Psychedelics

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Psychedelics Are Showing Real Promise for Treating Mental Disorders

Research presented at the American Psychological Association's annual meeting in San Francisco last weekend is illuminating the rapid advance of psychedelic science. New findings are adding to a growing mountain of evidence that psychedelics could be effective at treating a range of psychological problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and social anxiety.

The research could be laying the groundwork for legal prescribing of psychedelics including MMDA (ecstasy), ayahuasca, LSD, and psilocybin (magic mushrooms). But that's a way down the road: All of these drugs are currently illegal, classified as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act. (The two plants that combine to make ayahuasca are not illegal, but DMT, the mind-altering ingredient in ayahuasca, is.)

Researchers began studying psychedelics for their potential healing benefits after the discovery of LSD in 1943, but that research came to a screaming halt in the 1960s, when psychedelics were criminalized in the wake of their widespread adoption by the counterculture. Recent years, however, have seen an efflorescence of interest in the therapeutic benefits of the substances -- and it's starting to pay off.

"Combined with psychotherapy, some psychedelic drugs like MDMA, psilocybin, and ayahuasca may improve symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder," said Cristina L. Magalhaes, Ph.D., of Alliant International University Los Angeles, and co-chair of a symposium on psychedelics and psychotherapy. "More research and discussion are needed to understand the possible benefits of these drugs, and psychologists can help navigate the clinical, ethical and cultural issues related to their use."

In one study, researchers questioned 159 participants about their spirituality, their relationship with their own emotion, and their use of hallucinogens. Laurentian University's Adele Lafrance, Ph.D., reported that psychedelic use correlated with higher levels of spirituality, which were associated with fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression and improved emotional stability.

"This study reinforces the need for the psychological field to consider a larger role for spirituality in the context of mainstream treatment because spiritual growth and a connection to something greater than the self can be fostered," said Lafrance.

An ayahuasca study found similar results. That study suggested the drug could help relieve addiction and depression, as well as helping people cope with trauma.

"We found that ayahuasca also fostered an increase in generosity, spiritual connection, and altruism," said Clancy Cavnar, Ph.D., with the Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos (Nucleus of Interdisciplinary Psychoactive Studies).

Another study, led by Alicia Danforth, Ph.D., of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, found that a combination of psychotherapy and MMDA could treat social anxiety in adults on the autism spectrum. In that study, 12 participants with moderate to severe social anxiety twice given doses of MMDA and treated with psychotherapy, and they showed significant, long-lasting reductions in anxiety.

"Social anxiety is prevalent in autistic adults and few treatment options have been shown to be effective," said Danforth. "The positive effects of using MDMA and therapy lasted months, or even years, for most of the research volunteers."

Yet another study examined the use of psilocybin in reducing stress and anxiety in people suffering from terminal cancer. In that study, 13 subjects were given psilocybin in conjunction with psychotherapy. Researchers found that the experience helped subjects grapple with their feelings about death and develop new understandings of dying.

"Participants made spiritual or religious interpretations of their experience and the psilocybin treatment helped facilitate a reconnection to life, greater mindfulness and presence and gave them more confidence when faced with cancer recurrence," said Gabby Agin-Liebes, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Palo Alto University, who conducted the research.

After a decades-long lacuna, psychedelic science is back. How long that will take to translate into psychedelics becoming legally available by prescription remains to be seen, but the groundwork is being laid right now.

Does Microdosing Psychedelics Really Improve Your Life?

Microdosing psychedelics has been a thing for awhile now. It is the practice of ingesting drugs such as LSD or psilocybin (the stuff that puts the magic in magic mushrooms) in amounts too small to create a psychedelic experience in a bid to improve focus and creativity, boost mood, or quell anxiety.

LSD blotters. How much is a microdose? (Creative Commons)
Microdosing has developed a laudatory literature -- see Ayelet Waldman's 2017 A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life and Michael Pollan's 2018 How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence -- but next to no serious scientific study.

Until now. In findings first presented at the June Beyond Psychedelics conference in Prague (and to be published as three separate research papers later this year), University of Toronto researchers offered fascinating insights into the how, why, and results of using small amounts of psychedelics for therapeutic effects.

