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It took at least five years of public debate, lobbying and bill amendments for New Jersey to make marijuana legal for recreational use in 2021. Now the state may do the same with psychedelic mushrooms — but much faster.
After it was pulled back for revisions late last year, a bill was reintroduced in the state Senate last week that sets up a legal framework for the manufacture and sale of products containing psilocybin — the chemical in magic mushrooms that produces a hallucinogenic effect.
The bill would decriminalize the use of psilocybin by anyone over 21 and expunge past and pending offenses involving the drug.
Although language in the bill, called the “Psilocybin Behavioral Health Access and Services Act,” is centered around mental health, its provisions would decriminalize recreational use. Anyone 21 or older could “possess, store, use, ingest, inhale, process, transport” 4 grams or less of psilocybin.
Unlike with marijuana, residents would be allowed to grow their own mushrooms for personal use in their homes under the bill.
Magic mushrooms to treat severe depression
The bill’s reintroduction comes as one of the largest health providers in New Jersey hopes to use psychedelics as a treatment for severe depression and other disorders.
Hackensack Meridian announced Tuesday a partnership with Compass Pathways, a U.K.-based biotechnology company, to research the company’s synthetic psilocybin treatment.
That could lead to clinical trials and eventually “create real change for people suffering with some of the most difficult-to-treat mental health conditions,” Hackensack Meridian CEO Robert Garrett said in a statement.
The research is not affected by whether New Jersey’s bill becomes law, because clinical trials and other activities are governed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which allows them under “strict protocols,” said Kenneth Esser, senior vice president for behavioral health at Hackensack Meridian.
“There is still a lot of research that needs to be done, but from what we’ve seen it looks promising,” said Dr. Eric Alcera, a psychiatrist who has led Hackensack Meridian’s involvement in non-traditional forms of mental health treatments.
“Psychedelics need to be under a controlled environment, like a clinical trial,” Alcera said. “These are not simple chemical compounds. They are complex and create significant changes in the brain.”
The movement to legalize psilocybin began in recent years with cities across the U.S. such as Denver, Oakland, Seattle and Detroit passing laws.
But only two states have passed similar laws: Oregon became the first to decriminalize it, when voters approved a ballot measure in 2020, followed by Colorado in 2022. Efforts are being made in several other states, including Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and California, where bills are making their way through statehouses, according to the Psychedelic Alpha website, which tracks legislation.
Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound
Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in magic mushrooms, and it can penetrate the central nervous system, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
The compound comes from certain types of psilocybe mushrooms. Psilocybin is metabolized in the body to the active drug psilocyn, also present in many of the same mushrooms, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says.
Mushrooms containing psilocybin are available fresh or dried and have long, slender stems topped by caps with dark gills on the underside, the DEA says. Fresh mushrooms have white or whitish-gray stems with caps that are dark brown around the edges and light brown or white in the center. Dried mushrooms are usually rusty brown.
You can feel the effects of magic mushrooms about 30 minutes after taking them, according to MyHealth.Alberta.ca, the website of the Alberta, Canada, government and Alberta Health Services. The effects last about three to six hours and are strongest during the first three to four hours. Magic mushrooms can change the way people see, smell, hear, taste and touch, causing hallucinations.
FDA set up guidelines for psilocybin products
Advocates including medical researchers have touted psilocybin as an untapped tool to treat a host of conditions, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration set up guidelines last year that could lead to the approval of psilocybin products due to their “initial promise as potential treatments.”
Opponents argue that it would increase drug abuse, especially when allowed to be used recreationally.
In New Jersey, the 50-page bill — S2283 — has strong backing, with Senate President Nick Scutari — a Democrat who was the original sponsor of the recreational marijuana bill — as its sponsor and Sen. Holly Schepisi, a Bergen County Republican, as one of three co-sponsors. The bill lays the framework for how psilocybin would be regulated after being decriminalized:
- The state Department of Health would issue licenses for psilocybin manufacturing facilities, “service centers” that sell the product and testing laboratories under a long list of conditions, including having a location for the facility with local zoning approvals. The Health Department would also issue worker permits.
- Mushrooms or other psilocybin products would have to be consumed at a psilocybin service center. A service center employee could give psilocybin to a customer at home if they can’t leave the premises for a medical reason.
- Service centers would have to offer a “preparation session” that involves the initial screening of the customer and an “administration session” in which an employee remains with the customer after they take psilocybin to “guide” them through the hallucinogenic episode. There also would be an optional integration session in which an employee “works with the client to process the results” of what they just experienced.
- Psilocybin service centers would not be allowed in a residential neighborhood or within 1,000 feet of a school.
- Manufacturers could create synthetic psilocybin or grow magic mushrooms. The bill doesn’t set a cap on the quantity of psilocybin that a manufacturer could produce, but the Health Department could set limits.
- Manufacturers would not be permitted to advertise psilocybin products to the public, but they could advertise “psilocybin services” during the sessions. The ads could not appeal to minors or promote excessive use.
- The bill is unclear over how much say local officials would have about a service center opening in town. It says a county or municipality might adopt “reasonable regulations” on manufacturers and service center operations, but it doesn’t define what they are. Local officials could not impose any taxes or fees.
- Employers could not test employees for the presence of psilocybin unless the employee is visibly impaired while at work.
- The whole operation would be overseen by an 18-member Psilocybin Behavioral Health Access and Services Advisory Board.