This report will take a look at political views and regulations on psychedelic compounds around the world. It will look at where various countries, and their states, are in legalizing these compounds. Your questions about which laws are changing, who can change them, and who is leading the efforts to legalize psychedelics will all be answered. You will gain insight into the politics surrounding psychedelics on both a global and national level.
Belief in the medicinal powers of psychedelics is spreading, and it wouldn’t be possible without companies and research institutions across the globe all taking part. Every country involved has taken on a different role, and they’re all important in building new treatments to solve unmet mental health needs. Governments around the world are gaining confidence in psychedelics as a result of the growing body of research supporting the efficacy of treatments.
As the global mental health crisis reaches epic proportions, leaders are looking for new solutions to help their citizens recover from debilitating health issues such as depression, anxiety disorder, PTSD, addiction, and more. In the past decade, mental health disorders have swept the globe. The number of people reporting mental health issues is growing exponentially, especially since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. These issues prevent people from living their lives and being productive members of society. Leaders worldwide are desperate for solutions and the efficacy of psychedelic treatment for many, if not all, of these issues, has prompted lawmakers to reconsider the harsh restrictions on psychedelic compounds.
According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 8 people worldwide are living with a mental disorder (1). Mental health disorders are rampant and few treatments are highly effective and/or non-addictive. These issues are leading to decreased satisfaction in people’s lives and productivity. The global economy loses about US$ 1 trillion per year in productivity due to depression and anxiety (3). As mental health issues continue to grow across the globe, leaders are looking for new solutions.
Psychedelic research began in the late 50s and the results for treating a variety of conditions were promising. The results gave doctors and psychologists hope that they could treat their patients more effectively than ever before. In the mid-late 60s, the hopeful outlook on psychedelic medicines turned to fear about the social consequences that they might have and that ultimately lead to the shutting down of all research in the area.
The campaign that lead to the end of psychedelic research was designed by politicians. But now, it is the public that is leading the fight to end this prohibition. The powerful cultural influence that psychedelics have when democratized, as Timothy Leary proposed, scared government institutions into completely disregarding the medicinal use of these compounds. Once these compounds, specifically LSD, were in the hands of the people, they inspired a counterculture movement that threatened the very institutions that many deemed necessary and moral. Before his untimely fall from power, President Richard Nixon waged an all-out war against psychedelic compounds. The war on drugs lead much of society to believe that these compounds were dangerous and had no medicinal purpose.
Psychedelic medicine remained hidden, but not forgotten, for nearly half a century before creeping back to fame over the past decade. Studies began to pop up again, and as the modern body of research has grown, the political views on psychedelics have shifted as well. More and more studies are coming out of top research institutions like Yale and Johns Hopkins and from biotech companies that are developing new compounds. They are continuing to exhibit the efficacy of psychedelic treatment and lawmakers are being forced to take a serious look at changing regulations.
- Psychedelic compounds– LSD, MDMA, Psilocybin, DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, Mescaline, Ibogaine, Ketamine.
- Mental health disorders– Major Depressive disorder, Bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD, addiction, insomnia.
- Psychedelic-assisted therapy– Psychotherapy executed with the help of psychedelic compounds to increase positive results.
- Psychedelic medicines– All psychedelic compounds used to treat disorders
- Psychedelic drugs– Psychedelic compounds synthesized to treat a specific disease or disorder
- Clinical trials– A study designed to test the efficacy of a medication or medical treatment
There were three international conventions related to drugs between 1961 and 1988. During these conventions, many countries– including the US and Canada– agreed to abide by the regulations agreed upon. Among other things, the treaties provide the scheduling of drugs that is still in use in many countries today. Every country has a different format for scheduling controlled substances, but the treaties dictate certain restrictions on drugs, such as whether a compound can be sold legally, or if it needs to be prescribed by a doctor.
While the treaties prevent the recreational use of both cannabis and all psychedelic compounds, they do not prevent medical use. So, drugs approved by a country’s regulatory agency can go to market without violating the treaty. However, the recreational use of psychedelics would violate those treaties.
