May 31, 2023 - Health

Magic mushrooms go mainstream in Colorado

Illustration of a mushroom with the top made from a human brain

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Fungi are ready for their close-up.

Driving the news: After Coloradans voted to legalize psilocybin in 2022, "magic mushrooms" are now becoming more mainstream, with a first-of-its-kind study and a national psychedelic conference on the horizon.

State of play: The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora this month announced it would launch the first modern-era psilocybin clinical trial for depression this fall.

Details: The hospital is working with the Food and Drug Administration on the study, though the federal government classifies psilocybin mushrooms as a Schedule 1 narcotic.

  • It's grouped with the most serious category of illicit drugs, including heroin and cocaine.

The intrigue: Gov. Jared Polis last week signed a bill implementing Proposition 122, which allows people 21 and older to grow and share magic mushrooms.

  • The bill also creates a regulated therapy system for medicinal use β€” establishing "healing centers" for people to use psilocybin under supervision β€” and removes criminal penalties for personal possession.

Of note: The Psychedelic Science 2023 conference in Denver next month is expected to draw some 10,000 people to discuss research, education and policy, according to a statement.

Zoom in: The UC Health study will focus on psilocybin, the chemical compound found in magic mushrooms, and test whether it can help with treatment-resistant depression, according to the hospital.

  • Roughly 21 million adults in the U.S. (or about 8%) had at least one depressive episode in 2020, according to the National Institute of Mental Health β€” but only about 66% of adults received treatment for depression in 2020.

Details: Providing more access to treatment and developing new medications is another key reason for the UC Health study.

  • It can take months to find the right medication and dosage to help treat symptoms, while past studies have suggested psychedelics like psilocybin mushrooms can help treat disorders including depression.

What they're saying: "Instead of having to go through months and months of trying to find the right medication and having the chance of not responding, the hope is that many people will respond to psilocybin," CU medical school neuroscientist Scott Thompson told the hospital's publication.


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