Voters to decide on psilocybin ban in November

The upcoming ballot was central to more than one issue at the July 18 City Council meeting, including a proposed city-wide ban on psilocybin manufacturing and psilocybin treatment centers.

Psilocybin, a.k.a. “magic mushrooms,” have been used in the U.S. as a medical treatment for depression and anxiety since 2020, when a study published in the Journal of American Psychiatry reported the chemical treatment producing significant improvements in depression and anxiety symptoms among people undergoing life-threatening cancer treatments. It has since been used successfully to treat PTSD among combat veterans.

“The magnitude of the effect we saw was about four times larger than what clinical trials have shown for traditional antidepressants on the market,” wrote Alan Davis, Ph.D. in a Johns Hopkins Journal of Medicine report from 2020. “Because most other depression treatments take weeks or months to work and may have undesirable effects, this could be a game changer if these findings hold up in future ‘gold-standard’ placebo-controlled clinical trials.”

There are no existing permits for the manufacture or medical administration of psilocybin in Keizer. Nevertheless, City Council is taking the step of putting a proposed ban against such facilities before the voters in November. Unless they pass such an ordinance, according to City Attorney Shannon Johnson, state law will take over and no bans will be permitted. However, with a ban in place, Keizer will be able to turn down such permits in the future.

“I’ve been doing some research on this for the past few days and the one thing I can say for certain is that nobody knows much about it,” said Councilor Roland Herrera. “What I have read is that folks go in there and it’s a controlled situation – from what I’ve read it’s not something that causes a lot of issues. It really shouldn’t be compared to the [cannabis] dispensaries.”

Despite a general willingness among council members to entertain the idea if it’s a valid medical treatment and the program could be adequately explained and properly administered, they decided it was too soon for Keizer to let the issue be taken out of voter’s hands.

Psilocybin treatment centers continue to appear in communities all over the country. The issue played a small but significant role in the Oregon State Legislature’s passage of Measure 110 in 2020, called the “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act.” While that legislation focused primarily on shifting the public focus away from law enforcement and toward treatment for people struggling with drug addiction, it also provided for the expansion of newer, and more controversial, mental health treatments.

More on Measure 109 and 110.

Most people know “shrooms” have been used by indigenous peoples in rituals and as herbal medicine for centuries, but until very recently it was considered a marginally-dangerous recreational drug by most modern Americans and was listed as a schedule 1 controlled substance in the 1970s.

While it is still illegal to use it recreationally, medical patients under the supervision of a doctor are hooked up to an IV and closely observed during the six-to-eight-hour treatment. They are not released until they have fully recovered.

“The goal of psilocybin therapy is to impact emotional obstacles and long-term problems in an expedient manner by utilizing the psychedelic journey, rather than spending months or years in talk therapy slowly working through them,” said Davis.

Another former “party drug” known as Ketamine is also being administered in this fashion for depression and anxiety at the new treatment centers.

The issue for city council was primarily whether or not psilocybin-related businesses would be good or bad for the city, and several councilors said they had unanswered questions about how the industry is being administered in Oregon and how the program is being managed.

“My concern is for the kids,” said Councilor Laura Reid, who said having the substance in and around Keizer in any form presented a possible risk to youth, although she admitted it appeared to be more of a medical issue and that this might not be a realistic danger.

The council voted to approve the proposed ban except for Councilor Herrera, who voted no.

Ultimately the decision will be left to the voters.