As psilocybin mushrooms become the most popular psychedelic in the United States, some states have started to ease regulations on its recreational use.

Now, a new report warns that the federal government will have to decide whether to follow suit.

RAND, a nonprofit research group, stresses in the report that if efforts to expand the recreational supply of psychedelics don’t go well, the fallout could put a damper on potential medical uses.

“Based on what happened with clinical research on psychedelics after the 1960s, this is not an idle concern,” lead author Beau Kilmer, a senior policy researcher, said in a RAND news release.

Indigenous groups that consider psychedelics spiritual medicines could also be affected, study co-author Michelle Priest, an assistant policy researcher at RAND, warned.

The popularity of psychdelic mushrooms now far outpaces that of other mind-altering drugs such as ecstasy (MDMA), the new report reveals.

It includes results of a December 2023 survey of almost 3,800 U.S. adults who were asked about their use of various substances, including psychedelics.

Twelve percent said they had used psilocybin at some point, and 3.1% had done so in the past year. The report estimated that 8 million U.S. adults used psilocybin last year.

Still, use is typically infrequent, the survey found — 0.9% of respondents said they had used psilocybin in the past month, compared to 20% who used cannabis.

As recreational use has expanded, enthusiasm about using psychedelic substances to treat mental health conditions has also grown in the past decade, the reseachers pointed out. 

But attention to public policy changes hasn’t kept pace, the report added. It said the choice facing federal regulators is whether or not psychedelics should follow cannabis’ for-profit path. 

“The current situation with psychedelics reminds me of where we were with cannabis policy 12 years ago,” Kilmer said. “Now is the time for federal policymakers to decide if they want to shape these policy changes or stay on the sidelines.”

The report noted that despite a federal ban on supply and possession outside approved research settings and some religious exemptions, some states and local governments are loosening their approaches to psychedelics. 

Oregon, for instance, allows professionally supervised psilocybin use and a similar system is scheduled to go into effect in Colorado next year. 

Priest said indigenous peoples who have longstanding traditions with psychedelics that they regard as spiritual medicines must also be heard from as policy decisions are made.

“Engaging respectfully with Indigenous community members who are authorized to speak on these topics can help craft policies that benefit from generations of wisdom while protecting Indigenous rights,” she said.

More information

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about psilocybin mushrooms.

SOURCE: RAND Corp., news release, June 27, 2024