Legal Status of Ayahuasca and Psilocybin Containing Mushrooms in the United States

This blog post is a summary of the video “The Right to Drink of Ayahuasca in America: Current Status & What’s Next” from Sacred Plants in the Americas II, a virtual psychedelic summit by Chacruna.

The speakers in the video are attorneys Martha Hartney and Sean McAllister. Martha Hartney is based in Colorado Therapies & Research Program, has published and presented on the art and science of death and dying, and is a member of Chacruna’s Council for the Protection of Sacred Plants. Sean McAllister is a member of Chacruna’s Council for the Protection of Sacred Plants, a drug policy reform lawyer, and a legal advisor to various cities and states around decriminalization.

Religious Exemptions

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects religious exercises, such as Ayahuasca use, through what is termed “religious exemption.” Therefore, one might assume that you could claim that ayahuasca use or psilocybin use is religious and be protected. But this is not how it works. So, where does that leave the public who is governed by these laws and wants to use plant medicines for religious or spiritual purposes?

Currently, there are only two churches with religious exemption for Ayahuasca – Centro Espírita Beneficente União Do Vegetal (UDV) and Santo Daime Churches. They obtained religious exemption by going to federal court and being granted judicial recognition, rather than petitioning the law. The DEA keeps a tight grip on petitions they deem “sincere,” and can determine a petition insincere in order to “protect public health and safety” and prevent use of a controlled substance for non-religious purposes. From a legal standpoint, religious exemption is based on The Religious Freedom Restoration Act and does not apply to the use of a controlled substance for spiritual purposes. The Meyers Case clarified that The Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects religious exercise, not spiritual exercise. From this legal standpoint, religion is considered to be more communal than spirituality, provides more structure for life and behavior, and contains sacred symbols and patterns. To claim religious exemption, the religious group usually needs to have established religious lineage that follows official ethos providing structure for life and behavior. In comparison, spirituality has a broader definition with less structure than religion and is based more on personal beliefs.

The speakers mentioned that the increase in use of psychedelics within the past ten years may lead the federal government to increase their already tight grip on religious exemptions of ayahuasca use. Steps that can be taken to support ayahuasca access and conservation: support Chacruna, The Indigenous Reciprocity, and The Church of the Eagle and the Condor.

Decriminalization Initiatives

Efforts across the U.S. are increasing to decriminalize psychedelic substances. A number of cities have passed initiatives or resolutions at least partially decriminalizing possession of some psychedelic containing plants. These local efforts do not entail full decriminalization, but are a step in that direction. The details are complex, but Denver was the first city to pass an ordinance that directed law enforcement efforts away from psychedelic mushrooms. Oakland followed Denver’s lead, passing a broad plant-based entheogenic ballot initiative in 2019, decriminalizing personal possession, transportation, cultivation, and non-commercial distribution of all naturally occurring psychoactive substances. Santa Cruz passed a similar entheogenic decriminalization measure, which included possession, cultivation, and storage of all entheogens, making them the 3rd city in the U.S. to decriminalize psychedelics. Washington, DC followed, passing Initiative 81 in 2020, making noncommercial planting, cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, possessing, and/or engaging in practices with entheogenic plants and fungi of lowest priority for law enforcement. The city of Ann Arbor also voted to decriminalize psychedelic plants and fungi, giving them lowest enforcement priority, declaring city resources will not be allocated to assist with state and federal violations in relation to Entheogenic Plant use. Under all the decriminalization initiatives, distribution is still a grey area, even where distribution is decriminalized. In addition, the details of what “decriminalization” means in each city vary, so it’s important to know your local context.

State Level Initiatives in Oregon

Oregon has passed two state level initiatives that relate to decriminalizing psychedelics – Measures 110 and 109, elaborated further here. Although not available until 2023, Measure 109 legalizes psilocybin-assisted therapy while Measure 110 increases addiction recovery treatment services and reclassifies personal non-commercial possession of most controlled substances. Possession of small amounts of substances falling into schedule categories I-V were reclassified as Class E Violations, with the maximum penalty of a $100 fine or a mental health assessment by a therapist. According to Sean McAllister, holding an ayahuasca where ayahuasca is given out to people in exchange for money is still somewhat risky in Oregon without a strong religious defense (e.g., being recognized as one of the two established churches).

