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Oregon is moving to legalize psychedelics

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Parts of the United States are beginning to change their attitude towards psychedelic drugs. While the drugs remain illegal at the federal level, two states and more than a dozen cities have passed laws to decriminalize some substances. There is research that shows that psilocybin, MDMA, mescaline and some other psychedelics can be effective treatments for depression and other conditions. Deena Prichep reports from Portland, Ore. The state is setting up the nation's first ever rules for administering psilocybin.

DEENA PRICHEP, BYLINE: The PsyCon convention has billed itself as the forefront of psychedelic business. There are booths offering insurance, tax planning.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We're here to make sure that IRS does not come down on these people so they can get their businesses off the ground.

PRICHEP: There are landlords renting out space at soon-to-be-licensed service centers.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We're taking a previous dentist office, and we're creating 15 spaces for individual journeys.

PRICHEP: There are even booths selling psilocybin strains.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: We have the orissa. We have the Golden Teachers, which is probably the most popular.

PRICHEP: To be clear, these are just the spores, not the grown mushrooms. Oregon's regulatory model will only dispense psilocybin in licensed service centers, although somebody probably should have told that to the vendor selling chocolate bars.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: We actually infused chocolates with psychedelic mushrooms.

PRICHEP: This current moment in Oregon feels a bit like the Wild West. But Angela Allbee, who directs the state health authority's psilocybin services branch, says they're developing a new paradigm.

ANGELA ALLBEE: We're moving away from this framework that's rooted in the war on drugs, which has been harmful to so many people, and shifting into a health policy framework that really centers client safety and access.

PRICHEP: And Oregon is building that framework from the ground up with research and meetings and 90 pages of rule-making. They're covering everything from dosage to service center accessibility to when the drug might be contraindicated.

ALLBEE: There are four license types - manufacturers, laboratories that test products, the service centers, and then the licensed facilitators.

PRICHEP: Those are the professionals helping people while they take the drug. And with thousands waiting to access psilocybin, Oregon is going to need a lot of them. Rebecca Martinez founded Alma Institute in Portland, which just welcomed its first cohort of facilitators. By the time these students get to their fieldwork, Oregon service centers will likely have opened their doors. But Martinez says the training programs that opened earlier this year had to get creative.

REBECCA MARTINEZ: Some will actually travel to Mexico and work with folks where there are actually legal avenues to consume mushrooms. Some folks have gone with the ketamine route. Others are doing role-playing and breathwork or meditation.

PRICHEP: There have been places like the California Institute for Integral Studies that developed curricula for psychedelic facilitation even before this wave of legalization. And Martinez says that work has influenced what they're doing in Oregon, along with some other influences.

MARTINEZ: That was always sort of the golden question, is how do you teach something that you can't admit to having the skills to do?

PRICHEP: When psilocybin was outlawed over 50 years ago, these skills went underground, and research was limited.

BJORN FRITZSCHE: There were some published methodologies, but most of them were, like, the DEA or criminal labs.

PRICHEP: Bjorn Fritzsche is the senior chemist at Rose City Laboratories, which is Oregon's first and currently only licensed psilocybin lab. He grinds up mushrooms from a handful of licensed growers and tests them for potency and strain according to protocols he had to create. For a scientist, it's an exciting challenge. But as a scientist, Fritzsche wants to check his data against other labs, like chemists usually do in what's called a round robin.

FRITZSCHE: I would love to do something like that. There is unfortunately no other labs, and you can't do a round robin test with yourself.

PRICHEP: Psychedelics are something people have done, not just underground or in clinical trials, but throughout history. And as Oregon navigates this bumpy new path through the lab, the conventions, the trips themselves, they hope to build on that history and to help a lot of people.

For NPR News, I'm Deena Prichep in Portland, Ore.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deena Prichep
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