By Darren HarpDaddy Smith
“No one should ever be arrested or go to jail for the possession or cultivation of any kind of mushroom.” — Michael Pollan
Last Tuesday, in dramatic rally-from-behind fashion, Denver voters narrowly approved Initiative 301, decriminalizing psilocybin mushrooms. Many media outlets reported its demise Tuesday evening as the initiative appeared to lag behind with 54 percent opposing decriminalization. Trailing by roughly 4,000 votes with over 40,000 yet to tally it looked doubtful to pass.
I woke up a number of times throughout the night to check the results. Anticipation mounted as the margin waned to 51.6% opposing the initiative by late morning. Shortly after 4 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon unofficial final results were released showing that the initiative squeaked by in dramatic fashion with a 50.56 percent voting in approval, a difference of less than 2,000 votes. Well played Denver…
Social media lit up as dozens of articles on psychedelic substances flooded my feeds with fantastical headlines about these ‘magic drugs.’ There has been quite a bit of confusion and misinformation about what this groundbreaking decision offers, both for residents of Denver and for the rest of the nation. The psychedelic decriminalization movement now focuses on making California and Oregon the first states to decriminalize psilocybin with potential ballot initiatives in 2020. Decriminalize Nature recently secured a sponsor on the Oakland City Council for a resolution that would decriminalize not only psilocybin mushrooms, but other psychedelic plants including mescaline cacti, ayahuasca and ibogaine.
Initiative 301 does not legalize mushrooms in Denver, but it does decriminalize psilocybin for personal use, possession, and propagation by people 21 years and older. The initiative makes arresting anyone for personal use and possession its ‘lowest law-enforcement priority’ and ‘prohibit the city from spending resources to impose criminal penalties.’ It does not legalize distribution of psilocybin, which is a Schedule I substance. Buying or selling magic mushrooms is still a crime, with suspects facing felony charges.
As stated, the Initiative protects propagation. Mushroom growing kit supplies can be easily obtained in any garden center or superstore and it costs roughly $100 to get started. Psilocybin mushrooms spores are not illegal to possess and can readily be ordered online. Mushrooms grown under the right conditions, with a 10-week growing cycle, can provide plenty of psilocybin for personal use. Expect Denver to further solidify its Mile High reputation as a psyche-tourist destination in about nine and a half weeks..
The initiative also creates a review panel to study the impact of decriminalization. The panel will include decriminalization advocates, Denver city council members, Denver residents, and addiction counselor and law enforcement officers. Decriminalize Denver is pro-actively mounting a public-information campaign to spread awareness about the benefits of psilocybin and inform the public; debunking myths while steering the community toward responsible use of these powerful fungi.
The most significant result of Tuesday’s outcome is that debate is heating up about psychedelic use again and that is a mostly positive movement. Michael Pollan, award-winning author of “How To Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence” received flack from the psychedelic community stemming from his recent New York Times article cautioning that “ballot initiatives may not be the best way to get there.” Pollan continues, “It would be a shame if the public is pushed to make premature decisions about psychedelics, before the researchers have completed their work.” He adds, “Psilocybin has a lot of potential as medicine, but we don’t know enough about it yet to legalize it.”
Kevin Matthews, campaign director of Decriminalize Denver; the group behind the city’s successful decriminalization initiative, told Marijuana Moment in an interview defending their decriminalization efforts, “Ballot initiatives are a good way to do this, because I think sometimes the researchers forget about the average person out there who is currently using.”
“I think the focus needs to be decriminalization. We should not be talking about necessarily a regulated medical model right now,” Matthews said. “I think decriminalization is the right first step, because we need to make sure that people’s individual rights are protected and really the only way to do that is by decriminalizing and making sure people are not receiving any kind of fines for possession.”
Pollan, a renowned psychedelic activist later revealed that he personally does support decriminalization; that it was just not time for outright legalization of the substances. I agree with Pollan and that we need to push for a review of Schedule I substances, in hopes to reschedule psilocybin, cannabis, and other sacred plants out of this most restricted status.
So what does responsible recreational use of psychedelic substances look like? We cannot factor for the moron in our society that will consume mass amounts of alcohol, cannabis, opiates, or psilocybin. However, we do have basic human rights as sovereign individuals to explore our own consciousness; as long as we do no harm to ourselves or others. Psilocybin has been proven to be among the least toxic and least risk of addiction of all recreational drugs, but it does not come without risk.
Psilocybin has been used for millennia for physical and spiritual healing, divination, finding lost people and objects through shamanic ceremony. I also imagine there was a form of microdosing happening as well. Early hunter gathering people most likely encountered psychedelic mushrooms in dung piles as they tracked large animals for food. Small doses of psilocybin have been proven to sharpen one’s vision, better defining the edges of objects, which would greatly increase a hunter’s chances for locating and obtaining game. It also helps to curb fear which would be helpful in taking down large game.
Archaeological research shows that human cultural and technological complexity took a massive and rapid leap forward about 70,000 years ago. Ethnobotanist and psychonaut, Terence McKenna hypothesised that this “cognitive revolution” may have taken place as a result of early humans stumbling across psilocybin.
Reports from Silicon Valley suggest a large percentage of our technology workforce microdose psychedelics on a regular basis;as safe and effective “performance-enhancers.” The aim is to foster creativity, while improving energy levels and focus. Psilocybin promotes neurogenesis in the hippocampus, which has been associated with improvement in energy levels, elevate mood, and enhance the ability to concentrate.
Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, stated “Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important — creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.”
Microdosing studies have shown low doses of psychedelics can be an effective treatment for depression. Hyperactivity in certain regions of the Default Mode Network (DMN) has been correlated with excessive rumination. It can contribute to forms of repeated negative self-reflection, symptomatic of depression. Psilocybin is shown to help shutdown our DMN so that we are less prone to distraction and procrastination.
With microdosing, the goal is for the experience to be sub-perceptual. You shouldn’t feel like you’ve taken a psychedelic substance. This allows for you to experience many of the benefits, while still being able to go about your daily life in a fully functional way. According to James Fadiman, author of The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, the dose should be roughly 1/10th of an ‘effective’ or ‘trip’ dose. Like cannabis, potency of psilocybin can vary widely within batches and even the mushroom itself, between cap and stem. Grinding of the fungi is recommended and many microdosers put it into capsule form and ingest every 3-4 days on a monthly cycle.
Fadiman offers the following recommendations when deciding to microdose psychedelics. Be conservative on how much you take and how often you take it; giving yourself days in between to allow for full effect of the substance. Secondly, do what you normally do. Eat regular meals, stay hydrated and sleep in normal patterns. The idea here is to stay grounded. The third recommendation is to be discreet. Maybe tell your closest people, but by starting out conservatively your behavior, demeanor, and appearance will be pretty much like normal.
It would also be wise to keep a journal of your experiences as you can alter dosage, days in between, and monitor progress or complications.
Another way of dosing psilocybin is for the ‘effective’ or ‘trip’ dose. This is what we speak of when we ‘shroom.’ Again potency greatly varies but according to www.erowid.org a strong trip can be induced by ingesting between 2.5 to five grams of psilocybe cubensis; a common, medium strength mushroom. There is a good potential to experience hallucinogenic effects at this dosage. Users can be festival-goers in a communal setting, vibing to music. The setting can be a very quiet experience in nature or in the privacy of your own home; taking a peek within one’s own consciousness to explore how to better oneself, lighten the grips of ego, and connect better with our environment.
The risks of a bad trip scare many away from psychedelics and foster opposition to the societal benefits of these substances. Bad trips are also thought of as ‘challenging’ trips and they can often be alleviated with the help of a good friend or a guide talking the tripper through the experience by reassuring them that the substance will soon wear off and everything will be OK.
Harm-reduction tents that test potency and provide verification of what drug is potentially to be consumed are popping up at festival sites, including Salmonfest. These tents often have certified individuals trained to guide trippers through a potentially challenging psychedelic experience. Unfortunately, not all law enforcement agents have endorsed the use of these harm reduction tents and users are wary that they will be targeted by law enforcement if they have their ‘goods’ inspected.
Then there are the five-plus gram doses inducing psilocybin trips that are considered ‘heroic.’ Psychonaut Terence McKenna was noted for taking these heroic doses and describes the experiences in which he actually communicates with the psilocybin. McKenna would ingest the heroic amount on an empty stomach and sit in a room of total darkness. He describes the experiences as the mushroom talks to him, drifting down and surrounding him like a jellyfish. He details, “It tells you what it wants to tell you and it’s highly unpredictable. Once when my life was in turmoil, I did ask it a question and the question was, ‘Am I doing the right thing with my life?’” The mushroom responded to McKenna with, “What kind of a chicken shit question is that to ask me…?” These deep mystical experiences can help reveal what we need to address in our daily lives to become better people and regain connectivity with the universe.
McKenna’s brother, Dennis, also a leading authority on psychedelic experiences, replies regarding the dose amount question, “One of the misconceptions that people have about the mushrooms is that they’re light; that they’re more recreational. They’re easy compared to Ayahuasca. That’s a misunderstanding.”
McKenna adds, “Because mushrooms are so easy to use recreationally; take a gram, gram-and-a-half and go to a party, have a good time, it’s all very nice. You can have a good time. Certainly better than drinking alcohol. They can take those light doses pretty frequently never suspecting that just around the corner the abyss will open up if you push it a little bit.” McKenna continues, “Mushrooms are just as profound and just as strong and can produce even more profound insights and really should be respected like Ayahuasca. They should be approached with great respect. Maybe a little fear.”
My biggest concern with the recent decriminalization win in Denver is the 2% that will use psilocybin irresponsibly will harm themselves or others while experimenting in the wrong set and setting. Not knowing what to expect and not being with those that they can trust if all hell breaks loose. I fear that media outlets will jump on these episodes; much as they did in the past with exaggerated reports of co-eds jumping off college dorms after a single dose of LSD. I’m concerned that the reaction to this media hype could drive monies and FDA approval away from scientific research studies greatly needed into how psychedelics can best benefit us as a society. Research is the key to unlocking how the psilocybin compound reacts within our brains to heal us in ways that we still do not fully yet understand.
I wish you well Denver. I urge you all to inform yourselves on the benefits of these substances, as well as the risks involved. Decriminalization in Denver has opened the doors to looking at many different ways to use psilocybin for recreational use, as well as therapeutically. To explore one’s self and recreate a better you.
Responsible recreational use requires knowing what substances you are truly ingesting and how potent they are. The website, www.erowid.org is an excellent resource offering research into many different psychoactive substances, their clinical data, and safe dosage amounts. I look forward to seeing you all on the summer music festival circuit this year and please recreate responsibly.