The first Psilocybin Research Speaker Series

Researchers Slam Drug War At Federally Hosted Psychedelics Event

Psilocybin might still be illegal on the federal level, but that hasn’t stopped the National Cancer Institute (NCI) from hosting the first Psilocybin Research Speaker Series dedicated to exploring its medicinal potential. 

“Psilocybin is the natural active compound found in more than 200 species of fungi, more commonly referred to as ”magic mushrooms,” the NCI Integrative Medicine Course Organizing Committee explains on the conference homepage. “Psilocybin is converted by the body to psilocin, which has hallucinogenic mind-altering properties.”

That isn’t much of a surprise to the millions of Americans who have done their own “research” into the properties of Psilocybin, but for a federal agency under the National Institutes of Health — an agency historically devoted to the negative properties of all drugs — to promote this event is quite an admission.

“Advances in clinical trials, however, are researching psilocybin to treat cancer related depression,” the organizers continue, “for its potential medicinal application in treating a range of severe psychiatric disorders such as: major depressive disorder, treatment resistant depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, opioid use disorder and other substance use disorders, as well as anorexia.”

The series began Thursday with professors from UCLA and The Johns Hopkins University giving presentations on the use of psilocybin in end-of-life care and possible implications for the therapeutic use of “shrooms,” as they are commonly known today.

I’ll say that the National Institutes of Health really have not funded this area. As far as I’m aware, since the late ‘60s, they funded mechanistic questions but not actual treatment. Whether psychedelics may have some role as a treatment model, I think that needs to be re-looked at.

Dr. Charles Grob of UCLA

Dr. Charles Grob of UCLA minced no words about how support and funding for psychedelic studies have been lacking for far too long. 

“I’ll say that the National Institutes of Health really have not funded this area,” the professor said. “As far as I’m aware, since the late ‘60s, they funded mechanistic questions but not actual treatment. Whether psychedelics may have some role as a treatment model, I think that needs to be re-looked at.”

He wasn’t alone. When asked about whether the scheduling status of psilocybin under federal law inhibits research into the compound’s risk and benefits, Dr. Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins said the “Schedule I status is anathema to research, because it makes research much more difficult—and that’s both clinical research and even pre-clinical research.”

That’s why he’s a part of a growing number of experts pressuring federal lawmakers to unshackle the nation’s scientific community. 

“Even a pre-clinical neurological researcher, if they want to work with a Schedule I compound, they still have to jump through all the hurdles and create a [Drug Enforcement Administration] license and track their substance in a way that’s really quite discouraging of research,” he said. “I wish there were an easier workaround for Schedule I compounds and research generally, but as the laws are currently written, there isn’t a workaround.”

The next event is scheduled for May 27, with presentations based around regulatory issues and the possibilities of using psychedelics as medicine. Microdosing psilocybin, a popular topic among adherents, and using “shrooms”  in treating depression are among the topics for June 3. The final event, on June 10, will take a deep dive into psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for advanced cancer-related distress.

NCI hopes the events will help provide real scientific research for those working in the field and identify research gaps to help develop further studies. 

Government agencies are slowly awaking to the possibility of using federally banned substances in mental health treatments. The organization hosted a symposium on research into marijuana as a therapeutic in the treatment of cancer and other related issues in December. The Food and Drug Administration (or FDA) held a conference in November that examined the use and effects of CBD differ based on sex and gender.

This NCI series — comprised of some of the nation’s best and brightest minds — is even more evidence that the use of psychedelics for mental health issues is gaining ground. 

After the city of Denver decriminalized their use and the state of Oregon followed suit by decriminalizing all drugs, many other states and cities, from Massachusetts to California, are re-examining whether prohibition is the right thing. 

The cities of Oakland, Santa Cruz, Ann Arbor and Washington, D.C. have all now decriminalized possession of plant-and fungi-based psychedelics.

This piece is a part of a content sharing arrangement between The News Station and Marijuana Moment.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE, etc.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE, etc.

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