Lawmakers say no to bill legalizing psilocybin-assisted therapy in Maine

AUGUSTA — State lawmakers have overturned a proposal that would have allowed the use of psilocybin to treat depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Health and Human Services Committee voted Feb. 8-3 against legalizing medical uses of the psychedelic compound even after the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Donna Bailey, D-Saco, proposed amending the bill original law of 40 pages to simply establish an advisory opinion to study the question and possibly offer psilocybin as palliative care.

The United States Food and Drug Administration designated psilocybin as a breakthrough treatment for drug-resistant depression in 2018 and for major depressive disorder in 2019. Psilocybin is the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms, but can also occur in pill form.

Representative Michele Meyer, D-Eliot, who co-chairs the committee, suggested she could not accept any compromise until the drug had been approved by the FDA. She was also sensitive to concerns that the bill would essentially criminalize recreational use, an issue first raised by Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s an important discussion,” Meyer said of the treatment option. “This is a breakthrough therapy and it shows promise, but the science isn’t there yet.”

Lawyers said they were disappointed with the decision. Michael Burman, professor of psychology at the University of New England, said in an email that he understands lawmakers’ concerns, especially since the US Drug Enforcement Agency lists psilocybin and d other psychedelics as Schedule 1 drugs, which he attributes to historical bias. rather than current science.

“I’m disappointed, but not surprised, by the outcome,” Burman said. “Psychoactive drugs are a complex subject. …However, in the case of psilocybin, society is changing and the science is moving rapidly, so it’s a matter of when, not if, legislation like this passes in the future.

A Maine therapist with two patients receiving psychedelic drug-assisted therapy to treat PTSD and depression also expressed disappointment. She said patients were not helped by traditional treatments. The Press Herald agreed not to name the therapist because she fears losing her license.

“I’m disappointed they’re not even considering an advisory council to look into this further,” she said on Feb. 8.

Oregon-based bill

The proposed bill was based on a similar bill passed by voters in Oregon, which became the first state to legalize psilocybin-assisted therapy in 2020.

This would have allowed people to use psilocybin in designated treatment centers under certain conditions. The user must have a counseling session to set expectations before being dosed and would be supervised by two monitors during the hour-long session. The program would also have been overseen by a 19-member advisory committee, with licensing and rulemaking being done by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Some American cities have also decided to decriminalize psilocybin. Denver became the first city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in 2019, followed by Oakland and California’s Santa Cruz. Detroit voters voted to decriminalize mushrooms in November.

Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers are studying the use of psilocybin to help people quit smoking or drinking, relieve anxiety in cancer patients, and treat depression.

Three people using psilocybin mushrooms as part of their therapy shared their experiences last month with the Maine Sunday Telegram, which agreed not to identify them because they feared criminal prosecution.

A 43-year-old Portland man said psilocybin therapy helped him forgive himself and others. A middle-aged professional from central Maine said it helped him overcome self-hatred. And a 44-year-old veteran said it helped relieve his PTSD. All three said traditional medicine didn’t work for them, dulled their feelings in general, and had other side effects.

While several people testified in favor of the bill, Shah, the Maine Association of Chiefs of Police, the Maine Municipal Association, and the Maine Medical Association opposed it.

In written testimony, Shah expressed concerns about several aspects of Maine’s bill, including limits placed on DHHS to regulate the use of psilocybin and what he considered insufficient input from behavioral experts and in public health in the surveillance structure. He was also concerned that psilocybin treatment centers “operated more like facilities for recreational use rather than medical treatment facilities.”

Shah urges to wait for FDA approval

Although early studies show promising results, Shah urged lawmakers to wait until clinical guidelines are established and the FDA gives full approval to psilocybin as a treatment.

“In summary, the Maine CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services believe that there should be much more scientific research and discussion about psilocybin before a structure is established for its administration and use. in Maine,” he said in his testimony.

Rep. Kathy Javner of Chester, the committee’s lead Republican, said Feb. 8 that municipalities are still grappling with the state’s marijuana policies.

“We are not ready,” she said.

Three Democrats with health credentials voted in favor of the amended version of the bill to create a study committee. They were Senator Ned Claxton, D-Auburn, retired physician and co-chair of the committee; Rep. Samuel Zager, D-Portland, family physician; and Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville, social worker.

Zager said the advisory group will ensure Maine is ready to implement treatment plans when and if the FDA approves psilocybin and MDMA, or ecstasy, which have been shown to treat the PTSD. He said similar efforts have been made with FDA-approved drugs used to end someone’s life under the state’s Death with Dignity law.

“That kind of strategic planning could be helpful,” he said.

CJ Spotswood, a psychiatric nurse practitioner in Winthrop with 20 years of experience, has been researching psychedelic drugs for five years. Spotswood said after the business session that he was disappointed lawmakers didn’t want to continue the conversation. And he worried that people would continue to use the drugs in unsafe environments instead of under the supervision of trained doctors.

“Once again the people of Maine will suffer for not having (legal) access to life changing substances,” he said in an email. “It will lead more to finding the services elsewhere, such as clandestine providers, or seeking to use the substances without too much supervision or monitoring, which will lead to more potential complications.

“Maybe we need to move to a ballot initiative to make changes like Oregon did. Then people can really make their voices heard.

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