Oklahoma House advances psilocybin research program

Oklahoma soon could authorize medical research into psilocybin, the psychedelic compound found in so-called "magic mushrooms."

Far from the hippie culture of the 1960s that embraced psilocybin and other psychedelics as a way to "turn on, tune in, drop out," recent studies into the drug's efficacy have focused on its use in helping reduce the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression found in combat veterans and survivors of abuse.

House Bill 2107 was advanced by the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Thursday and can now be heard in the Senate. Its author, state Rep. Daniel Pae, R-Lawton, said Texas already has adopted similar legislation, and it's also being considered in Montana, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Arizona.

What is psilocybin?

Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in certain species of mushrooms. When ingested, psilocybin interacts with serotonin receptors in the brain, leading to altered perceptions, mood changes and sometimes profound spiritual or mystical experiences in higher doses.

At the right dose and with complementary therapy, there is evidence that psychedelics allow patients to process their trauma more effectively and for a longer period of time.

During questions on the House floor, Pae said it's possible that this kind of treatment could lead to patients who no longer have to take antidepressant pharmeceuticals.

"We won't know until we conduct the research, until we conduct this pilot program," he said.

State Rep. Daniel Pae, R-Lawton, stands in the House chamber in February. Pae has authored a bill that would allow therapeutic research into psilocybin.
State Rep. Daniel Pae, R-Lawton, stands in the House chamber in February. Pae has authored a bill that would allow therapeutic research into psilocybin.

The standard of research that would be authorized in this legislation, however, likely would be limited to "micro-doses" of the drug paired with clinical therapy. Earlier small-scale research of its use has been conducted by major medical research centers like Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

"Our findings add to evidence that, under carefully controlled conditions, this is a promising therapeutic approach that can lead to significant and durable improvements in depression,” said Dr. Natalie Gukasyan, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Gakuasyan cautioned, however, that “the results we see are in a research setting and require quite a lot of preparation and structured support from trained clinicians and therapists, and people should not attempt to try it on their own.”

What would be allowed?

Psilocybin is illegal in both federal and state law, but federal drug regulators have allowed some highly controlled research to take place. This legislation would allow similar studies on the state level. Pae said that the drug would be kept in a clinical setting and not be distributed for use at home.

Possession of psilocybin would remain illegal under state law outside of the specific scenarios outlined in the bill.

"I believe we have fantastic research institutions here in the state of Oklahoma, and I want them to be part of the conversation. I want us to be proactive and not reactive on this issue," Pae said.

Under the provisions of the bill, a university or research facility working with a university would be allowed to conduct scientific research into psilocybin for treatment of people 18 years old and older. They would have to register with the state.

The research would be limited to treatment of the following conditions:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Treatment-resistant/refractory depression

  • Treatment-resistant/refractory anxiety

  • Treatment-resistant/refractory obsessive-compulsive disorder

  • Traumatic brain injury

  • Early-stage dementia

  • Palliative care

  • End-of-life care

  • Opioid use disorder

  • Moderate to severe chronic pain

Researchers would have to present their results to the Legislature by December 2026.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Psilocybin therapy research program approved by Oklahoma House