GUEST COLUMN: Avoid ‘another bad trip’ for Colorado

The Gazette

September 11, 2022

Luke Niforatos
Executive Vice President of FDPS

Despite rising rates of drug use because of COVID-19-related isolation, activists are now plotting to promote the use of another illegal substance: psychedelics. Dubbed the “Natural Medicine Health Act,” appearing as Initiative 58 this November, the effort to legalize and commercialize these substances ignores science and seeks to put Colorado on the map as the top destination for drug dealers hopeful to become “entrepreneurs” in the eye of state law.

We should not replay the public health harms that surrounded the rush to legalize marijuana. Instead, we should learn from history and wait for researchers to learn more about potential harms and benefits.

Federal researchers have recognized psychedelics — mind-altering drugs including psilocybin (magic mushrooms), LSD (acid), MDMA (ecstasy), mescaline (peyote), and ayahuasca — as Schedule 1 substances, meaning they have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit. Dismissing this assessment, supporters are wholeheartedly assuring the public that psychedelics can treat everything from addiction and depression to PTSD and countless other mental health issues.

We’ve seen this playbook when it was used to commercialize and normalize opioids and marijuana.

Like the push to legalize marijuana, profit-driven companies are leading the charge, eager to promote psychedelics as the newest wonder drug while downplaying harms.

While it is possible that some isolated ingredients of some psychedelics help some patients experiencing mental health issues, their potential benefits remain unproven and have not been accepted by the medical community. Most notably, the American Psychiatric Association stated in July that, “There is currently inadequate scientific evidence for endorsing the use of psychedelics to treat any psychiatric disorder.”

And we should be skeptical about entrepreneurs’ promises related to psychedelics.

Given the mind- and mood-altering effects of psychedelics, the drugs have been associated with attempted suicide and accidental death. Users might also develop a hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, which is “a long-lasting condition characterized by spontaneous recurrence of visual disturbances reminiscent of acute hallucinogen intoxication.” Others might develop persistent psychosis. Psychedelics are not safe, harmless, or risk-free.

It’s also worth noting that a 2016 study found that 39% of those who used psilocybin rated the experience as one of “the top five most challenging experiences” of their lives. It also found that 11% of users noted that it put themselves “or others at risk of physical harm.” Many users with preexisting mental health issues will experience a “bad trip.”

Oregon in 2020 passed a similar measure to Initiative 58. Dr. Kimberley Golletz, a member of their Psilocybin Advisory Board, recently pointed out there is, “a disconnect in what voters were told to expect when they voted and now.” Voters thought they were supporting a program focused on mental health treatment, “but it’s not medical,” Dr. Galletz added.

Seventy-three percent of Americans oppose legalizing psilocybin, 80% oppose legalizing LSD, and 81% oppose legalizing ecstasy. Despite widespread opposition, Stat reported “The psychedelic legalization movement is progressing parallel to a gold rush to develop these same drugs as medicine.” Industries like Big Pharma, marijuana, and others will invest millions into PR campaigns to make psychedelics appear risk-free and appealing.

Just as marijuana was legalized at the state level without sufficient user protections, the industry will lobby for minimal regulations around psychedelics. It is no coincidence that supporters of psychedelics are targeting states that previously legalized marijuana, basing their arguments around the same dubious claims about purported medical benefits.

Much remains unknown about psychedelics. When asked, “What do psychedelics do to the human mind,” Michael Pollan, a leading proponent of psychedelics, responded, “The honest answer: nobody quite understands.” Considering the many unknown aspects surrounding psychedelics, voters — and especially potential users — should be skeptical of claims about their efficacy.

The costs of getting this wrong are too steep for us to proceed without understanding all the potential side effects. Until we know more, we should reject the legalization of psychedelics — it will be another “bad trip” for Colorado.