Is America ready for legal magic mushrooms? Dennis McKenna says yes, with regulation

Is America ready for legal magic mushrooms? Dennis McKenna says yes, with regulation

VicesOctober 10, 2018 By Will Brendza

Cognitive liberty is shuffling forward one stoned step at a time in this country. Though, admittedly, none of us really know where.

First came the state by state legalization of medical marijuana, followed by recreational marijuana. Now, states like Colorado, Oregon and California are pushing to decriminalize magic mushrooms for therapeutic uses – and they have science on their side.

A recent study published by Johns Hopkins researchers suggests that these fantastic little fungi significantly help in easing both depression and anxiety. Not only that, but the Hopkins researchers urged the FDA to reschedule psilocybin from a schedule I to a schedule IV. Which, is huge news. It could in fact be the straw that breaks the camel’s back; that opens the flood gates of cultural acceptance and regular therapeutic use.

Is the era of psychedelic enlightenment and spiritual harmony nigh in America? Will the 60’s finally be victorious?! Perhaps. Either that, or, this is the beginning of something more akin to A Clockwork Orange…

Because, logically, the legalization trajectory will be the same for mushrooms as it was for marijuana – first comes medical legalization, then recreational availability: casual use. And that’s a strange place to be headed when it comes to mushrooms, no doubt about it.

Is America ready to arrive there?

Dennis McKenna, a renowned psychedelic researcher and activist, thinks we are. Though, he admits, there are some important caveats to that.

“You have to regulate the setting as much as the drug,” he says. “It has to be done carefully, and I think that there does have to be a framework of some kind. We can’t legalize them and then have people just selling them out the backs of their cars.”

McKenna knows his shrooms. He has spent decades studying these strange little fungi and advocating for their cultural acceptance and decriminalization. He is also a founder of the Heffter Institute, a non-profit dedicated to scientifically exploring the uses of psychedelic medicines, and he has written numerous books on the subject. His brother, Terence, was something of a legend in the psychedelic community – and was one of the most outspoken crusaders for their use and legalization.

According to Dennis, the emphasis should be on establishing mushroom clinics, standards and certifications for them, rather than just rescheduling the drug and calling it a day.

“There’s no such thing as a bad drug, but there are plenty of bad ways to use drugs and that’s the difference,” says McKenna. “The moral quality comes from us.”

In other words, it is not a matter of whether or not we are culturally and socially ready for the legalization of mushrooms. It is a matter of how we legalize them. It cannot be as simple as slapping on an FDA approval sticker and passing them out like candy.

“We need to find a way where, without having to go to a doctor, without having a prescription you could maybe go to a center that has some sort of legitimacy, some certification, some standards of practice,” he describes. “An ethical and procedural framework, where people can go and have these experiences. It won’t be like going to a hospital, it will be more like going to a spa.”

A spa with elements of yoga, massages, saunas, and, of course, psychedelic mushrooms.

By creating standards of practice for these psilocybin clinics, McKenna argues, you mitigate the likelihood that it will turn into some kind of psychedelic Manson-esque sex cult; you can set safety codes, health standards, and above all, a modus operandi for tripping. This, McKenna thinks, would be the safest, most effective way of introducing recreationally legal mushrooms into society.

“We can’t have people staggering around the streets or driving cars and all this stuff, there has to be a proper set and setting,” he says. “So, the place that is licensed to administer it, that’s where the focus should be.”

It’s a kind of top-down approach to opening the doors for psychedelic enlightenment. Certify some community centers, establish them as a place for therapy or psycho-spiritual exploration, and let the games begin…

Surely, though, people would use these psychedelics outside of the clinics! One might argue. Even if you had an established place for people to go trip mushrooms, it’s inevitable that they would leak out and into the wider world. And then what? How long before people start leaping off of buildings, cannibalizing each other, raping and pillaging in the streets?!

Well, McKenna points out, “Indigenous cultures seem to have been able to do this without issue. In indigenous cultures that use ayahuasca, the kids don’t use it for kicks, they would never think of it! They use it with elders who know what they’re doing and that’s all.”

Not only that, but in Amsterdam, psychedelic truffles (which are, for all intents and purposes, the same thing) have been recreationally legal for years, now. And they seem to be doing just fine.

So, we need not fear, it seems. Not if McKenna’s wisdom is anything to go off. We just have to be thoughtful and deliberate in how we go about integrating these powerful substances into our culture.

In fact, McKenna’s only real fear for the path to decriminalization and legalization of mushrooms has nothing to do with individuals or communities – it has to do with big business.

“I don’t want to see these drugs turned into pharmaceuticals that only the wealthiest people can afford. I think The People should have access to these things,” he says. “They just want to have access to these realms of consciousness and I think that they should.”

The decriminalization of psychedelic mushrooms could be headed to the ballet in Denver in May. Oregon and California, too, are working on their own similar initiatives. Whether they pass remains to be seen, but it is only a matter of time. If they don’t get through this round, they will surely be on the ballet again and again until they do – just as it happened with cannabis.

So, where are we headed? That’s still an unknown. But at least we seem to be moving in the right direction.