Some Considerations on Risk

Everyone needs to make their own judgments about what levels of risk they are willing to take in life and how to protect yourself if you choose to engage in the use of controlled substances. We are not advocating for or against use but want to provide information so that people can use psychedelics safely, should they decide to use them. Here are some things to keep in mind related to legal risk:

  • Joining a church (other than the two with exemptions discussed above) that claims to use psychedelic substances as part of religious practice does not protect you from prosecution relating to possessing or distributing a controlled substance. As a recent example, the Zide Door Church of God, even though it was in a city that has “decriminalized” possession of psychedelic containing plants – Oakland – was raided for distribution of psychedelic containing plants. The church needs to have obtained a religious exemption from the federal government for you to be protected and only two churches have done that. While you may believe you use psychedelics for spiritual reasons, a prosecutor won’t care.
  • Buying an ID card that says you are a member of a church will not protect you from being prosecuted. In addition, churches are not likely to help you if you are arrested for possessing psychedelic substances.
  • Educate yourself on your local laws. For instance, Denver’s decriminalization measure only applies to personal use and possession of psilocybin. It is still considered illegal to distribute psychoactive substances in Denver, and people have been prosecuted by the Federal government for doing so. In the state of Colorado, it is a felony to give controlled substances to others, even without the exchange of money.
  • Distributing psychedelics and other controlled substances in exchange for money is risky, even in cities and states where it is decriminalized – like in Oakland where Zide Door Church of God was raided for distribution. Thus, being part of a religious group and part of distributing psychedelics may put you at greater risk than just possessing psychedelics.

Authors: Angelica Spata, Jason Luoma, True Overlie

Stigma and Misinformation About Psychedelics Is Still Widespread Among Psychologists According to a New Survey

Portland Psychotherapy joined with a team at OSU led by Dr. Alan Davis to conduct a survey of 366 psychologists from the U.S. about their attitudes and beliefs toward psychedelics. Here are the highlights:

Our results show that stigma and misinformation about psychedelics persists among a sizable minority of psychologists. 21% of the surveyed psychologists said they would be “very” or “extremely” concerned about the safety of a client who just reported a psilocybin mushroom experience they perceived as therapeutic and transformative. 16% indicated that they wouldn’t believe this person’s report of benefit from the psilocybin experience. While we are glad that the vast majority of psychologists would believe a client’s statement of benefit from a recent psilocybin experience, this still leaves a sizable minority locked into inaccurate and stigmatizing beliefs.

We were also pleased to find that most psychologists were willing to help clients self-educate about psychedelics if the client wanted assistance. Only 10% indicated they would not help the client find ways to educate themselves. Most psychologists were supportive of decriminalization of psychedelics, but a sizable minority (30.7%) believed psychedelics should remain illegal for recreational use.

It’s important to highlight that the lack of adequate information about psychedelics is widespread among psychologists, with only 20% reporting having a very clear understanding of psychedelic-assisted treatment.

Additionally, most psychologists feel they did not have enough experience or knowledge about psychedelics to work with clients effectively. 84% indicated they would need to seek out additional consultation if presented with a client who was using psilocybin and 40% said they would refer a psilocybin curious client struggling with depression to another clinician.

Even though there was clear indication that most psychologists didn’t have confidence in their knowledge of psychedelics, 69% reported working with a client who had experiences with psychedelics, indicating more education is needed.

As evidence of misinformation, psychologists rated alcohol to be comparable in safety to psychedelics, even though data consistently demonstrates that alcohol is typically much more harmful than psychedelics. Furthermore, 35% of psychologists believed that psychedelics can lead to neurocognitive impairment despite a lack of evidence that this is the case.

Ultimately, stigma and misinformation are still common among a sizable minority of psychologists. While many psychologists indicated willingness to assist a client in learning more about psychedelics, most did not feel competent to work with clients who are interested in or using psychedelics. Fueled by stigma, misinformation surrounding psychedelics among psychologists is a barrier to effectively serving such clients. In order for psychologists to have unbiased and unconditional positive regard for their clients who show interest in psychedelics or share a psychedelic experience, more training on psychedelics is needed.

