Discover more from The Microdose
Oregon’s first licensed psilocybin service center and next steps on a data privacy bill; a review of psychedelic trials finds poor blinding
Plus: Psilocybin bills pass in Washington and Arizona; and the semantics of “magic mushrooms”
Happy Friday, and welcome back to The Microdose, an independent journalism newsletter brought to you by the U.C. Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics.
The Latest in Oregon: Oregon’s first licensed psilocybin service center
Oregon Psilocybin Services has officially licensed its first service center in Eugene, Oregon, called Epic Healing. Now that all license types — manufacturer, lab testing, facilitator, worker permits for employees of businesses, and service center — have been issued, psilocybin services in the state can officially begin. But for this to happen, all the licensed businesses need to coordinate, and they’re spread across different parts of the state. For instance, any psilocybin mushrooms used by Eugene’s Epic Healing would need to first be tested by the only currently licensed lab, Portland’s Rose City Labs, which is about a two-hour drive away.
Advocates have cheered the development, but others remain skeptical of Oregon’s approach to making psilocybin state-legal when the substance is still illegal federally. In the most recent issue of his newsletter On Drugs, attorney Matt Zorn discusses the role of the Internal Revenue Service’s Section 280E, which prevents businesses “trafficking in controlled substances” from deducting business expenses. “The more I noodle, the more I find the whole U.S. ‘psilocybin service’ construct to be somewhat loony because of 280E,” Zorn writes. Opening a service center, or working in the psilocybin services industry, amounts to “flying complete and totally blind,” he writes.
Attorney and patients’ right advocate Kathryn L. Tucker tells The Microdose that she, too, has reservations. “With the issuance of the first psilocybin service center in Oregon, we ought to discuss the reality that the federal prohibition remains,” she says. “The reality is that any such service center is a proverbial ‘sitting duck’ for federal enforcement action, which can include multimillion dollar fines and decades of imprisonment.”
More from Oregon: House Committee passes amended data privacy bill
Last week, we reported on Oregon’s SB 303, which directs the Oregon Health Authority to require all psilocybin service centers and facilitators to collect and report anonymized and aggregated data about their business and clients. Representative Ed Diehl (R) introduced amendments to the bill that would have done even more to protect clients’ right to privacy by asking clients to opt-in to data sharing rather than opt-out, and mandating that all data be de-identified before it leaves a service center. The proposed amendments, called the Data Privacy Amendment, were drafted by the Oregon Psilocybin Services Collaborative Group (OPSCC). Those amendments were not adopted by the committee; its 11 members voted 9-2 to forward the current version of the bill on to the House for a vote.
Despite the committee’s decision not to pass the Data Privacy Amendment, input from advocates and groups like the OPSCC resulted in earlier amendments to the bill, which Koenig says are “substantially better, with less overreach, than the original bill.”
Want the latest psychedelics news? Subscribe! (It’s free!)
A review of psychedelic trials finds poor blinding
Over decades of psychedelic research, the methodologies scientists use in studies have varied widely. In a systematic review published this week in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, researchers analyzed over 80 randomized psychedelic trials conducted between 1940 and 2020.
In clinical trials, participants’ and researchers’ expectations or biases can affect results. To minimize those effects, researchers often “blind” study participants and researchers by concealing information like which drug they’ve been given, or how much. The systematic review found that while the vast majority of studies (94%) attempted to blind participants, only 14 of the 86 studies they analyzed actually assessed how well the blinding worked, and in general the authors reported that blinding was unsuccessful. About 60% of studies with a control condition used an inert placebo, such as a sugar pill, and most people correctly guessed whether they’d been given a psychedelic drug or not. Even in studies with an active placebo such as niacin (Vitamin B3) or “sham ayahuasca” (a liquid that mimics the color and bitter taste of ayahuasca), participants were typically able to correctly guess whether they got a placebo or a psychedelic. In a 2022 study, for instance, 94% of participants correctly guessed whether they’d been given psilocybin or Benadryl. The review also found that of 21 trials that included therapy, only three included conditions that varied the amount of support participants received — and they were all conducted in the 1960s. This lack of variation makes it hard to disentangle a drug’s effects from the effects of the therapy used with it, the authors write.
