To treat severe mental illness, Illinois should allow supervised use of ‘magic mushrooms’

The Illinois CURE Act would allow individuals to try a new alternative form of treatment that is safer and potentially more effective in treating their symptoms.

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Psilocybin mushrooms could be allowed in the treatment of depression and other mental health disorders under legislation introduced in the Illinois General Assembly.

Psilocybin mushrooms could be allowed in the treatment of depression and other mental health disorders under legislation introduced in the Illinois General Assembly.

Richard Vogel, AP Photos

Psilocybin, the hallucinogenic component found in more than 200 species of fungi — in so-called “magic mushrooms” — has long been criminalized and labeled a Schedule I drug (meaning it has high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use) since the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

However, psilocybin is now gaining popularity in the therapeutic realm — and potentially, in the state of Illinois.

Last month, state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford introduced House Bill 00001, the Compassionate Use and Research of Entheogenic (CURE) Act. The Illinois CURE Act would allow for regulated and supervised therapeutic use of entheogens, a class of psychoactive substances that produce an altered state of consciousness like psilocybin and LSD. The CURE Act would also decriminalize psilocybin in Illinois to protect providers and clients.

Research from respected institutions like John Hopkins Medicine and UCLA has demonstrated that psilocybin can be effective in treating mental disorders such as depression, end-of-life anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addictions.

Currently, Oregon and Colorado are the only two states offering psychedelic-assisted therapy for adults. With the CURE Act, Illinois should be next on that list.

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According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults in America experience mental illness every year, and in 2021, 1,754,000 adults had a mental health condition in Illinois alone. These staggering numbers reflect the inadequate mental health system we have as a country and in Illinois.

If this bill is passed, those struggling with severe mental health conditions in Illinois could highly benefit from this type of treatment.

Why turn to psilocybin?

Some individuals who have a severe mental illness may be treatment-resistant, meaning they do not respond well to talk therapy or psychiatric medication. Not to mention, psychiatric medications can be dangerous when used long term, and the side effects can sometimes be unbearable.

It can also take individuals months or even years to find the correct medication that is best suited for them, and for some, medication is of no use at all. Imagine being severely depressed and trying medication after medication, only to realize that for you, antidepressants do not work.

Don’t get me wrong — I am not saying medication or traditional talk therapy is useless. I am a firm believer in the power of therapy, and I think medication can be a beneficial tool alone or in combination with therapy. After all, I am an emerging mental health clinician myself and have also had my own experiences with treatment.

However, here’s my point: the Illinois CURE Act would allow individuals to try a new, alternative form of treatment that is safer and potentially more effective in treating their symptoms. For people with treatment-resistant mental health conditions, entheogenic care gives them hope that something will work for alleviating their condition.

Misconceptions and the lack of education surrounding entheogenic substances like psilocybin is what motivates the push-back on this kind of legislation. Education is imperative, especially when discussing the therapeutic effects of controlled substances. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already labeled psilocybin therapy a “breakthrough therapy,” which recognizes the therapeutic potential of this drug.

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Opponents of psilocybin-assisted therapy may fear the implementation will end up as similar to when marijuana was legalized. However, unlike the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, the Illinois CURE Act will not allow for retail sales of “magic mushrooms,” and recreational use will still be prohibited. The drug would only be administered for therapeutic purposes, in a regulated setting, with a licensed facilitator.

Psilocybin-assisted therapy is an important new tool and should be incorporated into our mental health system. The CURE Act is not a panacea, however, and would not solve the mental health crisis Illinois faces. But legislative passing and enactment of House Bill 00001 has the potential to help and heal individuals in a safe and regulated manner.

I am not in any way affiliated with sponsors of the Illinois CURE Act. However, I support this bill and I believe there is a future in utilizing psilocybin for the treatment of mental health conditions. I hope others will support this bill as well.

Kylie Marques is a master’s degree student at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

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The views and opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.

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