Traffic Roots Audience Pixel Traffic Roots Audience Pixel Where Are Psychedelics Legal Around the Globe? Here's Everything You Need To Know
Where Are Psychedelics Legal Around the Globe? Here’s Everything You Need To Know

Where Are Psychedelics Legal Around the Globe? Here’s Everything You Need To Know

Where are psychedelics legal? Well, it’s first worth highlighting that most psychedelics are illegal in most countries around the world. However, there are several psychedelics that, in quite a few countries, are either legal or have been decriminalized.

Moreover, the legal landscape of psychedelics is constantly evolving and in a matter of years, we will see psychedelics being legalized or decriminalized in additional countries and states in the United States.

Of course, for anyone who wishes to have a psychedelic experience — be that solo, as part of therapy, or at a retreat — without interference from the law, then you will want to know precisely where you can have this sort of experience. After all, illegally purchasing and prohibited substances can carry the weight of additional risk and worry that no one ideally wants to have to deal with.

This guide will explore, firstly, why psychedelics are illegal. Next, we will take a look at legal and decriminalized psychedelics in the U.S., and then in other parts of the world.

Why Are Psychedelics Illegal?

It’s curious to note that so few psychedelics are actually legal. There are several reasons for this, although they tend to be related.

1960s Hysteria

In the 1950s, researchers were fruitfully studying psychedelics like LSD, especially in the context of using them for the treatment of conditions such as alcoholism. By the 1960s, the use of LSD left the realm of science and psychotherapy and became mainstream and widely used by the public.

Following this, the media at the time published many sensationalized reports of frightening LSD-induced effects, despite the evidence showing that serious side effects of LSD are very rare.

The media contributed to the hysteria surrounding LSD, as did, it should be mentioned, real cases of adverse effects following LSD use. During the 1960s, LSD tabs were potent — much stronger than they tend to be today.

Clandestine chemists like Owsley Stanley were making tabs that had 250ug (micrograms) on each tab. This is definitely a strong dose. It is capable of inducing strong reactions, which may take the form of a mystical experience or a frightening experience (or “bad trip”).

These doses were part of the reason for the increase in accidents and hospitalizations related to LSD.

The ‘60s drug hysteria, understandably, increased people’s fears about psychedelics, leading to psychedelic stigma.

This stigma is made up of all the inaccurate or exaggerated negative beliefs that people have about psychedelics and the people who use them. Widespread psychedelic stigma is one key reason why these chemicals became highly controlled substances in most countries.

The United States Controlled Substances Act

The United States Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which came into force in 1971, included psychedelics like LSD, DMT, psilocybin, mescaline as Schedule I substances. They remain in this category to this day.

Any Schedule I substance, in the eyes of U.S. federal law, has a high potential for abuse and no recognized medical value.

Of course, existing research on these compounds suggests they do not have a high potential for abuse (and can even be anti-addictive), and that they can also be used effectively in the treatment of many mental health issues.

In June 1971, then U.S. President Richard Nixon announced that drug abuse was “public enemy number one”. Psychedelics were included in his “war on drugs”.

Psychedelics And The Counterculture Movement

It is widely acknowledged that psychedelics can radically alter the way you think. However, these substances not only affect how you think as you experience the effects; they might also lead to enduring changes in your beliefs or at least strengthen your pre-existing beliefs.

In the 1960s, psychedelic use became associated with youthful rebellion, social upheaval, and political dissent.

John Ehrlichman, an aide to Nixon, later admitted that Nixon’s anti-drug campaign was partly fueled by opposition to the antiwar left. In the 1960s, there were many protests against the Vietnam War happening all over the U.S. The anti-war movement peaked in the 1960s, and this movement was very popular among the counterculture, which was known to advocate for the use of psychedelics.

In Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD (1985), authors Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain emphasized that LSD was tightly wrapped up with the antiwar movement and New Left of the 60s.

It seemed that psychedelics were linked to specific attitudes and, as indicated by Ehrlichman’s statement, we can see the U.S. government at the time felt threatened by this.

Psychedelic writers Terence McKenna and Dennis McKenna have both argued that psychedelics are illegal because they lead to unconventional thinking. This can challenge the status quo and lead to dissent.

Where Are Psychedelics Legal In The U.S.?

There are actually several psychedelics that have been legalized or decriminalized in the U.S. But they only have this legal status in certain contexts, states, or cities.

Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic brew that contains the psychedelic compound DMT. This brew is legal for members of “ayahuasca churches”: Syncretic religions that combine Christianity with other beliefs, the members of which use ayahuasca as a religious sacrament.

Ayahuasca is a legal psychedelic for members of União do Vegetal (UDV) religion throughout the country and legal for members of the Santo Daime religion to use in ceremonies in California, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Washington State.

In 1999, U.S. customs officials seized a shipment of ayahuasca and raided a UDV member’s office. Following the incident, the UDV fought court battles to stop the U.S. government from interfering with its religious use of ayahuasca (known as Hoasca in the UDV).

After long legal battles, the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that UDV members in the U.S. could legally use ayahuasca as a religious sacrament.

Ayahuasca has since been decriminalized in the following U.S. cities as well.

This means a person will not face prosecution for possessing or using the psychedelic brew in these cities.

Cannabis

While cannabis is not generally a psychedelic, it can certainly have psychedelic effects. These effects can manifest when a user takes cannabis in high doses or as an edible.