In a research announcement, cognitive neuroscientist and study coauthor Thomas Anderson said his interest in the topic was sparked when reviewed the scientific literature and found plenty of anecdotal reports but a lack of scientific research on the practice.

"There's currently a renaissance going on in psychedelic research with pilot trials and promising studies of full-dose MDMA (ecstasy) use for post-traumatic stress disorder and of psilocybin use within healthy populations or to treat depression and end-of-life anxiety," said Anderson. "There hasn't been the same research focus on microdosing. We didn't have answers to the most basic epidemiological questions -- who is doing this and what are they doing?"

Anderson and a team of researchers decided to do something no one had done before: ask the users themselves about their experiences. The researchers identified microdosing communities on Reddit and other social media forums and sent them an anonymous online survey asking about the quantity and frequency of their psychedelic use, reasons for microdosing, effect on mood, focus and creativity, and the benefits and drawbacks of the practice. The survey generated 1.390 initial responses, with 909 respondents answering all questions. Two-thirds of the respondents were either current or past microdosers.

"We wanted to ensure the results produced a good basis for future psychedelic science," Anderson said.

What they found was that microdosers reported positive effects, including improved focus and productivity, better connection with others, and reductions in migraines. Quantitatively, microdosers scored lower than non-microdosers on scales measuring negative emotionality and dysfunctional attitude.

Microdosers did report some drawbacks to the practice, but those were related more to the illegal status of psychedelics than to the practice itself.

"The most prevalently reported drawback was not an outcome of microdosing, but instead dealt with illegality, stigma and substance unreliability," says Anderson. "Users engage in black market criminalized activities to obtain psychedelics. If you're buying what your dealer says is LSD, it could very well be something else."

The survey did help clarify the frequency of microdosing -- most respondents reported using every three days, while a smaller group did it once a week -- and just what constituted a microdose.

"Typical doses aren't well established," said Anderson. "We think it's about 10 mcg or one-tenth of an LSD tab, or 0.2 grams of dried mushrooms. Those amounts are close to what participants reported in our data."

But accurate dosing was another problem area: "With microdoses, there should be no 'trip' and no hallucinations. The idea is to enhance something about one's daily activities, but it can be very difficult to divide a ½-cm square of LSD blotting paper into 10 equal doses. The LSD might not be evenly distributed on the square and a microdoser could accidentally 'trip' by taking too much or not taking enough," Anderson said.

"The goal of the study was to create a foundation that could support future work in this area, so I'm really excited about what these results can offer future research," he explained. "The benefits and drawbacks data will help ensure we can ask meaningful questions about what participants are reporting. Our future research will involve running lab-based, randomized-control trials where psychedelics are administered in controlled environments. This will help us to better characterize the therapeutic and cognitive-enhancing effects of psychedelics in very small doses."

Eventually, the science will catch up to the practice. In the meantime, microdosers are going to microdose. Anderson has a scholarly caution for them: "We wouldn't suggest that people microdose, but if they are going to, they should use Erlich reagent (a drug testing solution) to ensure they are not getting something other than LSD."

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Different Psychedelics Share a Common Trait: Enhancing ‘Neural Plasticity"

New research suggests that different classes of psychedelic drugs all share the tendency to promote the growth of new brain cells, especially the kind that reach out and forge connections with other brain cells. This finding could help explain both the mind-expanding properties of the drugs and the mechanisms by which they appear to act as valuable treatments for a broad range of psychiatric disorders.

Earlier research had identified the dissociative anesthetic ketamine as promoting growth in key brain cells (as well as being a fast-acting and effective treatment for depression), but this new research finds similar effects in amphetamine-based psychedelics such as DOI (2,5-dimethoxy-4-iodoamphetamine), ergoline psychedelics (such as LSD), and tryptamines (such as DMT).

Using experiments in cell culture and with animals, researchers led by Dr. David Olson of the University of California at Davis found that various classes of hallucinogenic drugs acted on the structure and function of cortical neurons using the same mechanisms as ketamine. The findings could point to new treatment approaches for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction, the researchers wrote last Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal Cell Reports.

"The state-of-the-art, prototypical, fast-acting antidepressant is ketamine -- a compound that promotes neural plasticity and repairs circuits involved in mood and anxiety disorders," Olson told MedPage Today. "Our work demonstrates that psychedelics produce comparable effects on neuronal structure and function, providing a potential explanation for why MDMA, psilocybin, and ayahuasca seem to have antidepressant and anxiolytic effects in the clinic."

