Maine legislators weigh pros and cons of legalizing limited medical use of psilocybin

Published: Feb. 2, 2022 at 8:18 AM EST
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WESTBROOK, Maine (WMTW) - Maine legislators held their first public hearing on Tuesday to consider legalizing the psychedelic drug psilocybin, a psychoactive drug best known as naturally occurring in “magic mushrooms,” for limited medical use.

The proposed Maine Psilocybin Services Act (LD 1582) is sponsored by Sen. Donna Bailey, of Saco.

In its 90-minute fully remote hearing over ZOOM, the Health and Human Services Committee heard from more than a dozen witnesses, mostly proponents with experience with the drug.

Opponents included the Maine Medical Association and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

Proponents touted an increasing amount of research supporting the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin in treating depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction to other drugs.

Dr. Dustin Sulak, an osteopath in Falmouth, supports the bill.

Sulak told the committee, “I have several patients that will take just a very small dose in the morning, and it controls their pain, and they’re able to go about their day feeling a lot better without any impairment.”

“This drug is giving desperate families hope,” said Steffany Tribou, from Owl’s Head. “Suffering families need options, and it’s lawmakers such as yourself that can help eliminate barriers that may be costing some families the ultimate price.”

Rudy Gonsior, an Army veteran, said he had to travel outside the U.S. to be treated with psilocybin for PTSD and depression.

Gonsoir said, “It gave me back my family, my joy, my purpose. It gave me back my life.”

Uel Gardner, from Casco, said micro-doses of psilocybin, without mind-alerting effects, had brought great relief to a good friend.

Gardner said, “This is significant medicine. This is not a joke.”

But MMA President Jeffrey Barkin, a practicing psychiatrist, said the legislators should wait until the drug receives further study and review by the Food and Drug Administration.

“We’re open to new treatments, but we’re not open to the widespread legalization until some sense of harms and benefits are known.” Dr. Barkin told the committee. “Psilocybin is associated with clinically meaningful increases in the risk of blood pressure increases, pulse increases, and we’re particularly concerned right in the middle of a drug crisis in Maine, with an ever-increasing rate of overdose deaths.”

Speaking for Maine DHHS, Molly Bogart, the agency’s head of government relations, referring to a letter from Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah, criticized the clinical guidelines.

Bogart said, “We have concerns about who can or should use the substance therapeutically and what conditions it should be used to treat.”

According to the Psychedelic Legalization & Decriminalization Tracker, psilocybin has been legalized in only one state, Oregon, the model for Maine’s bill. and decriminalized in a handful of cities, including Denver, Detroit, Washington, along with the Massachusetts cities of Somerville, Northampton, and Cambridge.

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