LUKE NIFORATOS: Magic Mushrooms As Medicine? More False Promises From The Addiction Industry

Just days after Minnesota lawmakers narrowly passed a bill to flood the state with the drug THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, addiction profiteers made their next move by advancing another bill to create a “Psychedelic Medicine Task Force,” with the clear goal of commercializing more drugs.

It’s an increasingly familiar pattern of behavior in states where the legalization of marijuana has become a springboard for creating a larger drug industry, unthinkable just a few years ago. Time has exposed the playbook behind the effort to legalize as many drugs as possible. Americans should beware.

The first component of the strategy is to reduce perceptions of risk about marijuana, through marketing and lobbying efforts. Pot has undergone a major PR makeover, largely under the direction of Big Tobacco companies who saw the cigarette market shrinking. Clever marketing and messaging have rebranded weed as “recreation,” like playing basketball or going fishing.

It’s working. The percentage of 12th graders who said there is great risk associated with using marijuana “regularly” has decreased from 78.6 percent to 27.6 percent since the 1990s.

The industry has also worked overtime to convince lawmakers and voters that marijuana is medicine, despite Surgeons General appointed by both Republicans and Democrats, as well as the FDA, DEA and major medical associations making it clear that marijuana is not an approved treatment for any medical condition. Billions were invested and “medical” marijuana was born.

It worked as well. So-called “medical” marijuana has been legalized in 38 states.

This gave the industry a foothold in states that they leveraged for full commercialization and much wider consumption. In every state where marijuana is considered medicine, the industry has pushed full commercialization. That’s not a coincidence. A profitable industry requires looser regulations and larger quantities of more frequent users.

While lobbyists have been working to establish the wider marketplace, the products have been industrialized, making them more potent, easier to use, and more attractive to children.

Over the last decade, the THC found in pot products has undergone a major chemical makeover. THC potency is now on average four times what it was 20 years ago. Woodstock weed was 1-3% percent THC; now it’s 15-25%. Today’s vape oils are often above 90% THC, and THC-infused gummy bears are high potency as well.

Higher potency products are linked to greater usage rates and more serious consequences. The data continue to show increased rates of Cannabis Use Disorder(addiction to marijuana) and health outcomes, including depressionschizophrenia,psychosis, IQ loss and suicidality – all amplified in young people. More people use pot today on a daily basis than use alcohol daily, and use by young adults is at an all-time high.

Now, the profit-driven industry is thinking even bigger, pushing to legalize psychedelics including “magic mushrooms” and stronger drugs. To do it, the industry has again opened the old playbook to advance the notion that these drugs are actually therapeutic.

It’s a business model built around the normalization of more people using more drugs at higher doses to fuel greater profits.

For drug legalizers, it has never been about science or the data or how many people are harmed. It’s always about the money.

Psychedelics include LSD, ecstasy, psilocybin (magic mushrooms), PCP and others that cause a person to “hallucinate and feel an extreme sense of euphoria.” Use of psychedelics alters the brain and perceptions of reality. It can result in significant psychological, emotional, and physical damage, particularly for young people, those with mental health issues, and people struggling with substance use disorders. Recent research on psychedelics showed a connection to “cases of manic behavior.” Other dangerous side effects include seizures, heart attacks, high blood pressure, and comas.

Following the legalization of marijuana in 2014, Oregon passed Measure 110 in 2020, which decriminalized the possession of all drugs, including fentanyl, heroin, meth, and cocaine. Advocates claimed it would get more people into treatment. The policy experiment has been a resounding failure. Less than one percent of individuals have entered treatment, and opioid deaths in Oregon have continued to increase, outpacing the national average.

In Colorado, the first state to legalize marijuana, Proposition 122 was funded by the industry to commercialize psychedelics, including psilocybin, DMT, mescaline, and ibogaine. 

In California, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Nevada, and Massachusetts, there are efforts now underway to legalize psychedelics and increase their use, all following the legalization of marijuana.

It should be no surprise that the playbook for psychedelics follows that used for marijuana. The same corporate and marketing executives who told us marijuana was medicine are now heralding psychedelics as the next big thing.

But none of these are wonder drugs. None will provide tax revenue to close budget gaps. None will make communities safer or give our youth a greater chance to succeed.

Many of the investors behind this push convinced our grandparents that cigarettes were beneficial using the exact same arguments. Millions have died as a result.

The arguments are the same, the methods are the same, but the products are even more addictive and more dangerous. Understanding this strategy will help voters combat it, so that we do not condemn future generations to the same mistakes our nation made with cigarettes and opioids.