Buffalo Legislator Eyes Medicinal ‘Magic’ Mushrooms

Assemblyman Pat Burke, D-Buffalo, speaks during a news conference in October.

A Buffalo Assemblyman wants to see New York state get into the medicinal mushroom business.

Assemblyman Pat Burke, D-Buffalo, recently introduced A.8569 in the Assembly to allow the medical use of psilocybin and create a $2 million fund to help state residents who qualify pay for the mushroom-based treatment.

At the federal level, it is illegal to cultivate or possess magic mushrooms because they contain the Schedule I substances psilocin and psilocybin. There have been movements in pockets of the country to decriminalize the so-called magic mushrooms, including Denver, which became the first city to deprioritize law enforcement for possession of psilocybin mushrooms in 2019. Oakland and Santa Cruz in California passed resolutions making personal use of some psychadelics, including magic mushrooms, a low priority for enforcement.

In November 2020, Oregon became the first state in the U.S. to legalize psilocybin-assisted therapy.

That is the path Burke wants to follow.

He proposes creating a section in the state Public Health Law titled Medical Use of Psilocybin. Patients or caregivers could receive identification cards lasting one year or less. Practitioners would have to complete a two-hour state Health Department course to dispense the mushrooms.

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All Psilocybin service centers in the state would have to be registered with the state Heallth Department, and only registered organizations would be allowed to acquire, possess, manufacture, sell, deliver, transport, distribute or dispense medical psilocybin.

Burke also wants to create a $2 million Psilocybin Services Grant Program for veterans and first responders to be jointly managed by the state Health Commissioner and state Comptroller as well as a Psilocybin Services Advisory Board with 14 voting members, a commissioner and department representative. The board will make recommendations to the health department regarding available medical, psychological, scientific studies and research, specifications and guidelines for providing services, safety standards, industry best practices, code of professional conduct, education, training, and examination for facilitators, production, and a long term strategic plan for services.

“Struggles with diseases like PTSD, depression, anxiety, and alcoholism can be major disruptors to a person’s livelihood as well as their families,” Burke wrote in his legislative justification. “These mental health detriments can deteriorate physical health, result in performance deficits on tasks, and increase rates of suicide. Psilocybin therapy is a breakthrough avenue for providing people with treatment for these ailments.”

Results of a study published earlier this year by Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, Head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, researchers compared two sessions of psilocybin therapy with a six-week course of a leading antidepressant (a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor called escitalopram) in 59 people with moderate-to-severe depression. While depression scores were reduced in both groups, the reductions occurred more quickly in the psilocybin group and were greater in magnitude.

However, the researchers caution that the main comparison between psilocybin and the antidepressant was not statistically significant. They add that larger trials with more patients over a longer period are needed to show if psilocybin can perform as well as, or more effectively than an established antidepressant.

“One of the most important aspects of this work is that people can clearly see the promise of properly delivered psilocybin therapy by viewing it compared with a more familiar, established treatment in the same study. Psilocybin performed very favourably in this head-to-head,” Carhart-Harris said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also designated psilocybin therapy as “breakthrough therapy” to accelerate the development and review of treatments. Formal approval has not yet come for the proposed treatment plans.

“Establishing a widespread route to provide New Yorker’s with this medical treatment would be a monumental step in providing mental health care to improve lives. Oregon, Texas, and several cities have taken similar steps to increase access to psilocybin treatment,” Burke wrote in his legislative justification. “These therapy centers would offer a safe physical environment supervised by trained monitors to negate the minimal risk involved with psilocybin. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine report that psilocybin shows low potential for abuse and can be classified as ‘least harm to users and society.'”


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