Authors: Angelica Spata and Jason Luoma, Ph.D.

Altered States of Context: A New Podcast about Psychedelic Science

Altered States of Context is a new podcast about psychedelics and psychotherapy hosted by Nathan Gates and Brian Pilecki.

Altered States of Context explores the uncertain fit between a medicalized view of individual mental illness and a psychedelic view of suffering and change, and explores the many possibilities, opportunities, and pitfalls that emerge from this union. Podcast guests include leaders within the field of psychedelic medicine who bring their expertise and perspective to help understand the past, present, and future of psychedelic-assisted therapy. Whether you are new to psychedelics or have been around the block a few times, this podcast is suitable for a wide audience. Nate and Brian also try to “keep it weird” by highlighting some of the aspects of psychedelic experience that make it so interesting, fun, and transformative.

The podcast particularly features functional contextualist approaches to psychotherapy, such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and discusses how such approaches are a good fit for psychedelic preparation and integration. ACT and related approaches are being used in a number of studies on psychedelics and are going to be an important part of this burgeoning field.

New episodes are released every other Monday and can be found on most podcast platforms such as Audible and Apple. Please also check out Altered States of Context on Facebook or Twitter and provide feedback about the podcast or ideas for future episodes.

Nathan W. Gates, MA, LCPC is educated, trained and credentialed as a professional counselor, which is how he earns his living as a private practitioner in rural West-Central Illinois. His career and training have been inspired by insights from psychedelics medicine for more than 20 years. From earning his MA from Naropa University to finding his theoretical home beneath the umbrella of contextual behavioral science, he has consistently pursued an integrative understanding of the human condition. He believes that a central promise and challenge of psychedelic medicine is to create a fully integrated life. We are all called to make sense of our brief time on this planet and purposely serve that which we love. To that end, Nathan strives to weave his roles as psychotherapist, husband, homeschooling parent, ecological citizen, freelance psychedelic integration specialist, entrepreneur, permaculturist and cattle farmer into a sensible and coherent whole. His success in this endeavor is ultimately an open question, but it puts him in a position to learn a great deal from a very wide variety of human beings. This often leads to great conversations. He is also a founder of the psychedelic special interest group with the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science, which has been a tremendous wellspring for creative and ultimately fruitful psychedelic collaborations for people around the world. Additionally, he spoken at regional and international conferences on the usefulness of utilizing contextual behavioral perspectives to make sense of and integrate insights from psychedelic experiences.

Dr. Brian Pilecki is a clinical psychologist at the Portland Psychotherapy Clinic that specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders (OCD, generalized anxiety, social anxiety, panic disorder), trauma and PTSD, and matters related to the use of psychedelics. He completed a post-doctoral fellowship at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and practices from an orientation based in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Brian also has extensive experience in the areas of mindfulness and meditation, and incorporates them into his therapy with clients. He is an active researcher and has published on topics such as anxiety disorders, mindfulness, and the relationship between theory and practice in psychotherapy. At Portland Psychotherapy, Brian is also involved in research in the use of psychedelics for the treatment of mental health problems.

Psilocybin Therapy and Mental Health Care in Oregon: What Is Happening and Where Do We Need to Go From Here?

On May 28th, 2021, Portland Psychotherapy hosted a moderated panel discussion with leading advocates, psychedelic therapy researchers, and psychedelic therapist training providers on creating legal, equitable access to psilocybin therapy in Oregon after the passing of Measure-109. Presenters gave an update on the status of the Oregon Psilocybin initiative, particularly as it relates to the training of facilitators, and discussed ways that local therapists can get training in the practice of psilocybin-assisted therapy. Watch the recording below.

What Do Licensing Boards Think of Psychedelic Integration Therapy?

Psychedelics are growing more popular for treating mental health problems and public demand for integration services is growing in sync with this demand. Many therapists have begun offering psychedelic integration therapy for clients who are already using or experimenting with psychedelics, but also have questions about legal and ethical risks involved in doing this kind of work. Psychedelic integration work is a relatively new practice and guidelines are still developing. Practicing in any new areas entail risk, so it’s important to think about how to manage it. A common question is, “What will my licensing board think?”

