Decriminalize Plant Medicine in New Haven
Message for the Board of Alders
Thank you for your service to our community. I strongly support New Haven passing a measure to officially designate arrests for growing and non-commercially sharing psilocybin mushrooms and related plant medicines as the lowest priority for law enforcement. Eight New England communities, including Cambridge and Salem, have passed these measures citing that a single use of psilocybin can reduce the risk of opiate addiction by 40% (Journal of Psychopharmacology, Sample Size 44,000).
This FDA designated breakthrough therapy for depression is non-addictive and ranked the safest of all controlled substances (The Lancet, Multivariate Analysis). Our community will help destigmatize these natural alternatives as a win for public safety, inspire greater public and private investment globally, and raise the profile of Yale School of Medicine's Program for Psychedelic Science.
Please let me know if you are willing to be a sponsor, and please have this conversation with your colleagues who are also receiving these letters of support from our coalition with New England Veterans for Plant Medicine.
What Are Psilocybin “Magic” Mushrooms?
Psilocybin “magic” mushrooms grow across the world, explaining their 10,000 year legacy of use spanning Ancient Greece to South America. Legal in many countries, including Jamaica and the Netherlands, we believe that communities across the United States should be educating residents about their benefits and safe use. Bay Staters for Natural Medicine (baystatersnm.org) and our partner New England Veterans for Plant Medicine (plantmedicinevets.org) has worked with the elected bodies of seven Massachusetts communities (Somerville, Cambridge, Northampton, Easthampton, Amherst, Salem and Provincetown) as well as Berkeley, CA and Portland, ME to pass measures ending arrest for growing and sharing psilocybin mushrooms and related plant medicines in favor of a public health approach.
Non-addictive and lacking the toxicity of other controlled substances, psilocybin mushrooms have been consistently shown to be the safest of any controlled substance especially when used in calm and familiar settings. A 2010 multi-variable analysis published in the Lancet found that psilocybin has the lowest-risk file of any controlled substance in terms of its social and physical side effects.
People often source psilocybin from a trusted friend. Home growers often purchase the spores legally online and buy ready-made grow bags that make it easy to get started. This culture of growing and giving is common because a single home grow results in far more mushrooms than an individual would use themselves in an entire lifetime. Most people who use psilocybin do so only once or twice in their entire lives, with approximately eight in ten surveyed reporting it had “greatly increased their overall sense of well-being or life satisfaction” and seven in ten comparing their experience in significance to the birth of their first child.
This makes psilocybin far less profitable as a commercial venture than cannabis, since psilocybin is consumed far less often, non-habit forming, and far easier for people to grow themselves than cannabis. Most people use psilocybin mushrooms at home or in nature with an experienced friend. Much like alcohol and cannabis, there exists a risk that inexperienced users of psilocybin consume a quantity greater than intended and have episodes of intense feelings. The risk of these episodes can be best mitigated through education on the proper dosing as well as supervision by a trusted friend or facilitator, a person trained or experienced in helping people achieve a calm and controlled environment for the duration of the four-to-six-hour experience. Because of their effects on the serotonin system, mushrooms are non-habit forming with a very low risk of dependency: this is because the serotonin receptors of the brain cannot facilitate a spiritual experience more than once every couple weeks for most users. Many individuals chose to “microdose,” taking only a tenth or two-tenths of a gram to experience benefits without having to experience the larger sensory changes of a “normal dose” of about two grams.
City-Level Studies of Safety
With about two dozen cities having made arrests and investigation for growing, exchanging, and possessing psilocybin the lowest priority of their police departments, there is clear evidence this approach has benefits for public health over criminalization.
In 2019, Denver became the first city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms. In late 2021, the president of the city’s Psilocybin Mushroom Policy Review Panel found that “Decriminalizing Psilocybin mushrooms in the City and County of Denver has not since created any significant public health or safety issue in the city” with no reports of hospitalizations from ingestion of mushrooms or anyone being injured from their use. In Oakland, California, which decriminalized shortly after Denver, the County Health Department reported that there were only two hospitalizations for hallucinogens—which is not a statistically significant departure from before the measure passed and could be due to random chance.
Benefits for Depression and Trauma
Nearly one in five Connecticut residents suffer from depression. Our first responders and veterans suffer rates of traumatic stress up to five times higher than the civilian population. In an average year, dozens of Connecticut veterans take their own lives by suicide—a rate significantly higher than the national suicide rate. Nearly a dozen Connecticut police officers have taken their own lives over the past three years. Clearly, our mental health care system needs to look to new innovations for treatment. Psilocybin has demonstrated benefits for depression and trauma with or without clinical use. The largest longitudinal study ever done on psilocybin use found that “Outside of clinical research settings, psilocybin is capable of producing significant and persisting changes in psychological health and wellbeing, such as reductions in anxiety, depression and alcohol misuse.”
Benefits for Addiction Treatment
Deaths from opiate overdoses are now the number one cause of death for young adults, driven by economic dislocation and social despair.14 By our estimates, we lose a loved one or neighbor in Connecticut to an overdose every four hours. A recent study of 44,000 Americans in the U.S. Journal of Psychopharmacology has found that a single use of psilocybin mushrooms is associated with a 40% reduced risk of opioid use disorder—a finding backed by a 2021 study that suggested an even stronger effect of 55%. Moreover, treatments with the related plant ibogaine help people substantially reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms and achieve sustained reduce use as well. The above table compares the addiction potential of these plant-based compounds to commonly used medication-assisted treatments (MATS) that still carry the risk of overdose—a risk that is virtually non-existent for psilocybin mushrooms.
Psilocybin mushrooms also represent an effective treatments for alcoholism and nicotine addiction. Smoking tobacco kills approximately one in five of our friends, loved ones, and neighbors in the Commonwealth while creating millions in expenses for our public health care system. A 2017 study by Johns Hopkins faculty found that smoking patients achieved an 80% abstinence rate over six months after using psilocybin in combination with therapy—a 45% higher success rate than the most effective FDA-approved smoking cessation drug. While research is stymied by federal prohibition, many studies and troves of qualitative testimonies have shown psychedelic counseling to be effective in reducing cravings for alcohol as well.
Benefits for Criminal Tendencies
By relieving spiritual trauma and substance use issues, psilocybin mushrooms and related natural hallucinogens can reduce the rate at which incarcerated people reoffend. A study of 25,000 U.S. inmates found that the single use of a naturalistic hallucinogens substantially reduced recidivism for people who had suffered substance use disorder. A 2022 study of 200,000 inmates corroborated these results, finding much lower rates of participation in vehicle theft and participation in black market drug sales after use of these compounds.
Benefits for Neurological Diseases
Psilocybin mushrooms and related hallucinogens offer an incredible path forward for neurological treatments. A rare but meaningful number of Americans suffer from “cluster headaches,” which are severe migraines that drive many to suicide or opioids for pain relief. A study by the American Academy of Neurology found that nearly eight in ten sufferers reported that psilocybin use ended the headaches; one in two reported a complete termination of symptoms going forward as well. Alzheimer’s research is yet another promising field since it commonly understood that these plants and fungi are “neurogenerative,” cultivating new cell growth in the brain.
For traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients, these plants and fungi offer hope as well and
decriminalization helps lifts the stigma that can limit the potential of longitudinal research. With over a
million Americans who have sustained brain injuries through falls, car collisions, and self-harm, better
treatments cannot come soon
enough. While studies are
often privately financed or
based on proof-of-concept
models without human
patients, there are many
qualitative examples in which
people have helped restore
their speech and motor
functions by using psilocybin
people suffering brain
damage from Lyme