Using test tubes, as well as rats and fruit fly larvae, the researchers found that all of these classes of psychedelics increased "neural plasticity," the ability to create new connections among brain cells. The drugs all excited the growth of dendritic spines and axons, the cerebral hangers-on that brain cells use to reach out and create connections, or synapses, with other brain cells.

That's the opposite of what happens with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction. The current theory is that these disorders may occur when neurites retract, not allowing brain cells to connect at synapses.

"One of the hallmarks of depression is that the neurites in the prefrontal cortex -- a key brain region that regulates emotion, mood, and anxiety -- those neurites tend to shrivel up," Olson said in a statement.

Olson's research found that the neural plasticity effect found with ketamine was also "remarkably potent" with even very small doses of LSD, which could help explain the popularity of "microdosing" among people seeking happier and more creative lives. Chemical compounds that mimicked psilocybin and MDMA also increased neural plasticity on the same level as ketamine, and that could mean new opportunities for researchers working with psychiatric disorders.

The studies also showed that the effect outlasted the action of the drugs. In rats, for example, psilocybin produced results that lasted for hours after the drug had left the body. Similarly, rats given a single dose of DMT not only saw an increase in dendritic spines similar to ketamine but saw that effect last for 24 hours when the drug itself had been eliminated within one hour.

This is potentially very good news for researchers working on treatments for anxiety, depression, and addiction, which all seem to act on the same brain circuits.

"Prior to this study, there was only one player in town and that was ketamine. This opens up some new doors," Olson said. "As the diversity of chemical structures capable of producing ketamine-like plasticity effects continues to grow, so does my hope that we will find a safe and effective fast-acting treatment for depression," he said.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Book Review: The Power and Promise of Psychedelics: Michael Pollan Show Us How to Change Our Minds

Can psychedelic drugs improve our lives? Michael Pollan thinks so, and he makes a pretty persuasive case in his latest book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.

This is good stuff. Pollan elegantly blends science, medicine, memoir, travel writing and history in a dazzlingly authoritative dive into his subject matter. If you want to read only one book on psychedelics, make it this one.

The subject is something of a departure for Pollan, who has risen to prominence as the consummate foodie, authoring such well-known tomes as The Omnivore's Dilemma, Food Rules, and In Defense of Food. But it's not entirely surprising: In his 2001 The Botany of Desire, Pollan delved into the world psychoactive substance to examine the mutually beneficial relationship between humans and marijuana. (He also described our relationship with apples, tulips, and potatoes.)

In his current effort, Pollan dives into the science of psychedelics, going deep into brain chemistry and the actual mechanisms by which these drugs alter consciousness. Basically, the science suggests, psychedelics damp down the brain's default mode network, the cerebral mechanism that allows us to maintain normal consciousness. When the default mode network is weakened, new neural pathways open up, brain parts that don’t usually communicate with each other start talking, and the going gets weird.

And that opens the door not only for trippy imagery, but also for spiritual epiphanies or, less grandly, coming to terms with oneself and one’s issues. As Pollan reviews the current research taking place in this psychedelic revival, he encounters terminal cancer patients whose closely guided trips help them grapple with their own mortality, spiritual seekers finding enlightenment, and drug users who find themselves able to break noxious addictions.

He also tries psychedelics himself -- something he hadn't done before -- taking LSD, magic mushrooms, and toad venom containing DMT. His description of his experiences is vivid and compelling, and he tries his best to express those ineffable "truths" the psychedelic experience offers. Describing the subjective reality of an acid trip is a difficult feat, and Pollan does better than most.

And speaking of magic mushrooms, who knew that the term was coined by a Time/Life publicist in the 1950s? I didn't. But that was indeed the case as Life editors were putting together the groundbreaking tale of Gordon Wasson's experience eating psilocybe cubensis with Mexican shaman Maria Sabina.

Pollan's book is full of such delicious little tidbits of psychedelic lore and history, including an account of the Stoned Ape hypothesis, favored by some mycophiles, which argues that hominids ingesting magic mushrooms led to the development of human consciousness.