These two activities are particularly risky when it comes to licensing boards: 

  1. Helping clients access psychedelics, for example by referring them to an underground guide 
  2. Doing therapy with clients while they are under the influence of psychedelic substances that they obtained themselves.  

Both of these are likely to lead to licensing board sanctions if your licensing board finds out. They could even put you at criminal risk as an accessory to a crime or due to drug house laws that forbid hosting a place for people to use illicit drugs. 

It would be ideal if we could just ask our licensing boards what they thought, but licensing boards typically do not make generalized statements about ambiguous situations, especially in cases where there may be a legal or ethical gray zone.  

So, we are left thinking this through on our own. First off, we might consider What is the role of a licensing board? Licensing boards have a primary duty to protect the public and take disciplinary action against providers in situations such as: 

Becoming familiar with common types of licensing board violations can provide a better sense of how to practice within ethical boundaries. In evaluating your own practice, take some time to imagine how a licensing board might perceive what you are doing. To help mitigate risk around psychedelic integration therapy, here are some things to think through. Taking each of these steps is likely to reduce your risk of licensing board sanctions should a complaint be filed against you. 

  • Ethical violations 
  • Sexual misconduct 
  • Illegal activities 
  • Provider impairment 
  • Billing or insurance fraud 
  • Practicing outside areas of expertise 
  • Malpractice 

Stay within the law: With some exception, most psychedelics remain illegal. Therefore, do not help clients obtain access to drugs, or even access to other people who can supply drugs such as underground guides. Do not allow clients to attend therapy sessions while under the influence of drugs. 

Obtain education and trainingThe more training and education in the area of psychedelics that you have, the more you can argue that you are practicing within an area of competency. Be able to demonstrate that this is an area of expertise. 

Consult with others: If you choose to incorporate client usage of psychedelics into your therapy practice, consult with other therapists who are doing the same thing. This is especially important when you are confronted with situations or dilemmas that you aren’t sure how to respond to. 

Be clear with clients: Aiming for clarity in communicating with clients is key in reducing the risk that a client may misunderstand what you are offering. Make sure that clients understand what it is you can offer, and what it is you can’t offer.  

In the end, there is no guarantee of protection against disciplinary action by a licensing board. However, taking steps to lessen risk can allow you to provide psychedelic integration therapy to clients who have an increasing need for this service.  

Written by Brian Pilecki Ph.D. & Jason Luoma, Ph.D. 

UPCOMING TRAINING EVENTS


Acceptance & Commitment Therapy – An Experiential & Practical Introduction

Jason Luoma, PhD and Jenna LeJeune, PhD
November 13th and 14th, 2021 from 8:30am-4:30pm
at Hilton Garden Inn Portland Airport
This two-day in-person workshop provides a thorough overview of the theory, principles, and techniques of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. It is intended for those who are relatively new to ACT and for those who have done some reading on their own about ACT but who may not have had the opportunity to participate in more experiential learning, observe models, or receive feedback while using the ACT model. Read More.


Ethical & Legal Considerations in Psychedelic Integration Therapy

Brian Pilecki, PhD and Jason Luoma, PhD
November 19th, 2021 from 9am-11am

There is an increasing demand from clients seeking therapeutic support in their personal use of psychedelics. However, many clinicians interested in psychedelic preparation and integration are unsure as to how to provide these services as psychedelics mostly remain illegal. In this workshop, we will outline legal and ethical frameworks relevant to providing therapy to clients around their personal use of psychedelics, as well as describe how harm reduction approaches are suitable for this developing clinical area. Read More.


De-Mystifying Self-As-Context in ACT: Practical Strategies for Clients

Brian Pilecki, PhD and Kati Lear, PhD
December 3rd, 2021 from 12pm-1:30pm

This workshop will outline how self-as-context can be used to conceptualize commonly discussed topics in therapy such as self-esteem, confidence, identity, and inner conflict. Participants will learn how to flexibly practice practical self-as-context interventions that can be used with clients, as well as have a chance to practice newly learned skills through structured role-play exercises in breakout groups. Read More.