A handful of countries are already in violation of the treaties because of their recreational cannabis market. Cannabis is fully legalized for recreational use (on a federal level) in Canada and The Netherlands. That is not the case in the United States, however, 20 states have legalized recreational use. Though they are going against international law by doing so, the federal government has made no significant effort to shut them down. The UN has expressed its discontent with the US and other countries for not enforcing the agreed-upon drug restrictions, however, there is not much that they can or will do to enforce it. To change the status of cannabis and psychedelics under the drug treaties, a new treaty would have to be drafted and signed. New treaties supersede old treaties, so if one was signed reclassifying the status of psychedelics, it would allow new regulations to be put in place. There has been no sign of intent to do this or to enforce the regulations in any country that has recreational cannabis use. This is a good sign for psychedelics.
The United States
The United States is one of the main leaders in the psychedelic movement. There have been significant changes in political views and legislation at the federal and state levels. As a global leader, these shifts are going to have a long-reaching impact on the rest of the world. The US government was a huge player behind the prohibition of psychedelic medicines. President Nixon led the brigade against psychedelics in the 70s, even though there was promising research on the medical benefits. The war on drugs swept across the globe and psychedelics were banned in most countries. However, now the US is leading the way out of the psychedelic prohibition.
As one of the top three innovative countries in the world, the US has the power to rebrand psychedelics as a new-age breakthrough treatment for mental health issues. The US also has the resources to fund the expensive research that is required to bring psychedelic medicines to the market on a national and global level– and that is just what is happening.
Changes to federal law are the only way to get psychedelic treatments available across the entire country. Though some progressive states are taking things into their own hands, most remain strongly opposed. The rescheduling of psychedelic compounds is crucial. All psychedelics are currently scheduled drugs, meaning that they are associated with high abuse potential. However, studies have shown that psychedelics do not create dependencies. There have not been any changes to the scheduling yet, but there has been talk about the benefits of psychedelic treatment on multiple levels of the US government.
Three divisions of the government play a part in the legalization of psychedelics– the legislative/ executive branches, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They all influence the legislation and social acceptance of psychedelic medicines. The DEA and FDA are largely responsible for allowing the recent increase in research. As far as rescheduling these compounds goes, action could be taken by either the DEA or the legislative branch of government.
Executive and Legislative
The executive and legislative branches are the primary forces in lawmaking. Theoretically, the judicial branch could rule that people have a right to psychedelics and deem the prohibition of psychedelics unconstitutional. However, the path to psychedelic legalization is much more likely to move through congress, the senate, and executive action.
The previous and current executive administrations have expressed their desires to increase access to psychedelic treatment. This shift has come as a result of recent studies showing the efficacy of psilocybin and MDMA for the treatment of depression and PTSD– two issues that many Americans struggle with and that there are few viable treatments for. Depression and suicide rates have become especially high since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Lawmakers are more open to new viable treatments.
The first glimpse of legal access to psychedelic treatment came in 2018. The Right to Try Act was passed in the house and senate and then signed into law by President Donald Trump before he departed from office. Under the act, terminally ill patients have access to schedule 1 drugs that have gone through phase 1 clinical trials– including psilocybin and MDMA. This was intended to allow patients access to all possible medical treatments. Psilocybin has been proven to help terminally ill patients come to terms with their diagnosis so that their last days are not so filled with terror. The Right To Try Act allows access to this type of treatment. However, the DEA has been blocking attempts for patients to gain access to psilocybin– going against the law.
The Right To Try Clarification Act is bipartisan legislation that was brought to the floor by Senators Cory Booker and Rand Paul. This was meant to clarify that schedule 1 drugs are available for those with life-threatening conditions. The republicans have historically been the main force behind the anti-psychedelic movement, however, with research coming out on the benefits of psychedelic treatment for PTSD this is changing. Among the platform of the Republican party is a commitment to this country’s veterans– many of whom struggle with PTSD after returning from war. The partnership between Booker and Paul is promising for the future of psychedelics as a medical treatment supported by all, and not just a small section of the country influenced by the psychedelic counterculture.
Our current administration has also expressed support for psychedelic treatment. Depression and anxiety rates are rising, especially since the pandemic and available treatments such as SSRIs and benzodiazepines show minimal results compared to placebos. President Biden expects psilocybin and MDMA to gain FDA approval as a breakthrough therapy for depression and PTSD in the next two years.
The legislative branch could pass a law requiring the DEA to reschedule psychedelic drugs. Biden could also attempt an executive order. Given that he has yet to follow through on his promise of legalizing Cannabis, this is unlikely.
Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is tasked with regulating and enforcing drug use in the US. The agency was created in 1973 by President Richard Nixon as part of his “war on drugs” campaign. Nixon and his administration were largely targeting the counterculture movement that was fueled by psychedelics, so this became a driving force within the agency. Over the past 50 years, they have harshly gone after psychedelic use, but that is slowly starting to change.