But it also tells the tale of psychedelics as never before, revealing a "secret history" of lost research on psychedelics in the 1950s and 1960s, where thousands of subjects ingested them in more than a thousand scientific experiments. Some of the results were impressive -- LSD appeared to help curb alcoholism, as well as helping people come to terms with mental disorders or terminal illnesses -- but that body of research was largely forgotten as the federal government and scientific establishment led a severe crackdown once Tim Leary and the hippies got ahold of acid.

Naturally, Leary remains the central figure of the 1960s psychedelic scene -- and a highly contentious one -- but one of Pollan’s biggest contributions is showing how psychedelics were busily leaking out of the lab and into the culture at large in ways that had nothing to do with Leary. Hollywood actors and other elites were taking LSD in therapeutic sessions, spreading the word and participating in group sessions that in some cases seemed more like acid parties than therapy sessions.

Still, once Leary shed his researcher's objectivity to become a messianic acid missionary with his slogan of "tune in, turn on, and drop out," and undertook a mission to cure not sick people but the culture itself, it was game over for the first wave of psychedelic research:

"The fact that by their very nature or the way that first generation of researchers happened to construct the experience, psychedelics introduced something deeply subversive to the West that the various establishments had little choice but to repulse. LSD truly was an acid, dissolving almost everything with which in came into contact, beginning with the hierarchies of the mind (the superego, ego, and unconscious) and going from there to society’s various structures of authority and then to lines of every imaginable kind, between patient and therapist, research and recreation, sickness and health, self and other, subject and object, the spiritual and the material. If all such lines are manifestations of the Apollonian strain in Western civilization, the impulse that erects distinctions, dualities, and hierarchies, and defends them, the psychedelics represented the ungovernable Dionysian force that blithely washes all those lines away."

For the past half-century, psychedelics have been making a slow, but now rapidly accelerating recovery from the repression sparked by Leary's proselytizing and the specter of a psychedelicized America. Again, Pollan shines with his explication of the mind-blowing research taking place and the possibilities being opened up. If there was any question that psychedelics are enjoying a scientific and medical renaissance, Pollan puts that to bed.

Yet, in awe of the power of psychedelics, Pollan stops short of calling for their legalization. Instead, he seems to want every trip to be guided, every journey to have a destination. Has he been captured by the very scientists and researchers whose stories he tells? He writes about the spiritual and the psychological, religion and science, and "shamans in white lab coats," but he doesn't want to talk about recreational use of the drugs.

But the psychedelics are here, and they are being used just for fun. The molecule is in our midst and the fungus is among us. Neither is going away nor are they staying in the lab.

How to Change Your Mind  is a major addition to the literature on psychedelics. Reading it will blow your mind. Do it now.

Chronicle AM: OR Magic Mushroom Init Coming in 2020, MI MedMJ Rules Set, More... (12/5/17)

A proposed Oregon initiative would legalize psilocbyin for medicinal use, Michigan regulators release emergency medical marijuana rules in the nick of time, Wisconsin takes another step toward drug testing welfare and job training participants, and more.

A proposed Oregon initiative would legalize psilocybin for medical use. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Michigan Releases Medical Marijuana Business Rules. The state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has released emergency rules governing medical marijuana facilities with just two weeks to go before the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation begins taking applications. "The emergency administrative rules are designed to preserve patient protections and provide them with access to safe medical marihuana," said Bureau of Medical Marihuana Regulation Director Andrew Brisbo. "These rules also allow growers, processors, secure transporters, provisioning centers, and safety compliance facilities to operate under clear requirements."

Psychedelics

Oregon 2020 Initiative Would Legalize Psilocybin Mushrooms. A husband and wife team calling themselves the Oregon Psilocybin Society are working on putting a psilocybin legalization initiative on the state's 2020 ballot. The measure doesn't call for legal recreational use, but would create a highly regulated system to allow use for medical purposes. Next door in California, a similar initiative aimed at 2018 would legalize magic mushrooms.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Approves Plan to Drug Test Welfare, Job Training Participants. Gov. Scott Walker (R) has approved a plan to implement drug screening for able-bodied adults participating in the FoodShare Employment and Training (FSET) program, sending the rule change measure to the State Legislature for review. The rule is part of the policy amendments included in 2015 Wisconsin Act 55. The legislature now has 120 days to review the measure. Once approved by the legislature, it will become effective the first day of the following month.