Values in Therapy: An Intro to Working with Values from an ACT Perspective

Jenna LeJeune, PhD
January 21, 2022 from 12pm-2:00pm

This workshop will provide a theoretical and conceptual overview of values from a contextual behavioral science perspective. We will cover the “what”, “why”, “when”, and “how” of values within ACT. While we will also provide an overview of various values exercises and measures that can be used with clients, the emphasis in this workshop will be on providing a foundational framework that will help clinicians approach values work from a functional perspective rather than a primarily technique-focused approach. Read More.



Culturally Responsive Therapy: How to Apply Anti-Racist Values in Session

Christy Tadros, LPCC and RaQuel Neal, LCSW
February 4th, 2022 from 1:30pm-4:45pm
and February 5th from 9:00am-12:00pm

This 2 day 6-hour training will help therapists develop their ability to support clients from a different racial background than them, with a particular focus on Black, Indigenous and People of Color. Through a multicultural social justice framework, it will integrate research and clinical experience to teach a therapeutic model for rapport building, assessment, and treatment. This model is not a rigid therapeutic modality, but provides a contextual lens to build a strong, culturally grounded therapeutic relationship. It is a flexible model and can align with many therapeutic modalities, including a contextual behavioral approach to therapy. Read More.


Truffle Hunting: Bringing Values to Life in the Therapy Room

Jenna LeJeune, PhD
February 25, 2022 from 12pm-2:00pm

This brief workshop is designed to help clinicians deepen their values work with clients by shifting the focus from the content of values conversations to the quality of those conversation. By listening for and deepening the qualities of effective values conversations participants will get a taste for how more experiential and relationally-based values work can supercharge therapy. Participants will have opportunities to both observe demonstrations and practice in small groups with the benefit of feedback. Read More.


Values Prototyping: Using Action to Help Clients Explore Their Values

Jenna LeJeune, PhD
March 18, 2022 from 12pm-2:00pm

This workshop will focus on one specific experiential tool called “values prototyping” that helps clients learn more about their values through engaging in intentional valuing. As participants will hopefully already have a solid foundation of some of the core concepts of the values process in ACT, this workshop will dive right in on how to use values prototyping to help clients learn more about what they would choose to value in their life. You will have the chance to practice developing a values prototype in small groups with the benefit of feedback, so that by the end of the workshop you will be able to use this tool in your work with clients. Read More.


The Invitation to Change Approach: Helping Families Affected by Addiction

Jeff Foote, PhD and Cordelia Kraus, LPC, CADC 1, certified CRAFT clinician
May 13th and 14th, 2022 from 9:00am-5:00pm
at University of Portland, Terrace Room
This two-day in-person workshop will provide skills training for professionals focused on the process of working with clients who have a loved one struggling with substance use issues. The Invitation to Change Approach draws on CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training), MI (Motivational Interviewing), and ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) to provide a compassionate and collaborative way of working with the families and concerned significant others of people who struggle with substance use. Read More.


Therapy and Research in Psychedelic Science (TRIPS) Seminar Series

Second Friday of each month from 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM (PT)

TRIPS is an online seminar series that hosts speakers discussing science-informed presentations and discussions about psychedelics to educate healthcare professionals. This series was created to guide healthcare providers and students preparing to be professionals towards the most relevant, pragmatic, and essential information about psychedelic-assisted therapy, changing legal statuses, and harm reduction approaches in order to better serve clients and communities. This seminar series is a fundraiser for our clinical trial of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for social anxiety disorder that Portland Psychotherapy investigators are preparing for and starting in the Fall of 2021. All proceeds after presenter remuneration will go to fund this clinical trial. Read more.

November 12th, 2021Psychedelic Research: Implications for Palliative Care and End-of-Life Existential Distress with Anthony Bossis, Ph.D.

December 10th, 2021Implementing Culturally-Attuned & Anti-Racist Psychedelic Therapy: Impact over Intention with Jamilah R. George, M.Div., M.S.

January 14th, 2022Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy of Major Depressive Disorder using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as a Therapeutic Frame with Jordan Sloshower, MD, MSc

February 11th, 2022 – Drug-Drug Interactions Between Psychiatric Medications and MDMA or Psilocybin with Aryan Sarparast, MD