The DEA has publicly acknowledged the need for more research on the benefits of psychedelic treatment. Over recent years they have increased the number of psychedelic compounds available for research. The DEA must approve the use of schedule 1 drugs in research, as well as the growing and manufacturing of the compounds for clinical trials. They could very well block the new wealth of research from occurring, however, that has not been the case. They recently announced huge increases to the amount of psilocin, LSD, 5-MeO-DMT, and mescaline that will be produced for research purposes.
Though they are not actively changing regulations on psychedelic drugs, they are not blocking the increase in research and use either. They are supporting new research and have yet to declare that they will prevent Oregon clinics from using psilocybin. Though the state of Oregon legalized psilocybin use in 2020, it remains federally illegal. That means that the DEA could prevent clinics from opening– as planned– in 2023. This was the same case with cannabis. As states began to legalize the medical and recreational use of cannabis, the DEA had the legal right to go in and shut down dispensaries and arrest those who work there. There were cases of this happening, but as more and more states legalized use, this decreased. It will not be known definitively whether they will be going after psilocybin clinics in Oregon until they open in mid-late 2023.
The DEA also holds a role in the release of psychedelic drugs into the market– we will talk about this more below.
Food & Drug Administration (FDA)
The FDA and DEA work in tandem to set the rules and regulations on drugs. The role of the FDA is to oversee the study and testing of drugs to measure their safety and efficacy, and then to make decisions on whether or not it is safe to be on the market. The DEA is then tasked with enforcing the laws influenced by the FDA’s due diligence.
The FDA has been a huge factor in the success of psychedelic drug research and development. Companies such as MAPS, Compass Pathways, and MindMed (to name just a few) have been able to advance psychedelic research through clinical trials with the approval of the FDA. Thus far, the FDA has not posed any roadblocks to psychedelics that are not congruent with the normal scrutiny placed on novel drugs.
Unfortunately, only 48% of Americans trust the FDA– according to a study by Harvard (6). Regardless of the citizens’ trust in this organization, their approval is needed to bring psychedelic drugs to the mass market. Many of the big psychedelic biotech companies have been working well with the FDA to move their clinical trials along. If the process continues to go smoothly, we can expect FDA-approved psychedelic drugs in the next couple of years.
A new drug must complete all three phases of clinical trials to get a drug approved by the FDA. This process takes companies years and millions of dollars to complete. They must prove first that the drug is safe to test on humans. Then move through human trials to prove that the compound does work in treating the proposed indication. Only then will the FDA approve a drug for public use. However, when working with schedule 1 compounds, the DEA must reschedule it before the drug can pass the finish line and move to market. After FDA approval, the DEA has to reschedule the drug for it to complete the process.
If the DEA reschedules a drug, it does not mean that the base compound is rescheduled. For example, if Compass Pathways has its synthetic psilocybin compound COMP 360 rescheduled, that does not mean that psilocybin will be entirely removed from schedule 1. In 2018, the DEA rescheduled a cannabidiol (CBD) drug developed by GW Pharmaceuticals to treat a rare form of epilepsy. This pure form of cannabidiol is now legal to prescribe, however, CBD and cannabis remain schedule 1. This is the same process that psychedelic drugs developed by companies like Compass Pathways and MAPS will go through. They will attempt to get their specific drug rescheduled, per the recommendation of the FDA, while the compound that they are based on remains illegal.
This legal pathway to bringing psychedelic medicines to market is what big biotech companies are utilizing. Though the DEA can refuse to reschedule the drugs, there is currently no reason to believe that they will do so. There will likely be a handful of drugs on the market that go through this process before psychedelics become officially legalized on a federal level. This will allow people who need these treatments to obtain them within the next few years.
Psilocybin is at the forefront of legalization on a state level. In 2020, Oregon became the first state to legalize magic mushrooms in a supervised setting for “personal development.” By opting for this instead of medical use, it allows practitioners without a degree to lead psychedelic treatment sessions. This is an interesting antithesis to the federal side of things. The only way to change federal laws on psychedelics is to go through the research institution channels to prove that psychedelics are beneficial and safe on a medical level. The states and cities that are changing their laws around psychedelics are taking a different approach. The legislation in Oregon more closely resembles the Timothy Leary movement within the early psychedelic days. The belief that psychedelics should be democratized and that citizens have the right to access them is more present in the states and cities that have taken it upon themselves to change their rules around psychedelics, even though they remain federally illegal.
