FDPS EVP Luke Niforatos in The Colorado Springs Gazette: Exposing Colorado’s psychedelic conflicts of interest

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As Colorado develops its regulatory framework for the psychedelics industry, we now see that it is being undermined by many of the same competing interests that have taken hold of the state’s profit-driven THC drug and marijuana industry.

Most recently, Kevin Matthews, the president of Denver’s Psilocybin Review Panel, found himself at the center of controversy. Despite ostensibly serving in an impartial role for the betterment of his community, it was revealed that Matthews continues to work for Healing Advocacy Fund. Healing Advocacy Fund is the lobbying arm of New Approach PAC, which spent millions of dollars to push through the passage of Proposition 122, which legalized “medical” psilocybin statewide in 2022.

In other words, the New Approach PAC, a political entity bent on legalizing psilocybin (and other drugs) commercially, is paying and influencing the man who leads Denver’s regulatory framework for psilocybin. Now that the drug has been legalized statewide with Proposition 122, we should avoid making this mistake at the state level.

We should be concerned about Colorado’s track record of oversight for our “medical” substances. Ean Seeb, our “marijuana czar,” was a marijuana industry tycoon before taking the job regulating the industry. How does this protect the public’s interests of safety?

After Colorado voted to legalize recreational marijuana, the profit-driven marijuana industry worked to place its representatives on influential oversight boards. Sometimes, regulations are crafted to carve out a few seats for the marijuana industry; other times, the process is less clear. It calls into question the ethical and transparent nature of the regulatory process, which should give Coloradans cause for concern.

Strict, serious oversight is critical at a time when psychedelics are being promoted and normalized on social media in the same way that marijuana has been for the past decade. A local news report recently highlighted a TikTok “influencer” who directs her followers to Golden Rule Mushroom Company, citing the “health” benefit of microdosing psilocybin. In return, she “receives a monetary kickback” from the company. What’s not noted in the posts by the influencer in question is that she is not a medical professional and her statements do not carry the backing of any medical organization or the FDA.

In the health-care world, there are laws that prohibit kickbacks for prescribing medication.

Even though psilocybin remains illegal at the federal level and is a Schedule 1 substance –– meaning it has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical benefits –– these “social media influencers,” who are not trained as medical professionals, regularly tout these products to our kids as wonder drugs. You can be sure that they are not mentioning the fact that psilocybin is not approved by the FDA to treat any disease or condition.

It raises the question, what does Matthews have to say about that?

This discussion matters because psilocybin is a dangerous substance. It is linked with suicide and accidental deaths. A growing phenomenon called hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, characterized by “long-lasting condition characterized by spontaneous recurrence of visual disturbances reminiscent of acute hallucinogen intoxication” is increasing cause for concern. Like THC, it has also been associated with psychosis.

One study of user experiences with psilocybin found 39% rated its experience as one of “the top five most challenging experiences” of their lives. 11% of users stated that it put themselves “or others at risk of physical harm.” Those with preexisting mental health issues are, of course, at risk as well.

Meanwhile, the psychedelics industry is fast becoming like the tobacco and marijuana industries in its quest to target young demographics.

A local news source reported last October that “magic mushroom chocolates, gummies, tea and other psilocybin edibles could be legally available in Colorado by late 2024 or early 2025.” First, Big Weed infused THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, into gummies, chocolates, edibles, and countless other things. Now, the same sorts of industry players are trying to do the same with psilocybin.

Who will be approving these products for sale?

You guessed it: the same regulatory boards that are being targeted by groups like the New Approach PAC, like we see playing out in Denver.

Given that the Denver Psilocybin Review Panel is led by someone financially associated with the New Approach PAC, which will move on to target the other states for legalization, residents can expect to see these types of harms either downplayed or completely overlooked.

The psychedelics industry is following the playbook that has proven useful for Colorado’s marijuana industry. Their P&L wins, and the public loses.

Residents should demand better from our elected officials and regulatory authorities.

Luke Niforatos is the executive vice president of the Foundation for Drug Policy Solutions and a national drug policy expert.