Magic Mushrooms Should Be Less Illegal, Scientists Argue

Researchers want to remove them from the restrictive Schedule 1.

Psychedelic “magic” mushrooms may become legal in the next decade if some psychologists and psychiatrists have anything to say about it. The active chemical produced by about 200 species of mushrooms all over the world — 4-phosphoryloxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine — known as psilocybin, is gaining a reputation for its potential to treat depression and help people overcome substance abuse. Now, a team of researchers has publicly recommended that, based on its medical advantages and low potential for abuse, psilocybin should be made legal.

In a paper appearing in the October issue of Neuropharmacology, a team from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Alabama laid out evidence showing that psilocybin is safe for humans, effective at treating several serious conditions, and non-addictive. Based on this evidence, the paper’s authors recommend that psilocybin should be moved from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act — the highest category of illegality — to Schedule IV, effectively making it legal.

“It is the opinion of the authors of this review that the original placement of psilocybin [into Schedule I] was the result of a substantial overestimation of the risk of harm and abuse potential,” the researchers write.

Psilocybin mushrooms are currently as illegal as heroin, but in the next decade, they could become legal.
Psilocybin mushrooms are currently as illegal as heroin, but in the next decade, they could become legal.

Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins and one of the paper’s co-authors, has spent years examining the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin in his own lab at Johns Hopkins. In a 2016 paper, his team demonstrated that psilocybin provides cancer patients with significant, long-lasting relief from depression and anxiety, and in a 2014 paper they showed that the “mystical experience” induced by psilocybin could help people quit smoking.

In the latest paper, Griffiths and his colleagues break down all the evidence they’ve collected on psilocybin into eight different characteristics of the drug. These eight characteristics are used by the Drug Enforcement Administration to determine how drugs should be regulated under the Controlled Substances Act. They basically concern a drug’s potential for abuse and whether it is helpful or harmful for people’s health.

magic mushrooms, psilocybin
Psilocybin mushrooms may be legal soon.

Based on the current evidence for psilocybin’s safety and effectiveness, the researchers argue that Schedule I is the wrong legal classification for psilocybin. This category is reserved for drugs that have high abuse potential, no therapeutic approval, and no safe medical uses. “But at this point, the data suggest that the potential therapeutic benefits of psilocybin-assisted therapy are real, and of potential medical and public health significance,” the researchers write. And further clinical trials will prove that the drug has been misclassified for many years, they say.

The study authors recommend that psilocybin should be moved to Schedule IV instead. Schedule IV drugs can be prescribed by physicians, and include prescription medications like the anti-anxiety drug alprazolam (Xanax), the sedative drug zolpidem (Ambien), the opioid painkiller tramadol (Ultram), and the muscle relaxer carisoprodol (Soma).

The next step in petitioning psilocybin’s reclassification as a Schedule IV drug will require an FDA-approved Phase 3 trial, a clinical trial to prove that the drug is safe and effective in large populations. This process may take five years or so, the study authors estimate.

There is still a lot of social stigma and fear surrounding psychedelic drugs. But properly-conducted clinical trials are rapidly replacing assumptions with solid scientific knowledge, the researchers say.

“This area of regulatory science has the potential to facilitate innovative therapeutic breakthroughs by replacing fear and misinformation with scientifically based conclusions and facts,” they write.