In 2019, Denver became the first city to decriminalize psychedelics. Since then, cities in California, Washington, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Colorado have followed suit. These cities often cited the right to explore spirituality, as well as the abundance of studies proving that psychedelics are safe and even have medicinal benefits. On November 8, 2022, Colorado become the second US state to decriminalize psychedelic compounds and legalize psilocybin clinics. Colorado’s legislation, like Oregon’s, focuses on equity in business and access to psychedelic treatment.
The decriminalization and legalization of psychedelics are walking a similar path to that of Cannabis. Oregon, Colorado, Michigan, Washington, and California were among those who lead the way to legalizing Cannabis for Medical and recreational use. There are, however, some really interesting differences between the cannabis and psychedelic landscapes. The prospect of Cannabis becoming federally legal has only come to light recently after a significant number of states have legalized cannabis for medical and/or recreational use. Psychedelics, on the other hand, are seeing potential shifts in federal and FDA regulation at the same time that states are beginning to change their laws. This is largely due to the medicinal benefits of psychedelic compounds. Though there are some medical benefits of cannabis, such as pain relief and appetite increase in cancer patients, they are nowhere near the potential of psychedelics which show promise as the most effective treatment for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction. The sheer number of biotech companies pushing compounds such as psilocybin, LSD, DMT, and MDMA through their pipeline is the reason that federal laws are going to be quicker to change than they have been with cannabis.
When psychedelics began their rise to popularity in the 50s and 60s, two forces were working. On one side, you had the institutional scientists who saw psychedelics as a breakthrough discovery in psychiatry. Then there was the counterculture movement, led by Timothy Leary, that spread the belief that psychedelics were a tool for personal and cultural transformation. It was the latter that ultimately led to the destruction of the scientific community’s efforts in psychedelic medicine. Now we see these two sides reappearing in different capacities. The scientific and institutional side is largely the same. But the side that believes psychedelics are a human right is largely the one leading the way for cities and states, such as Oregon and Colorado to decriminalize. The two sides are bound to intersect in the next few years and whether they will merge or clash is yet to be seen. This time, however, those pushing the democratic psychedelic agenda are utilizing the help of biotech companies and their clinical trials to argue the safety and efficacy of psychedelic treatment.
Oregon is nearing the end of its two-year period– allowed by measure 109– to hash out the details of the psychedelic treatment structure in the state. In January of 2023, the state will begin taking applications for psilocybin treatment centers. This will be the first system of its kind and its success or failure will have a huge impact on other states following suit. By then, the votes will be in to determine whether Colorado will be following suit and becoming the second state to legalize the use of psilocybin. Oregon will only be allowing natural psilocybin (magic mushrooms), while it is not yet determined whether Colorado will be going natural or utilizing synthetic psilocybin.
If these two states can show that access to psilocybin treatment improves the quality of lives of its citizens and adds value to society, then it may help push things along at a federal level. Oregon is creating a container for psychedelics that has never before been synthesized, so the outcome is difficult to predict. They are not requiring that facilitators have any degree, only that they complete a certification. The lawmakers hope that this makes treatment more accessible to a greater number of lower-income citizens. Allowing only psychiatrists to facilitate treatment creates a supply issue where the number of patients seeking treatment grossly outnumbers the number of facilitators available. This will also drive up the price. Some biotech companies are trying to combat this by developing analogues with a shortened half-life or no hallucinogenic effects at all. These drugs are at least a few years from being FDA-approved and available to the public, so programs like Measure 109 are making an effort to lower the cost of treatment by keeping the cost of providing treatment low, and also minimizing the number of clinics that one person can have a financial interest in to lower the risk of one company monopolizing the industry and driving up prices.
The psychedelic framework in Canada is shaped much like the structure in the US, however, there are of course differences. A lot of work in the psychedelic field is being done in Canada. Although the use of psychedelics is not legal, there is access for research, drug development, and even for a limited number of patients.
Canada has been a hub for psychedelic research, much like the US. Many of the big psychedelic biotech companies have held trials in the country. They allow access to psychedelic compounds for research and will allow drug research and development companies to bring psychedelic drugs to market– given that they go through the right channels.
Companies, including Field Trip Health and Numinus Wellness, are traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX). Canada is a key player in the burgeoning psychedelic market.
