Five Things Prohibitionists Get Wrong–And One Thing They Get Right

Five Things Prohibitionists Get Wrong–And One Thing They Get Right

Psychedelics have their champions–and their foes. 

It was fairly recently that people who dislike psychedelics were pushing profound fallacies about their dangers. The Scared Straight, D.A.R.E., “Just Say No” programs told stories of horrifying outcomes that more closely resembled lurid urban legends than actual useful facts. 

The prohibitionists–who want to justify the continued criminalization of people who use psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA–have largely abandoned their most laughable falsehoods. But that doesn’t mean they’re not still coming up with some absolutely idiotic bangers–such rank manure you could sprout cubensis in it.

Here are five things the inexperienced–the haters, the squares, the anti-decrim, anti-medicine crowd, the people who oppose the pursuit of happiness–get wrong about psychedelics. 

And…one thing they get right.  

 Literature promoting the decriminalization of mushrooms in Denver. Photo by Reilly Capps

Wrong Idea No. 1

People Are Guaranteed to Get Addicted To Mushrooms

The abstainers who are arguing against legal access to psychedelics say they worry about “another addiction-for-profit industry,” akin to alcohol or tobacco cannabis. Kevin Sabet, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, the preeminent lobbying group dedicated to halting cannabis legalization, makes this claim often.  

Of course, people can get addicted to almost anything–eating, shopping, sex. Cases of mushroom addiction definitely exist. 

But reality doesn’t align with the claim that mushrooms are inherently addictive. “Very few hallucinogen users experience an inability to cut down or control use, a key indicator of dependence,” a study found. And in a 1994 study, psychedelics had the lowest rate of abuse among all drugs. 

On the contrary, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that psilocybin and other psychedelics can be used as part of treatment programs for substance use disorder. Further study on this topic is necessary, but it’s not a new idea. Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson believed psychedelics could play a role in treating alcoholism. There are even national support groups of people who say psychedelics helped them beat more dangerous drugs like alcohol and opioids.

RELATED: Is Ketamine Addictive? Experts Weigh In

Wrong Idea No. 2

A Dangerous ‘Big Psychedelics’ Industry is Coming

During a discussion hosted by Open to Debate, Kevin Sabet warned about the effects “American style commercialization” would have. Any potential benefit of psychedelics would be lost to the unquenchable drive for profit, he warned. He compared psychedelic companies to the tobacco industry, which spent years obfuscating the harms of their products

Here again, he’s comparing apples to elephants. Entheogens don’t wreck the body the way alcohol and tobacco do. And stores won’t sell psychedelics like tobacco. In fact, in Oregon and Colorado, you have to take mushrooms with a trained sitter. And if MAPS and Compass Pathways legalize MDMA and psilocybin as medicines approved by the FDA, you’ll have a doctor’s prescription, and there will be a guide to hold your hand. Hardly a recipe for out-of-control, everyday use. 

Wrong Idea No. 3

No One Gets Arrested For Mushrooms, So Who Cares About Legalizing Them? 

Many people who oppose decriminalization or legalization say it is an unnecessary step because the cops jail few people for possession of psychedelic mushrooms. 

It is true that a relatively small percentage of the more than one million Americans arrested annually for drugs are arrested for possession of psilocybin mushrooms. That’s likely because not nearly as many people use mushrooms as alcohol or other drugs. It’s also because there’s usually a lack of aberrant behavior by mushroom users that would put them in the sights of law enforcement. 

But the number of arrests for psilocybin is not zero. 

In Denver, where voters made history by decriminalizing psilocybin in 2019, the district attorney charged 44 people with psilocybin offenses in the year prior. That number has declined in the years since decriminalization. But it has yet to reach zero, likely because these figures still include charges filed for distribution, which Denver did not decriminalize. 

It matters that jails hold thousands of people arrested for mushrooms. For the (relatively) small number of people who are jailed, the experience is life altering. As a Schedule I controlled substance, psilocybin can complicate arrests for other minor offenses and serve as a pretext for enhanced charges. 

If only one person was arrested for psilocybin this year it would still be one too many.          


Wrong Idea No. 4

Freeing The Mushrooms Will Scare Tourists Away

Another common warning was that decriminalization would have a detrimental effect on a city’s reputation. In Denver, some even warned the city would be establishing itself as “the illicit drug capital of the world.”  

The specter of legal mushrooms looming over a city like a mushroom cloud is a myth. In 2019, the year voters in Denver approved psilocybin decriminalization, the city set a record for tourism. Post-pandemic, the city has been on pace to return to that level.  

The same thing happened with Oakland—which followed Denver as the second city to decriminalize psilocybin in June 2019. The number of tourists has also nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels. 

Wrong Idea No. 5

Psychedelics Always Cause Harm

To the drug warriors, an altered consciousness can only lead to one end: madness and self destruction. D.A.R.E. classes regaled kids with stories of the deranged lunacy that comes with a psychedelic trip. There were stories of hippies, convinced they could fly, throwing themselves off buildings while high on LSD, or people on PCP gouging their own eyes out. 

Reality seems quite different. It looks like people who take psychedelics are, on average, mentally healthier than folks who don’t. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that use of classical psychedelics correlated to a reduced likelihood of psychological distress, suicidal thinking and suicide attempts. A systematic review of the link between psychedelics and suicidality published in ACS Pharmacology and Translational Science in 2021 found “no reports of increased suicidality and preliminary evidence for acute and sustained decreases in suicidality following treatment.”

Well then. 

However, psychedelics aren’t completely safe. Which leads us to … 

Valid Idea No. 1

Psychedelics Can Spin Your Head Around

The folks who want to keep psychedelics criminalized, and punish people who use them, are wrong so often it’s surprising when they stumble into the proximity of a valid idea. Truth is, psychedelic use can result in bad outcomes. There’s:

  • Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder: Psychedelics distort the vision of some people long after the effects of the drug have worn off, perhaps as high as 9 percent, one study found. That’s a big deal.  
  • Psychedelics are so strange that they can be a stressor, sort of like a breakup or losing a job. Not everyone handles this well. One study found psychedelics are “weakly” associated with behavior that the psychiatric world calls “psychotic.” A few people believe they’ve seen God or aliens, and–if they’re not well-supported–they’ll sell all their possessions and start walking around barefoot. Spiritual people sometimes call this a “spiritual emergency.” The street language is “spun.” 

The Benefits of a Stable Community

Even though psychedelics can cause real harm, a systematic review found that most of the adverse effects take place outside of supported use of clinical trials and guided trips. The paper said that “the majority of reported adverse effects (are) not being observed in a regulated and/or medical context.”

So a solid set and setting–a community or family or friends or doctor or therapist your can rely on–is best for safety. People in an unhealthy relationship, job uncertainty, isolation, or serious untreated underlying mental health issues might have trouble dealing with the intensity of large doses of psychedelics. 

In sum: the people who dislike psychedelics aren’t always wrong. You don’t want to be drinking ayahuasca with your morning coffee, or chewing mushrooms like they’re trail mix. You want to do them with the support of professionals, with friends and family you can rely on, as part of a community who will check in on your wellbeing. And probably only occasionally. 

Maybe someday Kevin Sabet and the other anti-decrim and anti-medicalization folks will join a healthy medicine circle, or be part of a well-run clinical trial, and expand their minds and hearts–and drop the scare tactics. 

DJ Reetz

DJ Reetz

View all posts by DJ Reetz

DJ Reetz is a cannabis and psychedelic journalist in Denver. He was the managing editor for The Hemp Connoisseur, where he wrote about cannabis policy and culture.

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