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Access to Psychedelics: Oregon Pushes for Spiritual Psilocybin Use

The article Access to Psychedelics: Oregon Pushes for Spiritual Psilocybin Use was originally published on Microdose.

If Maria Sabina were alive today,…

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The article Access to Psychedelics: Oregon Pushes for Spiritual Psilocybin Use was originally published on Microdose.

If Maria Sabina were alive today, would Oregon allow her to facilitate psilocybin ceremonies? And would Maria Sabina even be able to afford psilocybin services?

“The answer to either of those two questions is ‘No,’” says Jon Dennis, lawyer and activist in the psychedelic space, who proposed the framework for religious use under Measure 109. 

Oregon entered a two-year program to develop a regulatory framework for supported adult use of psilocybin mushrooms in 2021, after the state residents voted in favor of ballot Measure 109 during the 2020 presidential elections. This historical move made Oregon the first state in the US to legalize adult use of psilocybin including production, sales, and administration of the substance. 

One year in, the Oregon psilocybin program is inching towards becoming the first-ever full-blown regulatory framework for psilocybin mushrooms.

On Friday, a committee under the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board (OPAB) unanimously voted to recommend the adoption of a proposal that would protect sacred or religious practices under Measure 109.

The equity subcommittee voted 11-0, sending the proposal for further discussions on the entheogenic framework for psilocybin license under the measure, and entheogenic psilocybin use.

“We’re inviting underground practitioners to come above ground [under the proposal for religious use of psilocybin]” Dennis tells Microdose.

Maria Sabina, 1979

“There’s already a vast underground entheogenic or religious use among the spiritual communities, and the goal is to invite as much of that activity as possible into the safety of the Measure 109 container,” he said, adding that the more the activities are brought into Measure 109, the safer people are because of oversight and more accountability.

Religious practitioners and facilitators will be allowed to host outdoor group ceremonies, and “freely engage in spiritual, religious, or contemplative rituals or exercises, provided they are safe,” the proposal says.

While Oregon stands at the forefront of drug policy reform, the broad religious practices under the Oregon regulatory system need more defining, and Measure 109 – which is proving to be an expansive psilocybin framework – is providing the opportunity to do so. 

Oregon shares an interesting history with psychedelics for spiritual use, going back to the 1990s when the Oregon v. Smith case sparked a national movement, resulting in the adoption of a bipartisan Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) by Congress to provide greater protection and freedom for religious practices. The act, intended to bind all states, was later overturned by the Supreme Court. 

Jon Dennis, in his suggested framework for psilocybin use in a religious context, is asking the OPAB working under the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to allow various religious practices to use psilocybin, including traditional Indigenous practices, contemporary Western, Eastern, as well as neo-shamanic religions.

 

Psilocybin accessibility in Oregon

Advocates have raised concerns that hyper-regulation of psilocybin use under Measure 109 could eventually drive up the cost and make psilocybin services inaccessible for marginalized sections of society. The issue became more apparent following the OHA’s restrictive first draft released earlier this year.

The “sacred use” framework lays great emphasis on lowering the cost of psilocybin services, suggesting changes to the language around growing, handling, and testing of psilocybin mushrooms – all of which could otherwise drive up the cost of services. It also aims to create space for sacred communities who consider these substances “sacred objects worthy of reverential treatment.”

“[It] is a balancing act between safety and affordability,” Dennis tells Microdose. He adds that hyper-regulation or top-down regulatory models of adult psilocybin use stands at odds with the history, considering the sacred relationship that native and spiritual communities have shared with psychedelic substances for centuries. 

“There’s been surprisingly little discussion of the cost of psilocybin,” says Mason Marks, member of OPAB. He is also Project Lead on the Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR) at the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School. “It’s a concern because we’re seeing these large for-profit companies coming from overseas or out of state and have intentions of charging thousands of dollars from people to access these services.”

Churches and charitable organizations, on the other hand, are not here for profit, and they have the potential to offer new services at a significantly lower cost to clients, Mason adds. 

Another recommendation was brought up to create the spiritual and religious manufacturing endorsement. This proposal asks the OHA to create endorsements, exempting religious entities from certain manufacturing rules that restrict some species of fungi. 

“The draft rules limit the program to psilocybin cubensis, the only species permitted,” says Mason. “The endorsement grants [religious groups producing a variety of psilocybin producing fungi and plants] an exception to that rule, and would allow them to become licensed manufacturers for multiple sacraments.”  

To further lower the facilitation cost, the religious use framework suggests a peer-support assistance model in entheogenic service centers, allowing a “qualified and capable” client to assist another client during a ceremony, “including harm reduction assistance.”

“This would allow spiritual and religious communities to provide peer support services within the ceremonial context, with community members who are participating in the ceremony,” says Dennis. “Experienced practitioners will still be able to provide most of the support that is needed, so there isn’t a need to have [multiple] paid facilitators who aren’t partaking on the clock and drive up the cost of services.”

For instance, he said, Santo Daime churches have been facilitating ayahuasca services for over 25 years with fewer problems with their methods.

 

The right container for psilocybin use?

As the psilocybin program progresses, more questions about the suitable container for psilocybin therapy or psilocybin healing have started to emerge. 

“It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ container,” says Dennis. Under the ‘flexible’ Measure 109, experts are working to accommodate various pathways to access psilocybin services, with emphasis on safety and affordability. 

Measure 109 is continuing to expand as a framework that could accommodate a variety of different approaches, whether it was spiritual or religious or even recreational use of psilocybin for personal growth, noted Mason. 

“It was billed as an alternative to a clinical model and an alternative to the traditional healthcare systems,” Mason says, adding that different approaches could coexist harmoniously in Oregon’s psilocybin framework.

This means individuals will likely (hopefully) have options to choose from various “containers” like medical, therapeutic, or spiritual. With places like Oregon being the testing grounds for future models of psychedelic therapy, these kinds of conversations around access and affordability help lay crucial frameworks for others to follow.

 

Interested in more like this? Check out our latest Psychedelic Decriminalization Update

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