Ultimately, it is up to the lawmakers to reschedule and allow access to psychedelic medicines. There has been little movement on things in this area, though there have been some promising developments.
There is currently a group of people suing the crown for access to psilocybin therapy. Seven patients, brought together by non-profit Therasil, are claiming that the Canadian government is violating section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms– which ensures the right to life, liberty, and security of the person. A similar lawsuit was launched in 2000 by a patient who found that medicinal marijuana helped alleviate his epilepsy symptoms– the case was won. If this case wins, it will increase access to psilocybin-assisted therapy for people suffering from several mental health indications.
Pharmaceutical Drugs Directorate
The Pharmaceutical Drugs Directorate (formerly known as the Therapeutic Product Directorate (TPD)) acts much like the FDA in the United States. They are a part of Health Canada– the federal department tasked with helping Canadians ‘maintain and improve their health.’ Patients and providers can apply through Health Canada for access to psychedelics (legally). Terminally ill patients applying for access to help with end-of-life distress are often approved within 24 hours. However, those applying for other indications, such as treatment-resistant depression or PTSD are often denied but referred to clinical trials for access.
This department is tasked with monitoring the drug development process. Companies must follow their guidelines for clinical trials and their drugs must be approved by the PDD before they are allowed to enter the market. The Pharmaceutical Drug Directorate is who permits a company to sell a product for the purpose of consuming it. If they do approve a drug that is a restricted substance, the legislature must then move the compound to the classification of a controlled substance. Restricted drugs are not commercially available. It is essentially synonymous with schedule 1 drugs in the US– meaning that it has no approved medical use and cannot be prescribed. Controlled substances have restrictions on them, but can be approved for commercial use.
Office of Controlled Substance (OCS)
The OCS is tasked with enforcing that the controlled substances laws are being followed. They ensure that anyone handling controlled substances is in compliance and going through the proper PDD channels. They work with local law enforcement to ensure compliance with federal law. The OCS simply enforces the regulations put in place by the legislature. They have no power to change the law.
The OCS can give permission to possess and manufacture, however they cannot approve controlled substances to be given to someone for consumption. Companies doing psychedelic drug research and development will get permission from the OCS to access controlled substances, but once they want to move to clinical trials, they must go through the Pharmaceutical Drug Directorate.
Ultimately, federal law dictates the availability to access psychedelics. Individual provinces do not hold the power to trump federal law, however, they can further regulate– as Alberta has done. On October 5, 2022, the Alberta government announced that they would be putting into place regulations around the use of psychedelics. This does not mean that therapists will have access to psychedelics. The only way to obtain controlled substances is through federal channels. This means that therapists who wish to use psychedelic medicines with their patients must still access them through the normal channels, however, they will then have further controls on how they go about providing psychedelic-assisted therapy. This recent announcement has taken some criticism for making it more difficult for patients to access already difficult-to-access treatment.
No Canadian provinces have laws that contradict federal regulations, however, some individuals are challenging the laws and setting up shop anyway. Several shops in Vancouver, Toronto, and Victoria do offer magic mushrooms for sale. The dispensaries operate as licensed cafes. They sell psilocybin mushrooms as well as other controlled substances such as mescaline and coca leaf. Though technically illegal, law enforcement has thus far been focused on more dangerous drug trade such as cocaine and opioids. An establishment offering non-toxic and non-addictive plants is the least of their concern. This is similar to the cannabis cafes that were present in Canada before they became federally legal. Though not technically legal, law enforcement had bigger fish to fry.
Europe, of course, has a large variety of interests and participation in the psychedelic movement. The degree to which they’re involved varies greatly from country to country. England and the Netherlands are the two major players that have emerged out of Europe. A lot of significant research has come out of England, and the laws in the Netherlands have offered a unique platform for psychedelic companies. There have also been a handful of countries that have decriminalized psilocybin including Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, Serbia, and Croatia. Decriminalization merely means that a government will not be deploying resources to penalize the crime, however, it is still illegal.
The United Kingdom
The United Kingdom has had a significant amount of output for scientific research on the benefits of psychedelic medicines. Though drug laws in the UK are quite strict, they have allowed for institutional research into the medicinal benefits of psychedelics. The UK has three classes of drugs (A-C). Apart from Ketamine, most psychedelics are class A– meaning that they have no acknowledged medical benefit.
