Tripping Over the Details: The Proto-Psilocybin Industry | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon
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Tripping Over the Details: The Proto-Psilocybin Industry 

As the law inches toward implementation, Deschutes County is considering banning psilocybin manufacturing and therapy centers

Oregon voters chose to become the first state in the nation to allow psilocybin, AKA magic mushrooms, for use in therapy when they approved Measure 109. The bill passed in Oregon with over 55% of the vote, including 52% of voters in Deschutes County.

Psilocybin is deemed a Schedule 1 narcotic by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, but a growing body of research suggests it can be used to treat addiction, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

COURTESY OF SUOMI VIA WIKIMEDIA
  • Courtesy of Suomi via Wikimedia

"I started hearing from some veterans and some other people with PTSD on online forums like Reddit, where I'm part of some groups. A number of people have had some really, really profound success with therapeutic psilocybin in a clinical setting," said Ben Carnahan, a Navy veteran who has PTSD. "I've had a lot of experience with various treatments for PTSD myself with varying degrees of success. So I'm definitely interested in something that sounds like it's pretty effective."

The most common treatments for PTSD is called Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, or EMDR, which involves recalling traumatic incidents while doing side-to-side eye movements or tapping one side of the body. There are also four medications recommended to treat PTSD: Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac and Venlafaxine. Carnahan's symptoms manifest as nightmares, general anxiety and sometimes acute panic attacks that lead to an overwhelming sense of fear that can take hours to come down from. He's tried traditional treatments that have been somewhat successful, but limited.

"For someone like me, where it seems there's actually a diagnosis of complex PTSD, where it's caused from multiple traumas over a period of time, EMDR can have limited success. There's a few different drugs that I tried while I was still in the Navy. I had a psychiatrist working with me, but none of those were effective at all, and some of them made it worse," Carnahan said.

Measure 109 will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023, and as the deadline approaches some counties are attempting to opt out of the program. Umatilla, Linn and Jackson Counties have all approved ballot measures that would ban psilocybin manufacturing and clinical use on unincorporated county land. Voters will decide whether to approve those ballot measures in November. On June 13 Deschutes County Commissioners considered a similar proposal.

Psilocybin agriculture, processing and clinical use is already restricted in its location per Measure 109: it's not allowed in residential areas or within 1,000 feet of a school. Any county decision would be limited to county land and wouldn't impact psilocybin centers in municipalities like Bend and Redmond. Just six months out from the law's implementation there are still some unanswered questions.

"The fact that Measure 109, passed a year and a half ago, and the rulemaking hasn't been done yet, it doesn't help a lot in terms of easing concerns about the land use impacts and implications of these kinds of facilities," Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang told the Source.

County Commissioners are approaching psilocybin as a land-use issue, one that's on the radar for counties across the state. The Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board has met monthly since March 2021. It recommends practices to the Oregon Health Authority, and its biggest focus is in regard to safety and best practices around things like diagnosis, dosage, environment and qualifications of clinicians. The information is helpful for people on the therapeutic side but might not satisfy questions around land use.

"Somebody's going to be able to come into the Community Development Department on the first business day of January and ask for a land use compatibility statement," Deschutes County Commissioner Tony DeBone told the Source. "The rules are such that we don't have any guidance, is it a conditional use? Is it an outright use? Which zones is it allowed in? Could somebody buy a farm and add some more buildings to it and call it a treatment center... but it would really be a resort day spa, psilocybin service center, so people need to think through that just a little bit."

Local governments can restrict the time, place and manner of psilocybin services, but most rules regulating psilocybin clinics aren't set to be adopted until December. Some counties — especially more conservative rural counties — are attempting to jump ship during the November elections.

"For the most part, most localities are either just taking the state's rules or just setting some kind of basic time, place and manner restrictions in addition to wherever the state sets up. And that's mostly because psilocybin therapy healing centers are more like going to a doctor's office," said Ben Unger, founder and principal of The Lab Strategies—the general consultant for Measure 109.

Unger said he hopes as more people learn about Measure 109 the anxiety around it fades. Unlike legal cannabis, psilocybin is going to be in a tightly controlled market that's unavailable recreationally. In terms of land use, the footprint of psilocybin facilities is far lower than cannabis.

"There's going to be very few licensed production centers; you just don't need that many because psilocybin grows pretty easily in comparison to how people do other things indoors," Unger said. "What we're going to see is a few handfuls of production facilities around the state, but it's not going to be a big number. And those facilities are going to be very small, especially in comparison to cannabis."

The facilities themselves, too, are relatively small by comparison. Chang said he'd spoken to a local setting up a psilocybin facility that could meet the demand of Deschutes County on a small parcel.

"I was just talking to a local business partnership, who since Measure 109 passed, they've been working on a business plan. They have like a whole conceptual design for a facility," said Chang. "It's like 600 feet of production space, and then 1,400 square feet of service center for therapy rooms. That's like a small house with a shop."

Deschutes County Commissioners will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, July 13, to decide whether it'll refer a ballot measure to the November election. The Oregon Psilocybin Services Section at OHA also will tackle the issue in three listening sessions scheduled for July 13-15.

The Proto-Psilocybin Industry

It's common for people engaging in psychedelics to keep a sober friend nearby to make sure you don't burn the house down, hurt yourself or do something you might regret.

Somewhere between the therapeutic approach laid out in Measure 109, the Oregon law that legalized psilocybin-assisted therapy, and a sober buddy there's a growing industry of psychedelic guides. Unlike Measure 109, psychedelic guides don't administer mushrooms; clients must source the psychedelics themselves. They also go a step further than the buddy system by developing plans and setting expectations.

"If you're just trip sitting, you're basically trying to just make sure that they're physically safe. If you're facilitating that's a step up of involvement from there, where you're likely involved in their journey before it actually happens, from a preparation standpoint with intention setting, and helping them to develop tools to navigate an altered state of consciousness, what to expect, themes, all of that," said Nick Levich, a cofounder of Psychedelic Passage, a company that facilitates psychedelic experiences.

Psychedelic Passages works under a harm reduction model, not a medical one. It exists in an unregulated space. Licensed mental health professionals could lose their license if they work with psilocybin.

"Nobody on our team is a licensed mental health professional, and we don't claim to be. Our network of facilitators, our coaches, some had PhDs in psychology, some are registered nurses. There are all kinds of different backgrounds, and there's no formal requirements," Levich said.

Though the company isn't staffed with mental health professionals, many people seeking their services are seeking an experience outside of recreational purposes. Levich said the common reasons people seek Psychedelic Passage's service are anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, brain injuries or self exploration.

"We have a lot of people that come to us because they're, they've hit a wall in therapy, their medication isn't giving them the release that they seek anymore, or they're having overwhelming side effects," Levich said.

The number of times clients return for another psychedelic experience varies widely. Sometimes there are breakthrough cases that only need one trip to overcome symptoms, but more often it can take a handful of trips to get at the root of the problem. Measure 109 will open a new avenue for psilocybin as medicine, but Levich says it likely won't have an impact on his work.

"We don't operate out of clinics — we make house calls primarily — and we're working with clients who already have sourced their own medicine and are looking for us to come in and assist with their experience," he said.

About The Author

Jack Harvel

Jack is originally from Kansas City, Missouri and has been making his way west since graduating from the University of Missouri, working a year and a half in Northeast Colorado before moving to Bend in the Spring of 2021. When not reporting he’s either playing folk songs (poorly) or grand strategy video games,...
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