Access to psychedelics passed in Colorado. Now what?

Psychedelic therapy won't be available in Colorado until 2024. However, there's a lot of work to be done before then

Kristen Mohammadi  The Aspen Times
Hallucinogenic mushrooms, or psilocybin, are being tested as treatment for a number of mental conditions.

Ten years ago, Colorado shook the nation by becoming the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. In the years following, 21 states and Washington, D.C, have approved adult possession and consumption of recreational marijuana.

Last month, President Biden pardoned thousands of individuals convicted for marijuana-related charges. Therefore, it seems Colorado’s trailblazing initiative from 10 years ago helped open up a discourse around marijuana-usage throughout the country, sparking change.

This past election season, Colorado voters supported the legalization of psilocybin mushrooms, the second state to do so.

With this, the Access to Natural Substance, or Proposition 122, allows those ages 21 years or older to grow and consume psychedelic mushrooms. In addition, this measure will allow state-mandated “healing centers” to administer psychedelics to patients in supervised settings.

The benefits of psychedelics for therapeutic purposes has been well-researched, with some scholars believing the use of psychedelics could be revolutionary in treating patients with illnesses like depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

In 2020, researchers from the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins found that “psilocybin-assisted therapy was efficacious in producing large, rapid, and sustained antidepressant effects in patients with major depressive disorder.”

Access to Natural Medicine narrowly passed in Colorado, receiving 51% of votes. However, in Pitkin County, 76% residents voted to pass it.

The bill passed. Now what?

Before psilocybin-therapy will be used in treatment centers throughout parts of Colorado, the state will need to establish a regulatory structure through the Department of Regulatory Agencies, or DORA. In addition, Gov. Jared Polis will establish a 15-member advisory board, according to the Steamboat Pilot & Today.

These systems will be in place to establish guidelines for healing centers to follow, according to Dr. Brooke Allen, neurologist at Roaring Fork Neurology. With this, it could take up to 2024 to see psychedelic therapy in place in Colorado.

The Aspen Times reached out to several integrative medicine and wellness clinics in the valley to find out if they had any plans to offer psychedelic therapy in the future — most of which said “No.”

However, Martha Hammel, founder of an Aspen-based organization dedicated to making psychedelics safely available to those who wish to take them, said that, although many places do not have current plans to offer psychedelic therapy, it doesn’t mean that they won’t offer plant medicine in the future.

“They might be curious when the rules and regulations show up,” she said. “From a business side, people don’t really know what that will look like yet.”

However, Roaring Fork Neurology is planning to offer psychedelic treatments, with workers already receiving training to administer natural substances.

“We see a lot of patients in our clinic who we believe would benefit from these therapies for various reasons, which is why we’ve gotten really excited about the research,” said Dr. Allen.

Psilocybin binds to the brain’s serotonin receptors, causing a flood of serotonin to be released, according to her.

The treatment would be available to those suffering from treatment-resistant depression or anxiety, PTSD, and suicidal ideation.

“What we know about psilocybin, for example,” she said, “is that it has been shown up to a year to relieve severity of depression symptoms.

“What else is really exciting about psilocybin is that it is a medicine that works pretty immediately and, oftentimes, only requires somewhere between one and three doses to get the achieved effect.”

Before an individual would be eligible for psychedelic treatment, they’d need a referral from a physician, which could be done online or in person. After, Roaring Fork Neurology would look into the individual’s medical history and schedule a consultation if certain criteria is met.

Those with high blood pressure or psychosis would not be eligible for psychedelic therapy.

Roaring Fork Neurology already offers ketamine therapy to patients struggling with treatment-resistant depression or anxiety as well as PTSD. However, this treatment is not covered by insurance and costs up to $4,500, according to their site.

Therefore, it still is not clear whether psilocybin therapy will be covered by insurance by the time it will be available in clinical settings.

However, in 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allotted psychedelic-therapy for depression “Breakthrough Designation” status. This meant that early clinic trials of psychedelic therapy showed “significant potential,” allowing the FDA to expedite development and review processes, according to New Atlas.

However, there are organizations that are working to allow for insurance coverage of psychedelic medicine, according to Hammel. For example, Thank You Life is a non-profit organization working to “eliminate financial barriers to psychedelic therapy.”

Still, at the federal level, psilocybin is a Schedule 1 substance. Meaning, this drug is grouped among heroin and ecstasy. This distinction at the federal level makes the potential for insurance coverage dicey.

“I gave up predicting what insurance companies would do a long time ago,” Dr. Allen said. “But, I would expect psilocybin to get coverage before ketamine, and one reason may be that there’s a stronger research initiative currently behind psilocybin, in terms of funding.”

To make sure those who may benefit from psychedelic therapy will have access to it, Roaring Fork Neurology is already working with 25 individuals from Rifle to Aspen who are either licensed therapists or individuals who will work as “sitters” for those receiving psychedelic treatment.

“We want to get this therapy into a space where it can be accessible to everyone and not just people who have a few thousand-dollars to spend on on it,” Dr. Allen said.

The clinic is also working with Spanish-speakers to ensure they have the capability to offer care to the Hispanic community in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Outreach in Aspen

As Coloradans wait for psychedelic care in clinical settings, psilocybin is currently decriminalized throughout the state. Meaning, individuals can possess and consume mushrooms, but they will not be able to sell them.

While psilocybin is mostly safe, those who take the drug may be subject to adverse side effects. With this, education on safe usage of the psilocybin is key.

“There are people who want access to this these medicines now, which is this time for safe community healing, while educating people on how to sit for each other in the way that they’re already doing it,” Hammel said. “But, with more education, with more reverence, with more respect, and in a more mindful way.”

The Fireside Project is a resource for those who are experiencing adverse emotions while on psychedelics. The organization works as a hot line with staff trained in offering support to those during psychedelic experiences.

Hammel, founder of what was formerly known as Right to Heal Aspen, will hold a community meeting at the Here House in Aspen on Dec. 14 from 5-7 p.m. to inform the public on Proposition 122, what the measure will mean for Aspen, and safety issues surrounding the usage of psilocybin.

“We have the opportunity in Colorado to co-create the landscape of psychedelic medicine,” said Hammel. “The way that we want to do it, by the way that serves us best.”

The Fireside Project provides a psychedelic peer-support line staffed by trained volunteers offering active listening, support during psychedelic experiences, integration, and support by text message. It can be accessed by calling or texting 62-FIRESIDE.

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