The UK is the home of one of the most influential scientists in the field– Dr. Robin L. Carhart-Harris. He has worked with Beckley Psychtec– as well as multiple other research institutions– to do groundbreaking brain imaging studies with LSD, MDMA, and DMT. Biomedical researchers can obtain a special permit to study psychedelic compounds, but they are otherwise illegal to possess, cultivate, manufacture, sell, or consume.
One in Five people in Brittain is taking either an antidepressant, anti-anxiety, or sleep medication. Like many other countries, their citizens are struggling with mental health issues. These issues are weighing heavily on the productivity of their citizens, and lawmakers are searching for new solutions. The previous prime minister, Boris Johnson, had said that he was reconsidering the scheduling of psilocybin because of its benefits for treating depression, though it never came to fruition. There are advocates for this within the government. Although there have not been any legal changes yet, the positive response to new research may lead to reform in the coming years.
The Netherlands has been a source of income for several companies cause of a special loophole in their law. Psilocybin is illegal, however, magic mushroom truffles are not explicitly named in that law, so the production and sale of them is legal. Magic mushroom truffles are the part that grows beneath the ground, and they do produce psychedelic effects.
Magic mushroom truffles are widely available for purchase in the Netherlands. Like with cannabis, Amsterdam has become a hotspot for the legal use of psilocybin. Companies such as Red Light Holland are capitalizing on this loophole. Rapper Wiz Khalifa recently announced his magic truffle brand to be launched in The Netherlands, and he plans to expand to the rest of Europe, Canada, and the US once it becomes legal. This represents a different aspect of the industry than much of the space is focusing on at this moment. Recreational sales of psychedelics are much further off than pharmaceutical use. Psychedelic drugs will be approved long before most countries reschedule these compounds for recreational sales, however, some companies are already preparing for these reforms, and Holland is the hub for the birth of these brands.
In 2001, Portugal decriminalized the possession of all drugs. Psychedelics are still illegal, however, citizens can obtain them for personal use without fear of legal repercussions. This is limited to a small number of drugs that someone can have for personal use. This type of decriminalization has been seen over the past few decades in a handful of countries as an attempt to decrease the violent effects of the drug trade and to decrease overdose. Overdoses and drug-related crime have decreased as a result.
Central & South America
Central and South America play quite an interesting and important role in all of this. Without countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica, and Peru, many of the biggest advocates for psychedelics may not have had access to them in the first place. Many psychedelics are legal in various Central and South American countries. These countries host the biggest collection of above-ground psychedelic treatment centers because psychedelics are either legal, or the government simply does not care to enforce their drug laws. The government and law-enforcement agencies down south are not like what is present in the US, Canada, and Europe. Trouble with the police can often be avoided with a small bribe. Ayahuasca, San Pedro, and 5-MeO-DMT are legal in several places, but legal or not, psychedelic retreats and treatment centers can operate without fear of repercussions.
They have not taken part in the scientific research being done on psychedelics because in many places these compounds were never banned and have been used in practice while the rest of the world sat in prohibition. Medicines like Ayahuasca, Magic Mushrooms, Bufo Frog, and San Pedro are used and accepted as viable treatments, so these areas find no need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on studies. The natives in these countries have a natural medicine system developed through trial and error over thousands of years. The studies being done in the west are a result of the need to prove to the government that these drugs are safe, beneficial, and should be legal. Central and South American governments do not need these studies because they do not prevent their citizens from using psychedelics.
Although there is not an abundance of new information coming out of Central and South America, certain countries are playing a big role in the psychedelic renaissance– they are offering a haven for people to try psychedelics. Many of those in top roles in the psychedelic industry have traveled to Mexico, Costa Rica, or Peru to give psychedelics a try and have come back convinced that they have found a new, unique answer to society’s problems.
Many key players in the modern psychedelic renaissance were born as a result of the lax rules and regulations down south. The countries vary in their laws surrounding psychedelics. Many have full legal use of certain substances, and some simply don’t care to uphold their laws. Laws are more suggestions than absolute rules in many south and central American countries. Governments and their agencies don’t run quite as tight a ship as many western countries. Because of this, many westerners have been introduced to psychedelics in these countries. The introduction of magic mushrooms, mescaline, DMT, and 5-MeO-DMT all came from the likes of this region.
Every country varies in its laws and leniencies. Let’s take a look at some of the countries that have had a major impact on the global use of psychedelic medicines.
