In Short

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer joins other lawmakers in pressing DEA to allow terminally ill to use psilocybin

By: - January 20, 2022 12:09 pm
psilocybin mushrooms

In 2020, Oregon voters approved the use of psilocybin in clinics. (Getty Images)

A bipartisan group of six U.S. lawmakers, including one from Oregon, have called on the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to allow terminal patients to use psilocybin to ease anxieties or depression.

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Democrat of Portland, a longtime advocate of decriminalizing drugs, spearheaded the letter sent this week to the agency’s administrator, Anne Milgram.

“Research demonstrates that psilocybin provides immediate, substantial and sustained relief from debilitating anxiety and depression in individuals with terminal illnesses,” the lawmakers wrote on Tuesday. “Individuals with advanced cancer that are also suffering from treatment-resistant anxiety and/or depression have been found to experience significant reductions in both anxiety and depression, and improvements in mood, following a single guided session of psilocybin-assisted therapy, with no safety concerns or clinically significant adverse effects.”

The agency has classified psilocybin as a Schedule 1 drug, which means it has no accepted medical benefit and has a high potential for abuse. Cannabis, heroin, LSD and peyote are also Schedule 1 drugs. The letter didn’t ask the agency to change its designation; rather it said the DEA should essentially turn a blind eye to its use by terminally ill patients.

The agency has blocked the use of psilocybin by patients of a Seattle clinic that specializes in alternative treatments, the letter said. The lawmakers said magic mushrooms should be allowed under Right-To-Try laws, which allow the use of experimental drugs in clinical trials.

Oregon and 40 other states and the federal government have Right-To-Try laws. 

“We therefore urge you to take quick action to ensure that the DEA follows duly enacted RTT law and accommodates constituents with terminal illnesses in receiving psilocybin for therapeutic use,” the letter said.

U.S. Reps. Don Bacon, R-Wisconsin, Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan, Andy Biggs, R-Wisconsin, Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, Dean Philips, D-Minnesota, and Madeleine Dean, D-Pennsylvania, also signed the letter.

DEA officials in Washington didn’t respond to a request for comment. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved dozens of clinical studies considering psilocybin to treat depression or symptoms from Alzheimers or Parkinsons disease.

In 2020, Oregon voters approved using psilocybin in mental health therapy in clinics; the Oregon Health Authority is crafting rules to put that program into place. 

Oregon also has a tradition of palliative care, Blumenauer said.

“We have a long tradition in Oregon of giving end-of-life patients access to choose from a full variety of treatment options,” Blumenauer said in a statement to the Capital Chronicle. “These patients deserve to be able to discuss treatments with their doctors that researchers are finding provide immediate, substantial, and sustained relief from anxiety and depression for people battling terminal illness.”

Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, which has led research into psilocybin, found in a 2016 study that psilocybin gave patients “substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety.” 


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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years.