Despite risks and uncertainty, psilocybin service centers in Oregon open for business

By Sheraz Sadiq (OPB)
PORTLAND, Ore. Aug. 26, 2023 12 p.m.
Satya Therapeutics is a licensed psilocybin service center in Ashland which began seeing clients in July 2023. It also has a license from the Oregon Health Authority to manufacture psilocybin, which is derived from psychedelic mushrooms such as the ones shown in this provided photo, at a separate facility in Medford.

Satya Therapeutics is a licensed psilocybin service center in Ashland which began seeing clients in July 2023. It also has a license from the Oregon Health Authority to manufacture psilocybin, which is derived from psychedelic mushrooms such as the ones shown in this provided photo, at a separate facility in Medford.

Tony Simonelli

In 2020, Oregon voters passed Measure 109, a ballot initiative that made Oregon the first state in the nation to legalize the use of the psychedelic drug psilocybin. It directed the Oregon Health Authority to create a framework to regulate and issue licenses for the manufacture, testing, sale and use of psilocybin in supervised settings. Clients 21 years and older can now buy and consume psilocybin in the first new licensed service centers in Oregon without a doctor’s prescription.

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Despite the risks and uncertainties, licensed service centers began seeing this summer customers willing to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a supervised session of using the drug derived from psychedelic mushrooms. Among them is EPIC Healing Eugene, which in May was awarded the first psilocybin service center license in Oregon.

FILE - Cathy Jonas at EPIC Healing Eugene in Eugene, Ore., March 17, 2023. In May, EPIC Healing Eugene became the first psilocybin service center awarded a license from the Oregon Health Authority and began seeing patients a month later.

FILE - Cathy Jonas at EPIC Healing Eugene in Eugene, Ore., March 17, 2023. In May, EPIC Healing Eugene became the first psilocybin service center awarded a license from the Oregon Health Authority and began seeing patients a month later.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

EPIC Healing Eugene had seen 16 clients — including two couples and three individuals who booked group sessions — as of Friday since opening in June, according to owner Cathy Jonas. Jonas is also licensed by the OHA to work as a facilitator and has herself supervised a handful of the sessions which are held inside two leased office suites in Eugene.

But so far, the demand far outstrips availability, with more than 3,500 people on the waitlist.

“The need is so great that people are looking for some way of having healing or a transformational experience in their life,” Jonas said.

Jonas had a transformational experience of her own while using ayahuasca, another plant-based psychedelic drug, during a trip to Peru in 2015. It motivated her to expand her training as a social worker and embark on a new path to help people struggling with mental health issues and unresolved trauma.

“I had a communication that told me I was destined to do deeper work with people … so when voters approved this in 2020, that was a state-sanctioned dream come true,” she said.

Related: One of Oregon's first psilocybin patients shares his experience

Jonas said that about half of the the requests for services at her center have come from outside Oregon, and are from people who are “psychedelically naive,” meaning they’ve had no prior use with psilocybin or other psychedelic drugs. Jonas described their reasons for seeking out psilocybin from help with PTSD, anxiety and depression, to finding “a deeper spiritual connection with themselves,” or terminally ill patients reckoning with their fear of dying.

“It was like this snapshot of the pain of humanity, and I certainly felt like I was carrying that for a while,” Jonas said. People who are turned away may still be able to find help through a list of online resources and referrals Jonas and her team provides, including to other licensed service centers, facilitators and therapists for mental health counseling.

“Everybody wants assistance for different reasons but not everybody is ready to have a deep transformational experience either,” Jonas said.

In 2021, the OHA Psilocybin Advisory Board reviewed clinical trials, medical studies and other scientific data on the use of psilocybin and concluded that it “holds promise as an option to address mental health issues.” But psilocybin remains illegal at the federal level, classified as a Schedule I drug with “no currently accepted medical use,” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

There are currently seven licensed psilocybin service centers in Oregon, according to a dashboard of applications and approved licenses updated weekly by the OHA. One of them is Satya Therapeutics in Ashland, which also holds a license to manufacture the drug. The facility has been open since mid-July and had seen 28 patients as of Friday. But unlike EPIC Healing Eugene, it has no waitlist for prospective clients, according to CEO Andreas Met.