Mexico has become a popular spot for retreats and treatment centers because the government pays little attention to psychedelics. Given the large number of narcotics being produced in and transported through the country, a few small psychedelic practitioners are the least of their concerns. The violence of cartels competing for control of drugs like cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl is astronomical. If the government can’t, or chooses not to, crack down on these illicit trades, psychedelics are certainly not a priority.
Article 245 does prohibit psychedelic mushrooms, though another law prevents prosecution for possession if they are being used for traditional spiritual practices or ceremonies. For the most part, all psychedelics are technically illegal in Mexico, except Bufo frog venom (5-MeO-DMT). Like in the US, ketamine is legal to prescribe by doctors and clinics use it to treat PTSD and depression. Ketamine clinics are prevalent in Mexico City. Because of Ketamine’s history as an anesthetic and pain reliever, it is not as heavily regulated as other psychedelic compounds in most countries. Many doctors around the world can legally prescribe it, which has made it easier for ketamine treatment centers and telehealth programs to open up around the world. Though all other psychedelics are technically illegal, there is little concern that treatment centers utilizing ayahuasca, ibogaine, psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA will face legal repercussions.
Many reputable psychedelic treatment centers have set up shop in Mexico. Beond Ibogaine is one company that has found a safe haven in the country where they can provide patients with ibogaine treatment. The likelihood of centers, like Beond’s, getting shut down is highly unlikely. They can operate without fear of the doctors having their medical licenses revoked or even going to prison, as could happen in many other countries.
Fun Fact! Knowledge about the hallucinogenic effects of magic mushrooms originated in Mexico. The first recorded instance of a Westerner tripping on mushrooms happened in a rural community. The infamous Maria Sabina, a Mexican Curandero, guided American Gordon Wasson through a magic mushroom trip that would change the Western world forever.
Costa Rica has become a hotspot for psychedelic retreats– specifically Ayahuasca. Most psychedelics are illegal and carry heavy penalties in Costa Rica. However, Ayahuasca and ibogaine remain unscheduled. So, retreat centers utilizing these two medicines have been able to operate within this grey area. For many people seeking out these medicines, Costa Rica is a much shorter trip than Peru– where Ayahuasca is popular. Many of the practitioners in Costa Rica learned from the native tribes in Peru and then built up retreat centers in Costa Rica. Mushrooms, LSD, and MDMA remain illegal with no known plans to change that. Despite the illegal status of psilocybin mushrooms, there are advertised retreats that utilize the compound.
Drug laws in Costa Rica are a bit different than much of the world. The cultivation, manufacture, transport, and trafficking of most drugs is illegal and punishable by 8-15 years in prison. However, possession for personal use has been decriminalized.
Peru is perhaps the most popular hub for Ayahuasca and San Pedro (a brew made from a cactus containing mescaline)– both of which are legal. These plant medicines have been used by local communities for centuries. Though they are no longer as prominent as they once were, the Shipibo and Q’ero communities still use them. Because of their cultural value, they remain legal in Peru.
Like Costa Rica, possession of a small amount of drugs for personal use is decriminalized. The manufacturing and sale of all psychedelics– apart from ayahuasca and San Pedro– is illegal and punishable under the law. However, law enforcement often turns a blind eye either for lack of concern or as the result of financial motivation.
Jamaica has pulled some attention lately for its legal magic mushrooms market. Psilocybin was never listed under the country’s Dangerous Drug Act, so it remains legal to cultivate, manufacture, sell, and use. Companies, such as Beckley Retreats and Silo Wellness have capitalized on this one-of-a-kind market. The country allows retreat centers to operate without fear of legal repercussions and to access high-quality products.
Psilocybin mushrooms, and other psychedelic mushrooms such as amanita muscaria, are widely available in grocery stores. While they are legal, they are not strictly regulated. In July 2021, the department of agriculture and fish put in place some interim protocols for the cultivation of mushrooms, including a required pest risk analysis to protect local plants from imported products. However, sellers are responsible for ensuring that their products are safe.
Senator Dr. Saphire Longmore has expressed the intention and desire to capitalize on the psilocybin market. He sees it as an opportunity for Jamaica’s economy because of the growth of people seeking treatment for medical and spiritual purposes. And, they have certainly benefitted from it. Major companies from the US and Canada have set up shops, retreat centers, and imported products for use in official studies.
Similarly to many of the other countries that we’ve discussed, psychedelics are illegal in Australia, however, the government has been allowing studies on their benefits. Last year, the government even put 15 million dollars into clinical research on psychedelics. This increase in research is in line with the rest of the globe. Australia is allowing psychedelic biotech companies to take up shop and work on drug research and development.
