“These are people who want treatment, they want to get better.”
By Rudi Keller, Missouri Independent
The magic in “magic mushrooms” may be the ability to defeat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a St. Charles County Republican lawmaker wants to make them legal in a treatment setting.
State Rep. Tony Lovasco (R) of O’Fallon isn’t a hippie. He says he’s never taken psilocybin mushrooms or smoked a joint.
“I’ve never even smoked a cigarette,” he said in an interview with The Independent. “I’m a pretty boring guy.”
But he’s convinced that a growing body of research—and increasing interest from federal regulators—means Missouri should make treatment with the psychoactive mushrooms legal for people over 21.
In addition to PTSD, Lovasco’s bill would allow psilocybin to be used by people with treatment-resistant depression or who have a terminal illness. The administration of the drug would be by medical professionals in a clinic, hospice or nursing home.
“These are very sympathetic people that, you know, are not the kind of folks that you would look at that are drug addicts, or people that are looking to find some loophole in the system to get high,” he said. “These are people who want treatment, they want to get better.”
Psilocybin and other hallucinogens are legal in a handful of locations in the United States.
Beginning this month, psilocybin is legal in Oregon in a therapeutic setting for people over 21. In December, police in Portland raided a shop that was selling mushrooms under the name of “Shroom House.”
In November, Colorado voters approved a ballot measure removing the criminal penalties for possession of psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs. The New Hampshire Supreme Court in 2020 overturned a conviction on the grounds of the right to use and possess psilocybin for religious purposes.
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Lovasco’s bill defines psilocybin as “natural medicine.” In a bill he filed last year, that term had a much broader meaning. It allowed mescaline, ibogaine, and dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, the psychoactive chemical in the ayahuasca brew NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers consumed on trips to Peru in 2020 and 2022.
Lovasco said he hopes limiting the proposal to psilocybin will make it more palatable to his colleagues.
“For the purposes of getting people treatment, now, psilocybin is the most studied, the most proven, the safest, I think of the substances that I’ve been made aware of,” Lovasco said. “I think it’s the starting point that a lot of people are most comfortable with.”
Federal agencies are exploring when and how psychoactive substances can help treatment of mental health and substance abuse. In June, the chief of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration wrote to U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) that FDA approval of psilocybin to treat depression was likely within the next two years.
Faced with high rates of substance abuse and mental health issues “we must explore the potential of psychedelic-assisted therapies to address this crisis,” Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, wrote to Dean.
More than 1,000 people take their own lives in Missouri every year, putting the state about 25 percent above the national average for suicides. The suicide rate among veterans in Missouri is nearly double the state rate and one of the highest in the country.
An interim committee led by state Rep. Dave Griffith (R) found that one of the biggest obstacles to preventing veteran suicides is the reluctance to seek treatment. The committee is recommending a beefed-up 988 suicide and crisis hotline, asking for an additional $27 million for the program.
During one hearing over the summer, Griffith said Tuesday to the House Health and Mental Health Committee, the wife and daughter of a Springfield police officer and National Guard colonel testified about his suicide.
“They knew that he had issues, but they didn’t really want to bring it forward because he was afraid about losing his job,” Griffith said.
There are numerous studies showing the effectiveness of psilocybin to treat addiction and last summer, a study showed that it had promise in controlling alcoholism.
When he first decided to work on the bill, Lovasco said, his purpose was to make it a liberty issue. The state’s high suicide rate, and the elevated rate among veterans, makes it a life-and-death issue.
Two years or longer for FDA approval is a long time to wait, he said.
“The folks that are coming back from war, that are in desperate need of care, a lot of them aren’t going to be around in three years,” Lovasco said. “We’ve got, what 20-something veterans per day committing suicide? That’s a tremendous amount of loss while we wait for the government to do some paperwork.”
This story was first published by Missouri Independent.
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Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.