On May 10, 2023

Advocates, lawmakers seek to decriminalize magic mushrooms

By Kristen Fountain/VTDigger

Some House legislators took a pause from amending amendments Thursday afternoon, May 4, to hear from several Vermonters about their personal experience of the healing power of magic mushrooms.

For Rory VanTuinen of Waterbury, it only took one experience with psilocybin, the psychoactive chemical found in around 200 species of fungi, to start kicking heroin after a decade of using. 

“This psilocybin experience really opened up this new foundation of belief in the potential of myself,” VanTuinen told lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee. “From there, I had all this newfound energy.”

For Melinda Moulton, a prominent Burlington property developer and Huntington resident, a mushroom trip in college helped her overcome an eating disorder brought on after the sudden death of her mother years earlier.

Stowe-based psychologist Rick Barnett gave credit to psilocybin for his own recovery from substance abuse. There is growing scientific evidence that the chemical can be helpful in treating a wide range of illnesses and conditions, he said. 

“We’re talking about pain and bipolar (disorder). We’re talking about addiction. We’re talking about migraines. We’re talking about what it is to be a human being,” Barnett said.

The testimony came in the context of two companion bills, H.371 and S.114, on the wall in committee since March. Both would decriminalize possession of psilocybin and create a Psychedelic Therapy Advisory Working Group to recommend how to establish a program that would allow health care providers to offer the hallucinogen in a therapeutic setting. 

Magic mushrooms are decriminalized in some fashion in Oregon, Colorado and Connecticut, as well as in countries such as Portugal and the Netherlands, witnesses said. 

Some people do experience bad psychological experiences while under the influence, Barnett and other expert witnesses said. However, the mushrooms themselves are not toxic, and long lasting negative impacts are very rare, they said.

There are active U.S. clinical trials involving psilocybin as a treatment for major depressive disorder, opioid addiction, post-traumatic stress and eating disorders. Advocates believe it is likely the drug will be available in pill form within the next three years, and they say decriminalization will make treatment more widely available and likely less expensive.

“The Earth has given us medicines in these plants and fungi that can help heal us, not only heal us but raise our consciousness and raise our connectivity,” said Rep. Brian Cina, P/D-Burlington, a bill co-sponsor. Adding, it’s time “for the government to get out of the way of people and their birthright to plant and fungal medicines,” he said.

Chair Martin LaLonde, D-South Burlington, said there was no time for the bill to see floor action next week, but he wants the committee to take it up next January. 

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