Things in New Zealand are largely aligned with the progress of psychedelic research in the rest of the world, however, they do have legal use of ibogaine. Doctors are able to prescribe the drug to treat opioid dependence. There are ibogaine clinics in the country to help people recover from their addiction. Given the immense global opioid problem, other countries would do well to follow suit. New Zealand has shown that legalizing ibogaine is perfectly safe and incredibly beneficial to the country’s citizens.
Thailand has fairly strict drug laws, however, the Justice Minister, Somak Thepsutin, has recently expressed interest in the medicinal benefits of magic mushrooms. As a result of the growing number of citizens struggling with depression, and the promising results of studies coming out of the US, Canada, and England, the Tha government has started its own study with Khon Haen University. There have been no changes to laws as of yet, and likely will not be until the trials testing the efficacy of synthetic psilocybin for the treatment of depression are completed. The study will take at least a year. Once complete, Thepsutin may move to legalize the use of magic mushrooms.
Last year the country loosened its laws on kratom and medicinal marijuana. If the studies successfully show that psilocybin is a beneficial treatment for depression, then Thailand may change its laws to allow cultivation and possession for personal use. The government has been focused on increasing treatment for depressed citizens as cases continue to rise. The need for new treatments for depression and PSTD is among the main reasons that many governments are reconsidering their laws around psychedelics. This is indicative of a global shift following the development in research on psychedelic compounds.
Laws all around the world are changing in regard to psychedelics. As studies confirming the safety and efficacy of psychedelic treatment continue to come out, acceptance of will continue to spread. Medical use of psychedelics will start to be approved by governments in the next couple of years, with countries like the United States, Holland, and Canada taking the lead. The global psychedelic prohibition was fueled by fear of the negative implications that these medicines could have on the fabric of society. However, with a large number of people struggling with debilitating mental health issues, change doesn’t seem so bad.
The shift in perception and regulation of psychedelics is changing rapidly. The snowball is rolling, and it will only continue to pick up speed. Many politicians are still timid regarding the subject, because of the history that psychedelics have had. One person at a time, that is changing.
- World Health Organization. (2022, June 8). Mental disorders. Who.int; World Health Organization: WHO. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-disorders
- MentalHealth.gov. “Mental Health Myths and Facts.” Mentalhealth.gov, 2017, www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/mental-health-myths-facts.
- World Health Organization. “Mental Health.” Who.int, World Health Organization: WHO, 2 Oct. 2019, www.who.int/news-room/facts-in-pictures/detail/mental-health.
- Jaeger, K. (2022, October 14). DEA Proposes Dramatic Increases In Marijuana And Psychedelics Production In 2023 For Research. Marijuana Moment. https://www.marijuanamoment.net/dea-proposes-dramatic-increases-in-marijuana-and-psychedelics-production-in-2023-for-research/
- Feduccia, A., & PhD. (2019, June 26). FDA and NIH Perspectives on Psychedelic Drug Development. Psychedelic.Support. https://psychedelic.support/resources/fda-nih-perspectives-psychedelic-drug-development
- THE PUBLIC’S PERSPECTIVE ON THE UNITED STATES PUBLIC HEALTH SYSTEM. (2021). https://cdn1.sph.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/94/2021/05/RWJF-Harvard-Report_FINAL-051321.pdf
- Magic mushrooms advocacy. (2022, October 17). Jamaica Observer. https://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/magic-mushrooms-advocacy/
- PLACE, I. (2021, July 23). PROTOCOLS IN PLACE FOR “MAGIC MUSHROOMS.” The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. https://www.moa.gov.jm/content/protocols-place-%E2%80%98magic-mushrooms%E2%80%99
- Where cannabis is legal in the United States. (n.d.). The Cannigma. https://cannigma.com/us-states-where-cannabis-is-legal/
- Can the United Nations Block U.S. Marijuana Legalization? (2013, September 25). HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/can-the-united-nations-bl_b_3977683
- Canada, H. (2005, June 21). About Health Canada. Aem. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/corporate/about-health-canada.html
- Hallifax, J. (2022, August 30). An Inside Look at the Lawsuit that could “Legalize Psychedelics in Canada.” Psychedelic Spotlight. https://psychedelicspotlight.com/an-inside-look-at-the-lawsuit-that-could-legalize-psychedelics-in-canada/
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