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Pennsylvania could become a leader in the research of magic mushrooms for mental health treatment. Photo: Alexander Volkov

PA to consider legalizing magic mushrooms to treat mental illness

Like marijuana, the psilocybin in mushrooms could be an effective aid for PTSD, depression and more.

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Pennsylvania could become a trailblazer in studying psilocybin as treatment for mental illness under a bill that was introduced last month in the House of Representatives, and is scheduled for a Health Committee vote Tuesday, Nov. 16 in Harrisburg. 

The proposed legislation, the Public Health Benefits of Psilocybin Act, would establish a structure for clinical studies of psilocybin, the active ingredient in the psychedelic drug known as magic mushrooms. 

This would give researchers a loophole to bypass federal rules that still classify the substance as not having any medical purposes, despite the growing evidence showing that it does. 

Experts and advocates said that even if the bill is never signed into law, its introduction is a good sign that psilocybin could potentially become a therapeutic treatment for PTSD, serious cases of depression and more. 

Last year, Oregon residents voted to decriminalize and legalize therapeutic use of the substance and Texas recently approved studying psychedelic therapy for military veterans. 

Republican Tracy Pennycuick of Montgomery County and Democrat Jennifer O’Mara of Delaware County are interested in the benefits of psychedelic medicine in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and other mental illnesses, particularly for veterans, first responders and their families. 

“A growing body of research provides a reason for hope that psilocybin, administered in a controlled setting, will be the most effective tool at our disposal to combat the suicide, opioid and overall mental health crisis burdening the commonwealth,” Pennycuick and O’Mara wrote in a memo to colleagues. 

In October 2018 and again in November 2019, the U.S, Food and Drug Administration granted psilocybin breakthrough therapy designation for treatment-resistant depression based on research showing that the psychedelic compound offered significant improvement of depressive symptoms when compared to current treatments. 

Under the bill, which was formally filed with 19 cosponsors on Wednesday, Oct. 6, the state Department of Health would authorize at least two entities to “plant, grow and cultivate natural psilocybin mushroom product solely for use in the clinical studies of psilocybin.” 

Pennycuick herself is an Army veteran who lives with PTSD. She told Marijuana Moment that she has “great compassion for all those searching for treatment options,” and is inspired by the initial reports she’s read on the potential effectiveness of the compound. 

“With Pennsylvania being home to the fourth largest population of veterans in the United States, it only makes sense we are among the first to take action on clinical studies that could help our military men and women,” she said.

Brett Waters, a New York lawyer who founded Reason for Hope, a nonprofit that advocates for psychedelics-assisted psychotherapy, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the current treatments for PTSD and depression are not very effective. 

“It has limited efficacy for some people and no efficacy for many people. We need to do better. The real purpose of this effort is to prevent suicides, opioid overdose, and alcohol-related deaths,” Waters said. 

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