The state of the law on psychedelic substances is in flux. Not only are more and more jurisdictions decriminalizing the use of psychedelics for recreational purposes, but it appears that psychedelic substances are the new horizon for the treatment of severe psychological disorders and other ailments. This article provides an overview of the current state of legality of common psychedelic substances, and some of the potential therapeutic uses to which psychedelics may be applied.
The use of psychedelic substances to treat mental illness and physical disorders is known as “psychedelic therapy.” In a typical scenario, psychedelic substances would be used in conjunction with psychotherapy sessions to treat disorders for which other medicinal therapies have failed. Patients would participate in therapy sessions to prepare for the use of psychedelics, after which the substances would be administered under the guidance and supervision of trained medical professionals. So far, psychedelics have shown promise in alleviating some of the hardest-to-treat conditions in the world, including, among others: (a) depression, anxiety, and pain associated with terminal illness; (b) addiction to alcohol, cocaine, tobacco and other substances; (c) post-traumatic stress disorder; (d) obsessive compulsive disorder; and (e) cluster headaches.
Psychedelic therapy is not a fringe phenomenon. Many of the world’s leading research institutions have been investigating the potential uses of psychedelic therapy, including Johns Hopkins; the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF); Yale University; New York University (NYU); Imperial College London; the University of California-Berkeley; and the Harvard University-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. Further, numerous private companies have begun to research psychedelic therapy and develop new pharmaceutical compounds derived from psychedelic substances. These companies not only include new entities that were founded with the primary purpose of conducting medical research on psychedelic therapy, but also established companies like Johnson & Johnson and Abbott Labs. Collectively, private investors have poured billions of dollars into these companies, with more money coming from non-profit organizations.
Some of the most promising substances, and the law applicable to each, are outlined below:
Psilocybin is a naturally occurring compound produced by over 200 species of mushrooms. Psilocybin is currently categorized as a Schedule I substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act. As such, the use, sale, and possession of psilocybin in the United States is illegal under federal law. However, numerous jurisdictions across the United States have begun to decriminalize the recreational use of psilocybin.