Mushroom Joe? How President Biden could reschedule psilocybin like marijuana

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Image of psilocybin mushrooms

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President Joe Biden’s revolutionary proposal to move marijuana to Schedule 3 of the Controlled Substances Act might mean the end of more than 50 years of “failed policy” as well as new opportunities in science and business.

But such a move wouldn’t change the federal government’s classification of psilocybin as more dangerous than the fentanyl fueling the country’s overdose crisis.

Psilocybin – the psychoactive ingredient in so-called magic mushrooms – is another increasingly popular drug with tremendous therapeutic potential and virtually no potential for fatal overdoses.

Rescheduling mushrooms

The Controlled Substances Act still classifies psilocybin mushrooms as a Schedule 1 drug – the same designation currently shared by marijuana.

And in the same paradox that’s bamboozled marijuana researchers and reform advocates, it is hard to conduct the necessary research proving psilocybin’s relative safety and therapeutic potential until restrictions are relaxed.

Could President Biden or the U.S. Congress turn to psilocybin rescheduling after the marijuana job is completed (whenever that might be)?

They absolutely could, says Andrew Livingston, the Denver-based director of economics and research at the Vicente law firm, but the formula won’t be the same as it’s been for marijuana.

That’s because the way states are legalizing psychedelic therapy is different from how marijuana has been legalized, with consequences that policymakers and advocates should consider when shaping state and local reform.

“Psychedelics and cannabis share similarities,” said Livingston, a keynote speaker at The Emerald Conference, set for April 1-3 in San Diego.

“They are both Schedule 1 drugs burdened by cultural stigma and drug war hysteria. They have clear medical benefits but are also used for recreational and spiritual purposes.

“Psychedelics and cannabis are also simultaneously undergoing state and federal policy reform. But their method of regulation is starkly different.”

‘Breakthrough therapy?’

The cornerstone of the emerging legal psychedelics industry, mushrooms were declared a “breakthrough therapy” for major depressive disorder and treatment-resistant depression by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2018 and 2019.

Scientists at prestigious universities such as Johns Hopkins University are pursuing psilocybin’s potential for treating addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD and other mental-health conditions.

Notably, these institutions are relying almost entirely on philanthropic funding rather than federal research grants.

After successful voter-led campaigns, psilocybin became legally available in Oregon in 2023 as part of licensed, regulated therapy sessions, and they will be available in Colorado starting in 2025.

It’s an important distinction that states have legalized psychedelic therapy sessions and not products for consumers to take home and use unsupervised.

Legalization by 2034?

Though law enforcement is turning a semi-blind eye to mushroom sales in Oakland, California Gov. Gavin Newsom last fall vetoed a bill that would have legalized psychedelics possession and personal use.

In an analysis of state-level reform progress published in late 2022 in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers predicted “a majority of states will legalize psychedelics by 2034 to 2037.”

That’s a solid decade or more behind marijuana, which has been legalized in some form in 40 states as well as Washington DC.

As for the “future of psychedelics in the United States,” the researchers added that it “hinges upon several factors: the outcome and FDA decision on ongoing clinical trials, the potential decisions by the (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration) or governing bodies to change the classification of psychedelics and legislative reform at the state level, which has been the primary driver of cannabis legalization.”

It’s considered unlikely that the DEA will initiate drug decriminalization without influence from the White House or Congress.

As for the FDA, which is under the Department of Health and Human Services, that agency’s recommendation to move marijuana to Schedule 3 was based in large part on data from state-regulated MJ programs as well as published research.

That indicates states need to craft psychedelics legalization in a way that will provide the same trail of breadcrumbs for federal reform to follow.

And so far, they’re not.

While patients and therapists are excited about the potential of psychedelics therapy, there simply isn’t the same demand for psychedelics as there is for cannabis, where the regulated market generates billions of dollars and the FDA’s rescheduling recommendation was informed by data.

“Cannabis is regulated as a retail consumer product, while psychedelics are following a path of in-person therapeutic facilitation,” Livingston said.

“These differences are important when we consider how data from state-level programs is used to support rescheduling.”

“Years of state-level medical cannabis regulation demonstrated ‘currently accepted medical use’ as thousands of health care practitioners were licensed to recommend the drug to hundreds of thousands of patients,” Livingston continued.

“To generate similar data for psychedelics, we must consider policies that ensure these programs will be economically functional while empowering participation from healthcare practitioners and patients.”

More information about The Emerald Conference is available here.

Chris Roberts can be reached at