By CATHERINE VAN, KATU; RACHAEL PENTON, WSYX/WTTE; GERARD RAMALHO, KSNV
Psilocybin is a compound found in certain types of mushrooms believed to have psychotherapeutic effects.
Mushrooms are banned in the United States, but Tom Eckert believes they are the answer to Oregon's mental health crisis.
"Treating a variety of mental health issue, including depression, anxiety, addiction of all kinds, including alcoholism and smoking," Eckert said.
"It only took one dose of the psilocybin in one session to actually go from crippling anxiety to no anxiety."
Eckert and his wife, Sheri, lead the Oregon Psilocybin Society. They're pushing to legalize psilocybin and make it accessible by creating safe spaces for regulated and supervised therapy sessions. They're hoping to get enough signatures to get Psilocybin Service Initiative on the 2020 Oregon ballot.
"There will be trained facilitators that would move clients through a sequence of sessions, starting with preparation, then psilocybin itself, then integration afterwards," Eckert said.
Other researchers believe the mind-altering chemical may be helpful in treating neurological diseases like depression and addiction, too.
"There are already clinics around the world where certain hallucinogens are being employed for psychotherapy," said Jason Slot, a plant pathologist at Ohio State.
At least one man, Octavian MIhai, knows firsthand the benefits of experimental treatment in the U.S. In 2013, the recovering cancer patient agreed to take part in a New York University study using mushrooms to help his anxiety.
"It helps you understand. You can feel things in a whole different way and a whole different level," Mihai said.
Mihai previously tried antidepressants with no luck. Several years later, after only that single treatment with the mushrooms, he's never looked back.
"The results were amazing," Mihai said. "It only took one dose of the psilocybin in one session to actually go from crippling anxiety to no anxiety. From a biological perspective, I just don't see myself falling into a downward spiral again."
Dr. Dan Bristow, the president-elect of the Oregon Psychiatric Physicians Association, says the research isn't complete. He says studies have been small, and larger trials need to be complete to determine if psilocybin could be useful and safe as a medicine.
"There's a lot of risk to the public in doing something too quickly before you know it's safe," he said.
He adds insufficient studies can also burden medical resources. Still, he says he's not against the idea of using psilocybin.
"We want good science. We want good treatment backed by good science that help people, and until we have that, we remain scientifically skeptical," Bristow said.
Bristow thinks there could be enough science on psilocybin in the next three to five years. Eckert and Bristow believe psilocybin isn't ready to be used recreationally.
The FDA classifies psilocybin as a Schedule I drug, which means it's not only illegal, but deemed the most harmful to the public. Other drugs classified as Schedule I include heroin, LSD and cannabis.
Drugs classified as Schedule II are considered less addictive. Those include opioids, cocaine and methamphetamine.
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