International

Leading Mexican Presidential Candidate Suggests Amnesty for Drug Cartel Kingpins. Leading presidential contender Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has caused controversy by suggesting that he is open to amnesty for drug cartel leaders as part of a dialog aimed at ending that violence that has seen an estimated 200,000 people killed in the last decade. "If it is necessary… we will talk about granting amnesty so long as the victims and their families are willing," he said. "We'll propose it. I'm analyzing it. What I can say is that we will leave no issue without discussion if it has to do with peace and tranquility." Lopez Obrador currently has a more than 10-point lead in presidential polls, and his foes in the political and business classes are trying to use the remarks against him.

You Won't Believe Which Middle East Theocrat Has Okayed Psychedelics Treatment

In a move barely noticed in the West, more than three years ago, Iran's Grand Ayatollah Rohani issued a formal legal ruling -- a "fatwa" -- declaring that the use of entheogens and psychedelics was permissible ("ḥalāl") for Shi'i Muslims for purposes of treatment and spiritual growth.

Iran's Grand Ayatollah Rohani (Wikipedia)
Grand Ayatollah Rohani's fatwa specified that such use should be undertaken under the direction and supervision of qualified experts, but it did not specify which psychoactive substances were meant to be included. The fatwa, however, was delivered after long discussions with petitioners about the effects of DMT, ayahuasca, haoma (or soma), LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, ibogaine, and marijuana.

Sufi mystic, Islamic scholar and psychedelic practitioner Wahid Azal explained what happened in an interview with Reality Sandwich. Another Shi'i scholar approached him about opening a dialog with the Shi'i religious establishment in an effort to get some sort of formal legal opinion about the approach to the therapeutic and spiritual use of entheogens:

To make a long story short, after well over a year and a half of back and forth discussions and correspondences between my friend (and one other individual) with the office of Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammad Sadeq Hussaini Rohani in Qom, Iran; in mid-March 2014, via email, the Grand Ayatollah issued a formal legal ruling (that is, a fatwa) determining the use of entheogens and psychoactive substances to be licit and thus permissible (ḥalāl) for Shi'i Muslims provided it be under the direction and supervision of qualified experts (ahl al-ikhtiṣāṣ), and that, moreover, such plant substances as a rule do not impair the mind. In the final missive before the decision, the questioner specifically underscored the issue of the visionary component of these plants, where people have reported visions of paradise and hell, and Grand Ayatollah Rohani's fatwa finds no objections here either.
 

Rohani could have been open to mind-altering drugs because the psychedelics have a resemblance to Esfand, also known as Syrian rue (peganum harmala), which contains the psychoactive indole alkaloid harmaline, a central nervous system stimulant and MAO inhibitor used for thousands of years in the region. According to at least one Shi'i tradition, the Prophet Mohammed took esfand for 50 days.

Whatever the precise theological reasoning behind the Rohani's fatwa, with it, Iran could leapfrog Western nations when it comes to psychedelic research. Although psychedelics are seeing a research renaissance in the West, research here is limited by their criminalized legal status, as well as lack of funding. But the Islamic Republic has cleared the way.

Chronicle AM: Mexican Military's Drug War Abuses, Norway Reduces LSD Penalties, More... (11/9/17)

The man behind Florida's medical marijuana initiatives is considering a run for governor and now wants to legalize it, a battle over medical marijuana is looming in Indiana, a new report says the Mexican military is getting away with murder in its US-backed drug war, and more.

Mexican Marines doing drug war duty (Borderland Beat/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Towns Approve New Pot Taxes. Voters in several localities approved proposals to set new marijuana taxes on Tuesday. Eagle County approved new sales and excise taxes that will start at 2.5% and increase to 5%. The town of De Beque appoved a 5% sales tax, while Longmont approved a 3% tax and Berthoud a 7% one.

Florida Attorney, Possible Gubernatorial Candidate, Says Legalize It. Florida attorney John Morgan, the man behind the state's medical marijuana initiatives, is considering a run at the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and he says he's ready to legalize marijuana. "As to marijuana itself -- and I've kind of evolved to this point -- I believe now that the real answer is that we should just legalize marijuana, period, in America," he said in an interview with WUFT TV. "There's so many kids, young people, whose lives are ruined forever for possession of marijuana. And you get arrested, yeah, you may not go to jail, but that may be the end of West Point, that may be the end of law school, that may be the end of getting this university, it may be the end of that job."

