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 The Impact – Psilocybin Pilot Program  

Mike McClanahan profile by Mike McClanahan

(The spring season of The Impact came to a close on Wednesday, June 28th. New episodes will resume in early September. TVW will be re-airing selected episodes of the show in July and August.)

  The treatment potential of the psychoactive compound found in psychedelic mushrooms will be the focus of a new pilot project authorized by legislation that passed earlier this year. 

Psilocybin, a hallucinogenic chemical found in certain mushrooms, is a Schedule I controlled substance at the federal level. Bills to decriminalize psilocybin in Washington have stalled in recent years and it remains a controlled substance under Washington state law. 

But Senate Bill 5263 sponsored by Democratic Senator Jesse Saloman of Shoreline could nudge the state closer towards establishing a legal framework for the drug. Washington wouldn’t be the first state to do so. 

Oregon voters authorized psilocybin therapy  and decriminalized drug possession with two separate ballot measures in 2020. The psilocybin therapy  guidelines are set by state health authorities there. 

Proposition 122 in Colorado legalized the use and possession of natural psychedelic substances including psilocybin for adults ages 21 and up.

The cities of Seattle and Port Townsend have also passed resolutions in support of legalizing psilocybin that put psychedelic mushrooms laws near the bottom of the law enforcement priority list. 

Senate Bill 5263, enacted this year, requires the Health Care Authority to set up a Psilocybin Task Force to review the available information about the clinical use of psilocybin and study different regulatory structures.

The bill also calls for a Psilocybin Therapy Pilot Program at the University of Washington focused on veterans and first responders dealing with posttraumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, or mood disorders. The legislation requires the program to be up and running by January 1, 2025.

The state mandated program will be administered by the Center for Novel Therapeutics in Addiction Psychiatry (NTAP) at the UW Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. 

Why are researchers looking into psychedelics for PTSD and problem drinking?

“Right now, the medicines that we have available for PTSD, for example, have been around for 30 some odd years. There’s been really no new advances in and in pharmacology development for that particular disease,” said Dr. Darron Smith, Co-Director of NTAP.

“These substances tend to be fairly stable. They don’t follow the same addictive dopamine reward circuits that we tend to see in individuals who are using illegal substances. The big one being opioids currently,” said Smith. “They have no addictive properties, but yet the results are pretty profound.”

During testimony on the bill some of the strongest advocates of  psychedelic therapy were people who have experienced psilocybin treatment in other states, including veterans. 

There were also opponents who argued that researchers must proceed with caution when it comes to psychedelics and raised concerns about an earlier version of the bill that would have made psilocybin more broadly available.

(Note: The end of June marks the end of the spring season of The Impact. New episodes will resume in early September. TVW will be re-airing selected episodes of the show in July and August. )