“We get requests every day, and we immediately process them and get back to people because people are so absolutely desperate to heal,” Met said.

Related: Oregon's first psilocybin facilitators are eager to deliver therapy

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A couple of years ago, Met decided to sell his stake in a cannabis company he launched in the African country of Lesotho. The decision came after he read about a study published in 2016 by researchers from Johns Hopkins University which revealed significant improvements in symptoms of depression and anxiety for patients diagnosed with life-threatening cancers who were given a single large dose of psilocybin.

“That really hit me between the eyes,” Met said. “If you can lose the fear of death from one session of psilocybin, that’s something I want to be part of because I’ve lost my fear of death, so there must be something there.”

He also recently completed his training requirements to become a licensed facilitator to help supervise sessions at Satya Therapeutics, which currently connects clients with a handful of contracted facilitators whose fees range from $800 to $2,800 a session. About 80% of the clients who have been seen so far at the center are from out of state “and have the money to come out here and take a week off from work,” according to Met.

Satya Therapeutics is a licensed psilocybin service center in Ashland which began seeing clients in July 2023. This provided photo shows one of three rooms in which a trained and licensed facilitator supports and stays with a client during their session which begins with ingesting a dose of psilocybin.

Satya Therapeutics is a licensed psilocybin service center in Ashland which began seeing clients in July 2023. This provided photo shows one of three rooms in which a trained and licensed facilitator supports and stays with a client during their session which begins with ingesting a dose of psilocybin.

Tony Simonelli

The OHA requires all applicants interested in providing psilocybin services to submit a social equity plan to “consider how certain communities have been disproportionately harmed by systemic inequities and how they propose to address these inequities in their business practices.” An individual or business seeking renewal of its license must then demonstrate the steps it has taken to achieve its social equity plan. One example could be a sliding scale to expand access to clients who would otherwise not be able to afford its services.

Met applied this week for a facilitator license and plans to charge clients $750, which would include his fee and the cost of the psilocybin dosage prepared for each client’s session, based on their needs.

“By me being the facilitator, I have the ability to choose the price, and I can start targeting a price that gives everyone fair access because that’s what this program for me is about,” Met said. “This should not just be something for the people that can pay thousands of dollars.”

He shared that a recent group session at Satya Therapeutics had been discounted to a fee of $300 for each of the two participants.

Neither Met nor Jonas seems particularly worried about the underground market where people can buy psilocybin far more cheaply and readily. In fact, the steep cost of training to become a facilitator, and the $2,000 licensing fee associated with it, may result in a burgeoning “gray market” of people seeking out psychedelic experiences with some degree of skilled help, even if it’s unregulated and unlicensed.

“There’s going to be a growing underground of skilled facilitators, and it’s just going to be like marijuana. Before, it was really hard to get marijuana in Oregon, and now it’s very easy to get marijuana,” Jonas said.

“These are transformational experiences and the way I look at it is the more people there are in the gray market, the more people are going to be helped,” Met added.

But helping people through supervised psychedelic experiences is one thing. Making that venture into a profitable business, subject to taxes, regulations and licensing fees is another.

“What I worry about the most is having enough people coming through the door to just pay the rent,” Met said.

Related: Oregon's emerging psilocybin market braces for a dose of financial reality

Neither EPIC Healing Eugene nor Satya Therapeutics is profitable yet. But the owners of both facilities seem motivated less by making a profit and more by making a difference for people who are often desperate to find relief from years of suffering.

“There are 30 million people in the United States or more that have conditions they wish that were gone,” Met said. “We’re here to help people and we are helping people.”

“I feel like I was led to do this work and I will do it for as long as I can,” Jonas said. “I hope we can make it because it’s beautiful work and I’m really enjoying it.”

Cathy Jonas and Andreas Met spoke to “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller. Click play to listen to the full conversation:

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