Free Enterprise

A Medicinal Pilot for Psychedelic Therapy in Utah

Utah has struggled amid a mental health crisis for years. The rates for mental illness (29%) and suicide rates are far above the national average as current psychiatric medications have done little to actually address the root problems and instead merely treat the symptoms.

Years of research have shown that there is another option.

Psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychoactive substance found in hundreds of mushroom species, can be an effective and enduring treatment for depression and other mental health maladies. It is believed to increase neuroplasticity, offering a longer-term solution that actually modifies the course of mental illness. Another substance known as MDMA has similarly shown effectiveness in treating diagnoses like PTSD and eating disorders. Both these treatments are in current Phase III trials through the FDA and are still treated as Schedule I substances by the government.

As dozens of studies and trials are conducted around the country, Utah has taken a measured step to allow access to these treatments here in Utah. Senate Bill 266, sponsored by Senator Kirk Cullimore, authorizing Intermountain Health and the University of Utah to operate pilot programs for psilocybin and MDMA psychotherapy treatment. The pilot would be authorized for a three year period and these two healthcare systems are required to report their findings and progress to the Utah Legislature.

Licensed therapy providers will be able to recommend patients for this novel treatment in the pilot programs. Patients would only use psilocybin or MDMA in a therapy provider’s office, making it easy for law enforcement to distinguish between legal and illicit use. And because patients can only use psilocybin or MDMA under a therapy provider’s supervision, there is no risk that patients will drive while impaired or otherwise act unsafely while under the influence of this medication. Patients would also be provided with critical pre- and post-psychotherapy to help them prepare for and integrate the experience.

For psilocybin or MDMA to be federally legal, either the DEA or Congress would have to reschedule or de-schedule. Congress has made no attempt to do so, and if the perennial and abortive attempts to reschedule cannabis since 1981 have any bearing here, those waiting for Congress could be waiting for decades. In short, there is no guarantee or even a firm basis to hope that the federal government will legalize psilocybin or MDMA in the near future. In the interim, many Utahns will continue to endure a diminished quality of life and some will even end their lives.

Utah recognizes the potential of psilocybin and MDMA by passing this legislation. This comes after the hard work of a psychotherapy and mental illness taskforce which ultimately concluded the psilocybin is both safe and effective. The program recommendations of that task force will form the blueprint for these new pilots at two of Utah’s most trusted medical systems.