicine session, after full training and supervision, increasing access.
Coloradans have the opportunity to move to the forefront of highly promising mental health treatment modalities rooted in herbal medicines, carefully regulated and equitably available. As one veteran, diagnosed with PTSD after serving in Afghanistan after undergoing psychedelic-assisted therapy, said, “It allowed me to address things that I was not willing to address, and it honestly changed my life. I think I left my PTSD behind during these sessions. I am no longer destructive or closed off. I got my life back.
Please vote “yes” on proposition 122.
Charles G. Lief is the president of Naropa University.