So, we can think of cannabis perhaps as a mild psychedelic or a non-classic psychedelic.

Cannabis is legal for recreational use for adults in the following states.

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Vermont
  • Washington

Cannabis is also legal for medical use in these states, as well as many other states.

Fly Agaric

Amanita muscaria (also known as fly agaric or the toadstool mushroom) contains the psychedelic compound muscimol. This particular mushroom is not a controlled substance on a federal level. Muscimol does not belong to any class of chemicals like the other classic psychedelics: It is not a tryptamine, phenethylamine, or ergoline psychedelic.

The effects of muscimol can be psychedelic, but they can also produce delirium, as well as a range of unpleasant physical effects. Muscimol and ibotenic acid (also found in fly agaric) are toxic compounds.

Ketamine

Another non-traditional psychedelic is ketamine. We can think of ketamine as dissociative anesthesia since it produces both dissociative and psychedelic effects.

Yes, ketamine is legal — so long as its use is in a licensed, clinical setting. It is not, however, legal to use recreationally. In the U.S., ketamine is a Schedule III drug.

LSA-Containing Seeds

Ergine or lysergic acid amide (LSA) is a psychedelic compound that has some similar effects to LSD. Like LSD, LSA is an ergoline compound; plus, they are both derivatives of lysergic acid.

LSA comes from Hawaiian baby woodrose (Argyreia nervosa) seeds and morning glory (Ipomoea violacea) seeds. While you can legally buy and possess these seeds in most states, any intent of consuming them makes them illegal in a few states.

Extracting LSA from the seeds is illegal throughout the country.

Peyote

The peyote cactus contains the psychedelic compound mescaline, which belongs to the phenethylamine class of psychedelics. Peyote is only legal if you are a member of the Native American Church (NAC) or if you are a Native American using the cactus in a traditional Indian ceremony.

NAC members and Native Americans can legally use, possess, and transport peyote if this takes place in a religious context. This exemption is granted by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) of 1978, as well as an amendment made to this law in 1994.

If these conditions don’t apply to you, possessing peyote would be illegal — since mescaline is a Schedule I drug. The U.S. prohibits peyote production, sale, and possession.

Psilocybin

In November 2020, Oregon became the first state to legalize psilocybin (for medicinal use only).

In Denver, Colorado; Santa Cruz and Oakland, California; Washington D.C.; Somerville and Cambridge, Massachusetts; Seattle, Washington; and Arbor, Michigan, magic mushrooms have been decriminalized.

This means that, in these cities, a person can cultivate and possess them for personal use without having to worry about the law. Psilocybin mushrooms are still illegal to sell, nevertheless.

Salvia

Salvia divinorum (or salvia, for short) is a psychedelic plant that you can smoke, leading to intense psychedelic effects, with a rapid onset. This is similar to DMT — and, like DMT, people who use salvia find that it transports them to another realm.

However, the salvia experience is distinct.

For instance, salvinorin-A (a psychoactive chemical found in salvia) is a kappa-opioid agonist with dissociative effects, whereas DMT is a 5-HT2A agonist and a classic tryptamine psychedelic.

Salvia is not illegal on a federal level, although some states do regulate its use.

Where Are Psychedelics Legal In Other Parts Of The World?

Some psychedelics, like ayahuasca, are also legal in other parts of the world.

Let’s take a look at some of these countries (in many of them, you can find psychedelic retreats, which might be the option you’re most interested in).

Where Are Psychedelics Legal Elsewhere In North America?

  • Canada. Cannabis is fully legal and the research chemical 1P-LSD (similar to LSD) is legal to buy and possess. (Research chemicals — or RCs — are compounds with use for medical and scientific research. Some people also use these recreationally. Since many are new, they often fall outside the scope of the law.) Santo Daime members can legally use ayahuasca in Canada but only in Montreal and Toronto. The Canadian government has also legalized psilocybin and MDMA therapy for patients who have life-threatening illnesses.
  • Jamaica. Psilocybin mushrooms are legal, and there are many options for retreats in the country.

Where Are Psychedelics Legal In Latin America?

Where Are Psychedelics Legal In Europe?

  • The Netherlands. Magic mushrooms are illegal but sclerotia (or magic truffles) are not (these are parts of the mushroom that grow underground but which still contain the compounds psilocybin and psilocin). For this reason, you can find psilocybin retreats taking place in the Netherlands, using magic truffles, rather than mushrooms. Other legal psychedelics in the Netherlands include cannabis, mescaline-containing cacti, and salvia.
  • Portugal. All drugs have been decriminalized, so you can possess and use psychedelics without worrying about facing legal consequences. This is why there are many ayahuasca retreats in the country.
  • Spain has also adopted a policy of drug decriminalization.

Are you curious about psychedelics, but have concerns about prohibited status? As we highlight above, there are many places where these compounds will not bring legal trouble.

Sam Woolfe

View all posts by Sam Woolfe

Sam Woolfe is a freelance writer based in London. His main areas of interest include mental health, mystical experiences, the history of psychedelics, and the philosophy of psychedelics. He first became fascinated by psychedelics after reading Aldous Huxley's description of the mescaline experience in The Doors of Perception. Since then, he has researched and written about psychedelics for various publications, covering the legality of psychedelics, drug policy reform, and psychedelic science.

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