Decriminalize Denver – Initiative’s Focus on Mushrooms NOT Molecules

The city of Denver has received considerable attention because it stands to become the first US city to decriminalize magic mushrooms. See, e.g., CNN article by Mallory Hughes and Jacqueline Howard, updated January 9, 2019.

The effort at decriminalizing magic mushrooms in Denver is being led by an organization called Decriminalize Denver. Kevin Matthews is the campaign manager of Decriminalize Denver.  See Mr. Mathews statement on behalf of Decriminalize Denver. Mr. Matthews was interviewed by Psychedelics Today on December 4, 2018.  As discussed in greater detail below, Decriminalize Denver appears to be leveraging recent scientific studies (showing the benefits of psilocybin) to support the argument that magic mushrooms containing psilocybin should be decriminalized.

Points from the Decriminalize Denver Webpage

  • The group is seeking support for their “Denver Psilocybin Decriminalization Initiative,” which will come to a vote on May 7, 2019.
  • “We envision a society where individuals can use psilocybin mushrooms without fear of criminal or civil penalties.”
  • As the first of its kind in the US, our ballot initiative serves as a framework for psilocybin mushroom legislative reform.
  • Psilocybin is shown to: Reduce psychological stress and suicidality; Reduce opioid use and dependence; Be physiologically safe and non-addictive.
  • As the first of its kind in the US, our ballot initiative serves as a framework for psilocybin mushroom legislative reform.
  • Psilocybin, the active ingredient found in psychedelic mushrooms, has been shown to be effective at treating various disorders and diseases
  • The bottom line is that no one should face severe criminal penalties for possessing, using, or cultivating a naturally-occurring substance.
  • On May 7th the city will vote to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms

The text of the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative can be found here.

Points from the Language of the Initiative

  • “Shall the voters of the City and County of Denver adopt an ordinance to the Denver Revised Municipal Code that would make the personal use and personal possession of psilocybin mushrooms by persons twenty-one (21) years of age and older the city’s lowest law-enforcement priority, prohibit the city from spending resources to impose criminal penalties for the personal use and personal possession of psilocybin mushrooms by persons twenty-one (21) years of age and older, and establish the psilocybin mushroom policy review panel to assess and report on the effects of the ordinance?
  • according to the Global Drug Survey 2017, psilocybin is the safest of all recreational drugs
  • “The purpose and intent of this article is to: 1) deprioritize, to the greatest extent possible, imposition of criminal penalties on persons twenty-one (21) years of age and older for the personal use and personal possession of psilocybin mushrooms; and 2) prohibit the City and County of Denver from spending resources on imposing criminal penalties on persons twenty-one (21) years of age and older for the personal use and personal possession of psilocybin mushrooms.
  • Psilocybin mushrooms shall mean fungal matter containing psilocybin, psilocin, baeocystin, or nor-baeocystin.

Conclusions – Decriminalize Mushrooms Because of Evidence about the Molecules they Contain.

Based on the language in the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative, Decriminalize Denver is clearly seeking to decriminalize mushrooms (i.e., fungal matter) that contain psilocybin derivatives.  Despite some language referring to psilocybin (i.e., “Denver Psilocybin Decriminalization Initiative”) on the webpage, all of the proposed decriminalization language unambiguously focuses on the naturally occurring organisms — not synthetic molecules. (By comparison, see COMPASS Pathways Access to Synthetic Psilocybin and/or Jeff Shipley, proposing medical use of psychedelics by referring to molecules).

Notably, the benefits sited in support of the Denver Initiative all pertain to psilocybin, the molecule.  Why? Because all of the research has focused exclusively on this one molecule — psilocybin– not the cocktail of molecules contained in “magic mushrooms.” See, e.g., Taking Pure Psilocybin is Different from Eating Magic Mushrooms.

Although consuming magic mushrooms produces markedly different effects vis-a-vis pure psilocybin, those differences have not been scientifically studied. This leaves questions as to whether magic mushrooms provide the same clinical benefits as pure psilocybin?  Arguably, magic mushrooms could provide superior clinical effects. Recent work in the cannabis industry provides a good analogy: Consuming pure THC provides significantly different pharmacological and clinical effects compared to consuming a full spectrum cannabis extract.  See, e.g., Entourage Effect.  On the other hand,  consuming magic mushrooms has been linked to some side effects (e.g., paralysis) that are not observed with pure psilocybin.

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