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Battle Lines Forming Over Medical Marijuana. A group of military veterans advocating for medical marijuana is holding a news conference today to make their case for legalization, but they're facing opposition from the state's county prosecutors, who have urged state leaders to resist legalization "in any form, for any purpose." In making their case, the Association of Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys deployed Reefer Madness-style rhetoric, writing that "despite claims of the contrary, the legalization of marijuana could further exacerbate Indiana's opioid epidemic," and, "that information purporting that marijuana is medicine is based on half-truths and anecdotal evidence."

International

Backed by US Anti-Drug Funds, Mexico's Military is Getting Away With Murder, New Report Charges. A new report from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) charges that the Mexican military is resorting to torture, sexual violence, extrajudicial executions, and forced disappearances as it pursues its fight against drug trafficking organizations. Rampant violations go unpunished, and the report exposes a culture of impunity and a lack of transparency within the military. "Violence has increased in the country while human rights violations persist, the urgency and pressure to pass reforms to strengthen the civilian police force has decreased, and accountability has been virtually nonexistent," the report noted.

Norway Lowers Penalties for LSD Possession. Hearing an appeal from a man sentenced to five months in jail for possession of LSD for personal use, the Supreme Court has instead sentenced him to 45 hours of community service, setting the stage for a more general relaxation of penalties for LSD possession for personal use.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: CA Magic Mushroom Initiative Approved for Signature Gathering, More... (11/7/17)

The Maine legislature fails to override the governor's veto of the pot regulation bill, a California initiative to legalize magic mushrooms gets the okay for signature gathering, North Dakotans will wait another year for their medical marijuana, and more.

These could be legal in California soon if an initiative makes the ballot and is approved by voters. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Maine House Fails to Override Veto of Marijuana Regulation Bill. The House voted Monday to sustain Gov. Paul LePage's (R) veto of a bill providing a legal regulatory framework for marijuana commerce. What happens next is unclear. A moratorium on recreational sales expires on February 1. The legislature reconvenes in January, but there is little indication political dynamics will change between now and then. If the moratorium is not extended and a new bill passed, the law as passed by voters in 2016 would go into effect. "I feel like we legalized gasoline, but not gas stations," Rep. Martin Grohman told the Portland Press-Herald.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Says Medical Marijuana Still a Year Away. The state Health Department Monday announced proposed administrative rules for such things as lab testing, security requirements, and transportation regulations, and added that the proposed rules will be open for public comment until December 26. The department also said it doesn't expect the drug to be available for sale to patients for another year -- two years after it was approved by voters.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Florida's Largest Insurer Stops Covering Oxycontin. The state's largest health insurance company will stop covering OxyContin, the brand name prescription opioid, beginning January 1, in a bid to reduce overdoses and opioid dependence. Instead, Florida Blue will start covering an alternative opioid that isn't crushable for injection or snorting, reducing its potential for abuse, the company said Monday. That other drug is Xtampza ER, which also contains oxycodone, but which is designed to deter abuse because the pills cannot be crushed for snorting or injection.

Psychedelics

California Magic Mushroom Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature Gathering. An initiative that would legalize psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms, has been approved for signature gathering by state officials. The California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative needs 365,880 valid voter signatures by April 30 to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.

Sentencing

Massachusetts Sentencing Reform Bill Filed. House leaders Monday proposed sweeping changes to the state's criminal justice and sentencing laws. It's a mixed bag: Some provisions would allow for the expungement of marijuana offenses and end some mandatory minimum drug sentences, but others would increase sentences for dealing in opioids. The bill also includes pre-trial diversion programs and bail reforms. The House will debate the measures next week. The Senate has already passed its own version of a criminal justice reform bill.

International

Canada's Newest Safe Injection Site Approved in Ottawa. Health Canada has given final approval for a safe injection site in Ottawa, which will be housed in a trailer in a hospital parking lot. Operators said they expected to begin welcoming clients today.

