Bill in Springfield proposes legal use of psychedelics in medical settings

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Several people spoke at town hall meeting at UIC on Monday, including (from left to right): Vilmarie Fraguada Narloch, Jean Lacy, Steven Philpott Jr., Geoff Bathje, Ajooni Sethi, Erika Steinbrenner and state Rep. La Shawn Ford.

A bill sponsored by state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford would decriminalize “magic mushrooms” and be used in health clinics to treat various mental conditions, like depression and substance use disorders.

Psilocybin, known as “magic mushrooms,” is psychedelic drug that can alter a person’s thinking and cause hallucinations, according to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation.

HB1 – known as the CURE Act, which stands for Compassionate Use and Research of Entheogens – would not allow recreational sales of Psilocybin and could be used by adults 18 and older only under licensed supervision. It also calls for charges that involve the possession of Psilocybin to be expunged.

The bill also would establish an advisory board at the Illinois Department of Public Health to ensure safety and equity and could possibly introduce other natural psychedelics to be used in the future, said Jean Lacy of Entheo IL, a nonprofit Entheogen advocacy organization. Facilitators of the drug would be licensed by the Illinois Department of Professional and Financial Regulation.

At a town hall meeting hosted Monday by Ford and held at the University of Illinois at Chicago, advocates for the legislation, including licensed psychologists and researchers, discussed the bill and answered questions.

Psilocybin was chosen as the first drug to be used for “it’s strong physical safety profile” and ease of manufacturing and access, said Geoff Bahje, a licensed psychologist and vice president of Entheo IL.

The drug can be used to treat substance use disorders, including nicotine addiction. It can also be used to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, major depressive and anxiety conditions, Anorexia and even physical conditions like Fibromyalgia, Bahje said.

“Psilocybin is really good at disrupting states that we get stuck in,” Bahje said. “We get stuck in patterns of behavior, patterns of thought, patterns of emotion, patterns of relationships.”

Ford hopes the West Side Opioid and Heroin Task Force will endorse the bill since he sees psychedelics as a treatment for substance use disorders. He wants to get more state agencies and organizations on board to ensure its passage. Ford said he would like to get the Illinois General Assembly to approve the legislation this year but cannot promise anything.

The lawmaker said he’s focused on public education through town hall meetings and sharing research conducted at John Hopkins University and UCLA. He said there hasn’t been much pushback yet, just an interest to learn more about the uses for psychedelics. If passed, Illinois would be the third state to allow supervised use of psilocybin behind Colorado and Oregon.

Starting with Psilocybin use in a clinical setting would allow facilitators to understand the drug better and gain knowledge about how to navigate use in homes, said Dr. Erika Steinbrenner, a psychiatrist at Imagine Healthcare.

“In a clinic with the educational background, that is the way to start,” Steinbrenner said. “With public policy, you don’t want to mess this up. You want to take your time, you want to do it right.”

Many attendees at Monday’s event expressed concern that Psilocybin could fail when it comes to equity, similar to what’s happened in the Illinois cannabis industry with the legalization of marijuana.

“They’re totally different because with medical cannabis, you can use that at home without supervision,” Ford said. “With psychedelics, this is only for medical settings with trained therapists with licensed facilities.”

A major concern for Ford is ensuring that Psilocybin treatment would be financially accessible for all, especially for those living in low-income areas that have difficulties trusting the mental health system.

“We have to continue to work with the insurance industry, to make sure that they are willing to provide this as a coverage. If not, we have to make sure we have some type of equity,” the Austin lawmaker said.

Lacy said Entheo IL supports other harm reduction bills, like Ford’s HB2, Overdose Prevention Sites Act, which AustinTalks reported on last year. Ford said that legislation needs seven more legislators to sign onto the bill.

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