If someone used a psychedelic drug for a medical reason, should they face criminal charges? That is what many state legislatures are discussing. And if the amount the individual possesses is small (for personal use), many people believe it should be a ticket. Not a felony offense.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed Bill S3256 and A5084 to partially decriminalize psilocybin possession and use. The new laws are already effective and have reduced the penalties for hallucinogenic mushrooms.
In New Jersey, a first-time offense possession of magic mushrooms (one ounce or less) will result in a charge equivalent to disorderly conduct. Penalties can include up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Before the amendment, possession of mushrooms was a 3rd-degree crime punishable by 3-5 years in jail and a fine of up to $35,000.
That is a hefty sentence for having a small amount of psilocybin on you. And legislators in New Jersey agreed that the penalties for psilocybin needed to be reduced. Particularly since recreational or adult-use cannabis would be legalized on January 1, 2021.
Psilocybin Almost Delayed Adult-Use Legalization in New Jersey
Senator Nicholas Scutari (D) was vocal about his support for decriminalizing psilocybin in New Jersey. While the senator stood by the fact that psilocybin should remain illegal, he stated: “It’s not going to ruin lives for a first offense.”
The idea of legalizing psilocybin in New Jersey was so contentious that it actually delayed laws to legalize adult-use. The November 2020 state ballot Question 1 about recreational marijuana was won with support from 67.8% of NJ voters.
Trouble started when the New Jersey Senate voted to amend Senate Bill 2535. Some members of the Senate wanted to legalize psilocybin in the bill. That brought everything, however, to a screeching halt. And almost jeopardized January 1, 2021, launch of legalized adult-use in New Jersey.
Even the thought of full-scale legalization of psilocybin was enough to disrupt the New Jersey Senate. So don’t expect to see psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin or MDMA legalized anytime soon in the Garden State. That might change after a few years of running the new recreational cannabis program. But unless there is a big change in the Senate, it is unlikely.
One of the other important facets of launching the recreational cannabis program in New Jersey will also benefit patients. Residents in New Jersey with a medical card will not have to pay taxes on their purchases of medical cannabis in about a year. By 2022, the adult-use program is expected to generate enough tax revenues to allow NJ to waive 100% of taxes on medical cannabis for cardholders.
Psilocybin Has Been Medicinally Used for More than 5,000 Years
There is increasing evidence that alternative medicines such as MDMA, ketamine, and psilocybin can provide therapeutic benefits, specifically for individuals who may suffer from treatment-resistant mental health conditions like anxiety or depression.
Like most alternative medicines, there is a lot of misinformation about psilocybin that is rooted in propaganda. There is evidence that psilocybin was successfully used as medicine by ancient civilizations for thousands of years.
The Maya used hallucinogenic plants (including cactus and mushrooms). There were ceremonies that involved ritual enemas with psychoactive substances. The Aztecs used both peyote and hallucinogenic mushrooms. And mushroom stones (for grinding) with trace elements have been found dating back to 3000 BC.
Our ancestors didn’t have a problem with psychedelic natural medicines. But we can thank the stigma and hyperbole for psychedelics in the “war on drugs.”
If you saw them (or tried them) in college, they probably would have looked like some dehydrated mushrooms with long stems wrapped in foil. If you were unlucky, the extra special mushrooms had a strong streak of electric blue color. Proof that there was a high psilocybin content in the shroom originally but degraded. The bluer, the less psilocybin still present in the shroom.
Psilocybin is a recreational drug. It was first added in the United Nations Convention of Psychotropic Substances in 1971. And it has been sitting on Schedule 1 of the U.S. Controlled Substances Act since then. Among some of the most addictive and life-threatening recreational drugs on the planet.
What is Psilocybin? The Psychedelic Magic Inside the Mushrooms
The steps that occur when psilocybin is impacting the brain are kind of trippy. Pardon the pun. When you consume psilocybin, your digestive tract converts it to another chemical which is called psilocin. And it is the psilocin that does a number on your brain and starts to trigger hallucinations, perceptual changes, and body sensations.
Psilocin ramps up the activity in the body’s visual cortex. Here comes the technicolor! What it also does is take the keys and steering wheel away from your standard neural network. You know, the one that drives your everyday normal behaviors. And worries and concerns, stressors, and perception of what other people think about you.
Psilocin causes a pleasant ego loss that can provide mental clarity and depth of thought that is not usually possible without the psychoactive effect of psychedelics. That is why it can be used for treatment-resistant mental health therapies. It can be lifesaving for patients at risk of suicide or self-harm due to post-traumatic stress disorder or treatment-resistant depression (TRD).
The Psilocin binds quickly to 2A serotonin receptors. This causes a reaction called “neuronal avalanching,” which is like a cascading effect of changes in the brain. Perception changes, loss of ego happens, and it can give the patient new insights into problems. Or new perspectives on trauma to help them resolve painful and suppressed memories. One of the interesting things about psilocybin is that a higher dose is not more effective.
Is Psilocybin Legal to Use in New Jersey?
Just because the legal penalties for possession of psilocybin have been reduced doesn’t mean it is legal. There are some countries in the world that have legalized the sale of psilocybin products, like gummies or teas. But in New Jersey, you won’t be seeing any psilocybin in dispensaries.
But that doesn’t mean that it is not available for medicinal use even though psilocybin remains a Schedule 1 prohibited substance at the federal level. And after the DEA categorized magic mushrooms as “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Certified practitioners in New Jersey can provide in-clinic psilocybin therapies.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins are exploring psilocybin therapy to help with other mental health conditions, including anorexia and PTSD. In the future, psilocybin may also be commonly used for smoking cessation and opiate addiction treatment.