Dutch Localities Line Up for Regulated Marijuana Cultivation Pilot Project. Some 25 of the country's 380 local authorities have applied to participate in pilot schemes to allow the regulated growth of marijuana to supply the nation's fabled cannabis cafes. Among those councils which have come forward are Breda, the Noord-Brabant town of Cuijk, and Rotterdam, where mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb wants the experiment to cover distribution as well. The government is expected to announce which locales win spots in the pilot program next year.

California Could Be the First State to Legalize Magic Mushrooms

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

It could be up to California voters to make the state the first in the nation to allow for the use and sale of psilocybin, the mind-altering component of magic mushrooms.

The California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative has been filed with state officials. (Greenoid/Flickr)
On Friday, Kevin Saunders, a candidate for mayor in the Monterrey County town of Marina, filed the California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative with the state attorney general's office. The initiative would exempt people 21 and over from state criminal penalties for using, possessing, cultivating, transporting, and selling psilocybin.

Filing an initiative is just the first step, though. The measure must be submitted for public comment for 30 days and then given a circulating title and summary by the attorney general's office before it is approved for signature gathering. If and when it is approved, campaigners would then have to gather some 365,880 valid voter signatures to be placed on the November 2018 ballot.

Saunders told the Los Angeles Times that psilocybin helped him get over an addiction to heroin a decade ago. "I think we're seeing something that could literally heal our brothers and sisters," he said. "We're talking about real cutting-edge stuff."

Using the initiative process, California became the first state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. And while it wasn't the first state to legalize marijuana via the initiative process -- Colorado and Washington led the way in 2012 -- the state legalized recreational marijuana via an initiative last year.

The initiative and referendum process has been criticized as inflexible, circumventing planning, and relying on an uninformed electorate, and it is also open to criticism as a tool for corporate interests. But it has proven an invaluable tool for advancing the cause of drug reform in the face of state legislatures resistant to change.

All eight states that pioneered marijuana legalization did so through the initiative process. No state has yet legalized marijuana through the legislative process, though some appear close. And the pioneering medical marijuana states all did it through the initiative process as well. After California approved it in 1996, it was five years before Hawaii became the first state to okay it legislatively.

California may again be poised to break down the walls of prohibition -- this time with natural psychedelics.

Sacramento, CA
United States

Chronicle AM: World AIDS Day, Psilocybin Could Help Terminal Patients, More... (12/1/16)

New studies suggest psychedelics could help terminal patients deal with their fears, the Ohio legislature prepares to pass asset forfeiture reform, and more.

Psilocybin, the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms, can help terminal patients cope, a pair of new studies suggests.
Psychedelics

Studies Suggest Magic Mushrooms Could Help Cancer Patients Deal With Fear. A pair of studies published Thursday in the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggest that psilocybin, the psychedelic drug in magic mushrooms, could help terminal cancer patients cope with fear and anxiety around impending death. "The findings are impressive, with good safety data and large effect sizes," says Robin Carharrt-Harris, who studies psychedelic drugs at Imperial College London. "My feeling is that these studies will play a significant role in waking up the scientific and medical mainstream to the therapeutic potential of psychedelics."

Asset Forfeiture

Ohio Legislature Poised to Pass Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform, Despite Police and Prosecutors' Opposition. Legislative leaders say they expect to pass a civil asset forfeiture reform bill in the state Senate next week. The measure, House Bill 347, passed the House in the spring, but was delayed in the Senate when a committee approved an amendment to address concerns raised by prosecutors. The bill originally would have eliminated civil asset forfeiture, but now has been softened to allow it if the property owner is dead, the suspect cannot be located, or the owner does not claim the property. It also allows for civil forfeiture post-conviction.

Harm Reduction

It's World AIDS Day. We Can't End AIDS Until We End the War on Drugs. "Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day," writes the Drug Policy Alliance's Laura Thomas. "In 1989, I was arrested in front of the White House on World AIDS Day, demanding that then-President Bush take action on HIV/AIDS. Among the issues we were demanding action on then, so many years ago, was the availability of sterile syringes for people who inject drugs, so they could stop the transmission of HIV. In the decades since, we have celebrated amazing victories against HIV/AIDS. We now have treatments we could only dream of then. We have pills that will prevent HIV. We have a National HIV/AIDS Strategy. We even have an effective cure for hepatitis C. And we are keeping many, many more people with HIV alive now. And yet, it is syringe access -- needle exchange -- that we have been the slowest to win…" Click on the link for the whole post.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School