Doctors, advocates seek alternative health treatments in New Mexico

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – For decades doctors in New Mexico have been allowed to prescribe marijuana as a treatment for a wide range of health problems, and it seems to be working.

Medical marijuana sales brought in more than $16 million last month alone.

But some medical experts in the state have their eye on a different drug –  magic mushrooms.

They say the drug offers patients something current treatments and even medical marijuana  just can’t provide, and they’re asking state lawmakers to help open some doors.

“I don’t want to put cannabis down at all, I’m a supporter of cannabis, but it’s just a very different experience that you have,” said Marisa C De Baca with the New Mexico Psychedelic Society. 

The New Mexico Psychedelic Science Society is a non-profit working to get rid of the stigma around so-called “magic mushrooms.”

“This might be a new modality for Western, for Western medicine, Western therapy, this is not this is not new for many, many cultures, this is as old as human civilization,”  said De Baca. 

On Tuesday, she met with a group of state lawmakers to help get the ball rolling on therapeutic-use of the drug in New Mexico.

Next to her were a few local mental health experts who shared their experiences with the current behavioral treatments.

“There was one common theme across all these settings, which was that many of the people that were seeing me were not getting better with current treatments,” said Dr. Gerald Valentine a Santa Fe based psychiatrist. 

Psilocybin is the chemical found in magic mushrooms. 

Recent studies – including one from the University of New Mexico – have shown it can successfully help treat certain mental illnesses and disorders that are essentially hard-wired into the brain.

“If you have something like depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder, where that trauma is really kind of just built into your framework, in your very existence, what these plant medicines or communicators tend to do, is they kind of block those things so that we are able to access different parts of our brain,” said De Baca. 

And once someone accesses those new parts therapists can help them create new pathways in the brain, ones that bypass those past traumas and even drug and alcohol addictions.

“People regain their autonomy. They’re not depending on another chemical to restructure what’s going on, they are actively involved and creating this new form of being,” De Baca said. 

And advocates believe those kinds of treatments are desperately needed in New Mexico.

“We’re in an epidemic of trauma, addiction and related diseases of despair. We see that everyday, the headlines are full of that. We have suicide, depression, shootings,” said Dr. Lawrence Leeman UNM medical professor.  

“It would be kind of crazy to not consider this and to look at it at this point,” said De Baca. 

But you’ve probably already guessed the big hurdle in the way. Psylocibin is still a Schedule I drug, the most serious classification in the United States, reserved for what are supposed to be the most dangerous drugs.

“Most people would argue that’s no longer true of psilocybin as a compound, or psilocybin mushrooms. At this point in time, they don’t have a high potential for abuse, there’s almost no addictive potential. It’s very, very uncommon that someone uses them repetitively,” said Leeman. 

Leeman says that Schedule I status is blocking medical experts from studying the drug, but not everyday people.

“If people decide they want to try the psilocybin for their addiction, they’re going underground, they’re using it illegally without any supervision. They’re using it without a safe envelope there,” said Leeman. 

That safe space is exactly what De Baca, Leeman and other advocates are asking state lawmakers to help them create.

“We’re really hoping that for those that have struggled for so long that if this works if this is something that you know is available to you that we make sure that it is available for you,” said De Baca. 

It’s too early to say if state lawmakers want to move forward with psychedelic therapies, but De Baca says her group is already meeting with lobbyists, and will be ready to help lawmakers put a bill together.