House approves proposal to study magic mushrooms for mental health treatments

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SANTA FE, N.M. – The House Health and Human Services Committee unanimously approved a new proposal Wednesday morning to study the use of magic mushrooms in mental health treatments.

It may sound odd, but the research is real and has some promising results.

“It’s not that the kind of drug that we used to tease those hippie-dippie folks living in tents up in northern New Mexico. That’s not, it’s not that kind of a use,” said state Rep. Christine Trujillo.  

Trujillo is well aware of the stigma surrounding so-called “magic mushrooms” but she also knows those mushrooms can do a lot of good.

“The bottom line is this is a good option for folks who are suffering from PTSD, depression, a variety of other ailments, that other medicine does not help,” said Trujillo. 

And the limited research on psychedelic mushrooms agrees with her.

“I’m kind of oversimplifying, but the brain kind of becomes hyper-connected, where parts of the brain that don’t talk to each other normally start talking to each other,” said Dr. Snehal Bhatt, chief of addiction psychiatry at the UNM Health Sciences Center. 

Bhatt recently published a study showing psilocybin — the hallucinogenic chemical in magic mushrooms — can successfully reduce heavy drinking in patients suffering from alcohol abuse disorder.

“The group that got psilocybin, the heavy drinking days actually dropped to under 10%, and if you just look at the last four or five weeks of follow up,” said Bhatt. “Almost half of them were totally abstinent in those last five weeks.” 

But it wasn’t just the mushrooms at work, Bhatt says the study included several weeks of psychotherapy which is a key component of the treatment.

“When someone takes these substances, the brain becomes sort of hyper, you know, open to new learning, open to deep learning, right? And then that can be sort of harnessed with therapy to improve,” said Bhatt. 

But is research enough to change the minds of New Mexicans, and more importantly state lawmakers?

“I want to support this bill, and I need your help, just for a second, I’ve always been taught that these are bad,” said state Rep. Harlan Vincent. 

Psylocibin is still considered a Schedule 1 drug in the United States – the most severe category — and that’s despite the FDA naming it a breakthrough therapy in 2018. That’s why Trujillo’s bill is starting small. 

House Bill 393 is only asking to study the feasibility of a psilocybin-based therapy program, hopefully opening the door for future legislation.

“I don’t think humans are disposable. We have got to start thinking about how we treat people that are in there struggling with, with those mental health issues,” said Trujillo. 

“If we add one more tool in our toolbox that is proving to be you know, less side effects, a less less chance of overdose, less chance of addiction to help combat those things, then it’s really a win win for everybody,” said Jeffrey Holland, board member of the New Mexico Psychedelic Science Society. 

It’s important to note lawmakers are not proposing legalizing psilocybin or other psychedelics. 

There is talk of decriminalizing the drug like other states have done, but that’s not currently on the table in New Mexico right now.

Track HB 393 during the legislative session.