Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) has appointed a committee that’s responsible for studying psychedelic therapy and helping to make it a legal reality. The 15 members of the “Natural Medicine Advisory Board” will help shape the rules for how residents can legally consume psilocybin. The psychedelic remains federally illegal, but there’s evidence it could help to treat mental health symptoms.
In November 2022, Colorado voters approved Proposition 122. The measure has several pieces to it, including decriminalizing possession, growing and sharing of most naturally occurring psychedelic drugs. It also legalizes psilocybin therapy services, where people will pay to use the drug at special centers and under trained supervision—and mandates the creation of the advisory board that Gov. Polis has just appointed.
It’s a somewhat similar model to one that’s already being implemented in Oregon, which made history in 2020 when its voters approved psilocybin therapy services. Oregon is now just months away from opening its first service centers. Colorado won’t do so for another two years, as its own rules are developed.
Where Prop. 122 goes beyond Oregon is that while Colorado’s centers will initially offer only psilocybin, they may, at a later point, be permitted to expand their services to include substances like DMT (ayahuasca), mescaline (excluding peyote) and/or ibogaine. Prop. 122 is also more flexible about how psychedelic centers will be conceived, which makes the advisory board’s job critical.
The board is responsible for examining existing research and information about psilocybin and then drafting rules. By September 30, it must make its recommendations to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), which has the final authority over any rules. DORA will annnounce its final rules by September 30, 2024.
The board members picked by Gov. Polis bring different and diverse experiences to the table, including health care, harm reduction, criminal justice, veterans’ rights, journalism, research and addiction counseling. The body includes doctors and researchers, lawyers, elected officials, a poet, a paramedic and a sheriff.
Mason Marks, a law professor at Florida State University who specializes in psychedelics, published a detailed breakdown of each board member’s experience in Psychedelic Week, based on available sources online.
“The Colorado law gives [the state] far more discretion [than Oregon]. It’s almost wide open. There’s a lot more decisions to be made.”
It’s not immediately clear how many of the appointments have direct experience working with psychedelic drugs or people who use them. But among the members, Sue Sisley, MD, president of the Scottsdale Research Institute in Arizona, is actively developing a clinical trial for psilocybin mushrooms. The institute’s work also focuses on cannabis, LSD and MDMA. In addition, Dr. Sofia Chavez, PhD of Estara Health & Wellness is a member of the International Collaboration of Indigenous Healers, Curanderos, Sanadores y Shamans, and is a certified doctor of natural medicine. A notable omission is that no one from the Denver commission which studied impacts of the city’s 2019 psilocybin decriminalization has been appointed to the state advisory board.
The board members and their experiences will heavily influence how psychedelics are regulated in Colorado. Compared to Oregon, Prop 122 allows for more possibilities—whether that means the non-medical framework Oregon chose, which does not require clients to have any diagnosis; or something more strictly regulated that’s closer to clinical medicine; or something else we can’t imagine yet. (In Oregon, for example, a religious exemption was proposed to allow psilocybin use in group ceremonies, as a way for people to avoid the high anticipated costs of the service-center model; that proposal was rejected by the state’s advisory board.)
“The Colorado law gives [the state] far more discretion [than Oregon] to adjust this industry by making the rules,” Marks told Filter. “It’s almost wide open. There’s a lot more decisions to be made.”
“One of the big questions is, is this psilocybin framework going to be a really intensely medicalized framework?”
These include important issues like where people can access psychedelic services, and what will be required of those locations. And unlike Oregon (at least, so far), Colorado will require that service providers collect clients’ data, which is something the state will have to set privacy rules around.
“One of the big questions is, is this psilocybin framework going to be a really intensely medicalized framework?” Marks said. “It has the potential to do that. In Oregon, you can’t have a service center in a health care facility … Here in Colorado, you can.”
So depending on the board members’ knowledge of, and attitude toward, psychedelics, Colorado’s model could end up being even more restrictive—and costly for clients—than Oregon’s. But the reverse is also true.
Another important future date is July 1, 2026. That’s when the state must decide if it will expand psychedelic services to include ibogaine, mescaline or DMT. It can only do so if the board approves this first.
We don’t yet know what the board will consider in making that decision. Will it rely only on scarce scientific research, or will anecdotal evidence also be admissible? If there’s some risk associated with these drugs—and there always is some risk—will the board consider that only prescribed access should be recommended? Or will it—as with alcohol or legal cannabis—trust adults to make the best decisions for themselves?
For psilocybin, “they can point to clinical trials and say look, hundreds of people have been given psilocybin in clinical trials and adverse effects have been mild and time-limited,” Marks said. “We don’t have that information for mescaline and ayahuasca, even though it may well be true they’re not particularly concerning.”
Photograph by gailhampshire via Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons 2.0