“These methodological problems risk rendering psychedelic clinical trials under-informative,” the authors write. They lay out detailed methodological recommendations to make studies more rigorous. The authors’ suggestions include doing a systematic assessment of how well patient blinding worked or didn’t on the same day as a treatment session (after effects of the drug have worn off); using active placebos, including oral THC; measuring participants’ expectations about the trial to assess expectancy effects; and recruiting psychedelic-naive patients.
The State of Psychedelics: Psilocybin bills pass in Washington, Arizona
On Wednesday, Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5263 into law. The bill, when introduced, proposed establishing psilocybin services in the state, similar to Oregon’s program. However, the bill that passed this week barely resembles the original. Amendments from the Senate Committee on Labor & Commerce and vetoes made by Inslee eliminated key aspects of the bill; instead of setting the state up for psilocybin services as originally proposed, the bill signed by Inslee now creates a “psilocybin task force” to provide a report on psilocybin services, and a pilot program at the University of Washington in which veterans and first responders with PTSD, mood disorders, or substance use disorders can receive psilocybin therapy services.
On the same day, lawmakers in Arizona passed SB 1720, an appropriations bill that includes $5 million for psilocybin research. (That sum is significantly less than the $30 million for psilocybin research proposed by HB 2486, a bill introduced in January that did not make it out of committees.)
The semantics of “magic mushrooms” (and other terms)
When scientists write letters to the editor of academic journals, it’s often because they have a bone to pick with other researchers’ methods or conclusions. In an exchange published in The Journal of Psychopharmacology, two French researchers address a 2023 paper published by researchers at the University of British Columbia and University of California, San Francisco. The French researchers’ most interesting objection is over the use of the phrase “magic mushrooms.” They call it “a marketing pitch that should be banned from medical journals.” They instead suggest sticking to the the term “psilocybin” and referring to its properties as a “psychotomimetic” or “psychotogenic” rather than “psychedelic,” a term they write “is associated more with poetry than with medicine.’” The authors point to the origin of the term “psychedelic” in communication between psychiatrist Humphry Osmond and writer Aldous Huxley. (For more on that read our interview with historian Erika Dyck.)
The French researchers also express concern around the authors’ use of the terms “risks and benefits,” suggesting they could instead use the terms “harms” or “potential benefit.” They also suggest that the authors’ characterization of adverse effects after psilocybin use being “rare” do not reflect the “global nomenclature for communicating the frequency of adverse effects on drugs.”
In their reply to the French researchers’ letter, the original paper’s authors write that avoiding the term magic mushrooms “interferes with our ability to effectively communicate with research participants and stakeholders.” They note that there are many species of mushrooms that contain psilocybin. “There is no singular scientific name that can describe this group, nor would such a term be recognized by survey respondents,” they write. They say that to collect accurate survey data you need to use terms people know: “It would be incorrect to ask participants about their use of ‘psilocybin’ when they are consuming hallucinogenic mushrooms, in much the same way as it would be odd to ask the at-home coffee drinker how much caffeine they drink. There is caffeine in most coffees, but there is significant variation between beans, extraction methods, and so on. Your average ‘user’ can tell you they drink a cup a day but will not generally know how many milligrams of caffeine they drink.”
Starting July 1, Australian psychiatrists with special authorization can prescribe MDMA (for PTSD only) and psilocybin (for treatment-resistant depression only) to patients. In a press release, the Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists call on the Australian government to create a National Clinical Registry for psychedelic-assisted therapy, “which is vital for the expansion of the evidence base in this emerging area to ensure patient safety and treatment efficacy.”
Psychedelic decriminalization policies need to include “a robust public educational campaign” that includes drugs’ risks, guidelines for safe use, and potential drug interactions with medical history, writes ethicist Joseph Holcomb Adams in the second installment of his series on psychedelic decriminalization in the newsletter Ecstatic Integration.
Finally, the psychedelics industry gets The Onion treatment in a new article: “Anthropological Research Reveals Ancient Cultures Used Psychedelics To Increase Productivity Within Startup Companies.”
You’re all caught up! Have a great weekend. We’ll be back in your inbox on Monday with a new issue of 5 Questions.
If you know anyone who might like the latest on psychedelics in their inbox, feel free to forward this to them, or click below.
Got tips? Email us at email@example.com.