Measure 109 allows therapy using the active ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms

By Kristian Foden-Vencil (OPB)
Sept. 30, 2020 1 p.m.

The measure would not legalize psilocybin, but would allow a regulated system of medical use

The basics

Measure 109 “allows manufacture, delivery, administration of psilocybin at supervised, licensed facilities; imposes two-year development period.”

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What it does

Measure 109 would create a new program to allow people to receive treatment with psilocybin, the active ingredient of hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Related: OPB’s 2020 election coverage, ballot guide and results

The measure does not decriminalize psilocybin, a schedule 1 drug under federal rules and thus not approved for any medical uses. Instead, it sets up a state-licensed psilocybin-assisted therapy system.

Supporters say it will provide a better way of helping people with treatment-resistant depression, anxiety, addiction and PTSD. Doctors treating terminally ill patients are also hoping psilocybin could offer a new way of coming to terms with death.

Myles Katz, the co-founded of Synthesis, a retreat in Amsterdam where customers can take hallucinogenic truffles, has moved to Oregon to help pass and implement Measure 109. “There are movements around psychedelics happening around the world in a lot of different places ... and the Oregon initiative, it is the best framework.”

Myles Katz, the co-founded of Synthesis, a retreat in Amsterdam where customers can take hallucinogenic truffles, has moved to Oregon to help pass and implement Measure 109. “There are movements around psychedelics happening around the world in a lot of different places ... and the Oregon initiative, it is the best framework.”

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

But under Measure 109, people wanting to go through psilocybin-assisted therapy would not have to be ill. They could take the drug for spiritual reasons or if they’re simply seeking a hallucinatory experience.

The measure does set up a screening system so people suffering from disorders like schizophrenia, would not be allowed take psilocybin.

Supporters of Measure 109 are at pains to point out that it differs dramatically from Measure 91, the 2014 vote that legalized cannabis in Oregon. It does not allow people to buy psilocybin and take it home. It will not be legal to consume psilocybin without guidance or oversight.

Less guarded supporters say allowing psilocybin for medical use is a first step in a longer effort to eventually make forms of the drug readily available.

If passed, Measure 109 would not make psilocybin therapy legal immediately. The bill requires the Oregon Health Authority conduct a two-year process to set up a system to regulate its use.

Doctor Nick Gideonse directs a hospice and is an associate professor at Oregon Health and Science University. He hopes Measure 109 might help patients who are terminally ill, “The idea of a tool that with guided experience, with a facilitator, that would give people that renewed perspective on their illness or their children or their roll in life. Seems like it could be a real break-through,” said Gideonse.

Doctor Nick Gideonse directs a hospice and is an associate professor at Oregon Health and Science University. He hopes Measure 109 might help patients who are terminally ill, “The idea of a tool that with guided experience, with a facilitator, that would give people that renewed perspective on their illness or their children or their roll in life. Seems like it could be a real break-through,” said Gideonse.

Kristian Foden-Vencil

Who supports this?

Measure 109 was written by Oregon therapists who want to use psilocybin to treat patients suffering from anxiety, depression and addiction, among other ailments.

It is supported by the Democratic Party of Oregon and several veterans' groups, including Veterans of War. The California soap manufacturer Dr. Bronner has also committed $2 million to the measure, saying modern pharmaceuticals often fail to help people:.

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“Psychedelic-assisted therapy is life-saving medicine that the world needs now, especially highly traumatized populations like veterans, first responders and marginalized communities generally,” said CEO David Bronner.

In this Aug. 3, 2007, file photo, psilocybin mushrooms are seen in a grow room at the Procare farm in Hazerswoude, central Netherlands. Oregon's attorney general has approved language for a ballot measure to make psychedelic mushrooms legal.

In this Aug. 3, 2007, file photo, psilocybin mushrooms are seen in a grow room at the Procare farm in Hazerswoude, central Netherlands. Oregon's attorney general has approved language for a ballot measure to make psychedelic mushrooms legal.

Peter Dejong / AP

Who opposes it?

OPB has not identified a committee registered to oppose Measure 109, but many professionals have come out against it.

“Measure 109 is unsafe and makes misleading promises to Oregonians who are struggling with mental illness,” said a statement from the Oregon Psychiatric Physicians Association. “We believe that science does not yet indicate that psilocybin is a safe medical treatment for mental health conditions.”

Kevin Sabet, a former drug policy advisor for Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, said psilocybin should be subject to the rigors of science, not voting.

“Medical research should not be the purview of a popular vote,” Sabet said. “This isn’t elementary school choosing a class president. This is life and death for people.”

He said in essence, the measure treats Oregonians like lab rats.

What will it cost me?

The measure is not expected to directly cost taxpayers, because it calls for psilocybin to be taxed to pay for the regulatory program.

But the measure does set up a two-year development period that will cost a small sum before the system of taxing the drug is established.

Supporters of the measure say that if psilocybin-assisted treatment proves successful, it could eventually save the state money currently spent treating chronic conditions.

Other things to know

Over the past decade, research at several prominent universities, including Johns Hopkins and Oxford, have shown psychedelics may be therapeutic for mental health illnesses.

Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also granted ‘breakthrough therapy’ designation for psilocybin. Scientists have had some success using that to treat resistant depression.

‘Breakthrough’ designation means the government thinks the drug demonstrates a substantial improvement over available therapies and that the FDA may be willing to help expedite drug development.

The creation of a legalized psilocybin-assisted therapy program in Oregon could generate tourism in the state. At least one psilocybin business has already moved some operations to the state. Synthesis runs psilocybin truffle trips in Amsterdam. Co-founder Myles Katz said he moved to Portland to support Measure 109.

“There are movements around psychedelics happening around the world in a lot of different ways ... " Katz said. “And the Oregon initiative, it is the best framework.”

After using psilocybin to overcome an alcohol problem, Katz said he believes Measure 109 offers the best way for it to be legally introduced.

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