San Francisco Decriminalizes Psychedelics-What Does it Mean?
In any given week, some development in the psychedelic space—a scientific study, a company announcement, or policy development—will completely take over my mind, and I fall into the proverbial rabbit hole.
A rabbit hole is, in fact, an apt description: “a bizarre, confusing, or nonsensical situation or environment, typically one from which it is difficult to extricate oneself.1”
In these instances, my mind conjures the hypothetical byproducts of the development—risks, opportunities, incentives, knowledge creation, etc.—and tries to fit them together as if to predict a hyperdimensional game of chess.
I can best describe this state of mind by invoking the classic Charlie conspiracy meme.
This week, my mind has taken firm hold of San Francisco’s decriminalizing Psychedelics through a city council resolution.
This local decriminalization measure is uniquely significant compared to others we’ve seen so far.
It is one thing for Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Cambridge, Massachusettes, to enact decriminalization measures; it is another entirely for San Francisco, the spiritual home of the psychedelic counter-culture, to do so.
Media coverage and text messages from friends and family signify that this is a significant mile-marker in the march towards mainstream adoption.
Several of these messages followed up with “What does this mean?”
Today’s dispatch is my attempt at extracting myself from the rabbit hole I’ve been in for several days by laying out a few ideas, concepts, and dynamics that might help us think about what such a development means. But it could also be the ramblings of a mad man.
I’ll let you decide.
The main points include:
Decriminalization is the biggest on-ramp for people “on the fence” about trying psychedelics
It could allow for the training and professional development of psychedelic service providers needed for future medical (therapists) or legal (guides/facilitators/sitters) industries
It highlights the paradox of building for the future of psychedelics when it is very much here and now
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San Francisco Decriminalizes Plant Medicine
From Marijuana Moment:
“San Francisco lawmakers have unanimously approved a measure calling for the decriminalization of psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca.
The Board of Supervisors approved the measure, sponsored by Supervisors Dean Preston (D) and Hillary Ronen (D), on Wednesday. While it doesn’t immediately enact changes to criminal justice policy in San Francisco, it urges police to deprioritize psychedelics as “amongst the lowest priority” for enforcement and requests that “City resources not be used for any investigation, detention, arrest, or prosecution arising out of alleged violations of state and federal law regarding the use of Entheogenic Plants listed on the Federally Controlled Substances Schedule 1 list.””
As I mentioned, I have received several messages asking, “what does this mean?”
I responded to these queries by saying that “decriminalization” should be read as “deprioritization.” In other words, the possession, consumption, cultivation, and exchange are ostensibly permissible by local law because the resolution instructs San Francisco Police to consider plant medicines as the lowest law enforcement priority.
I tell them the measure does not affect state and federal laws. However, it still makes the psychedelic commerce and practice that is already happening safer and potentially more available to people who are not as tuned into psychedelic communities.
I think this last point is really interesting. Namely, by reducing the actual and perceived risks, do decriminalization measures make psychedelic experiences more accessible?
While many newcomers’ interest may be piqued by watching How to Change your Mind or the increasing appearance of psychedelics in mainstream media, they are not so risk-tolerant as to source drugs from the dark web or reach out to an anonymous avatar on Signal.
People who are inclined to find psychedelics will find them, but the “on-the-fence” consumer is probably the fastest growing segment of ‘the psychedelic market,’ and most of these people are not going to Peru or Jamaica for a retreat; they won’t get into a clinical trial, and they don’t know how to procure, dose, or embark on a psychedelic journey themselves.
With the advent of decriminalization, enacted mainly due to the mounting evidence for their therapeutic properties, such measures are a green light for all psychedelic services—ceremonies, circles, PAT, trip sitting, etc.—and for people providing these services.
So if a ceremony, sitter, or guide has a non-sketchy web presence and can do some form of marketing and promotion because of the reduced risk, it likely lowers the barrier to entry for the ‘on-the-fence’ segment. And if these ‘on-the-fence’ types are not concerned with legal repercussions, it will go a long way to introducing more people to psychedelic use.
Thus, decriminalization, especially in a place like San Francisco, is the biggest on-ramp for psychedelic use and enables a maturation of psychedelic services that are less feasible under stricter sanctions.
Despite the enthusiasm and growing attention the field is getting, the only above-ground opportunities for would-be psychedelic service providers are in research, healthcare settings with ketamine, and international retreats.
This ratio of a large amount of enthusiasm to a small present legal opportunity directs consumers and service providers into the black and grey market.
San Francisco is the newest grey market.
Many will look to cannabis as an equivalent, but as I noted In Psychedelic 'Procedures' & Regulatory Leakage, I think the critical difference between cannabis and psychedelic grey markets will not be in the illegal products themselves, but in the personnel:
Psychedelics differ from cannabis in a few critical ways:
Use Patterns: Use patterns (multiple/day, daily, weekly) make cannabis a commodity compared to psychedelics (even microdosing routines are 2-4 doses/week).
Pharma Focus: To date, the majority of capital invested into psychedelics has backed pharmaceutical development projects rather than grow-operations, retail, or consumer brands. The next tier of investment has been in clinical infrastructure and ancillary technology.
Personnel: Sitters, shamans, guides, therapists, and clinicians are common features of psychedelic experiences; this is not the case with cannabis.
Regulatory Leakage from psychedelics will, of course, include the black market sale and production of the substances, but I don’t think that this is the main thing. Rather,
Regulatory Leakage captured by unregulated psychedelic markets will be the humans who work with people who work with psychedelics—the therapists, guides, shamans and clinicians.
In other words, while there may be incentives and opportunities for cultivators and producers in these decriminalized markets, this service, in large part, already exists.
Therefore, San Francisco and other decriminalized jurisdictions are where individuals who want to provide the necessary services for safe therapeutic use will develop their skills until legal markets, medical or otherwise, are available.
Of course, there are pros and cons to this dynamic. On the one hand, decriminalization may make it so that someone who needs medical attention can get it without fear of arrest.
On the other, if my assumptions are correct and there is an influx of new psychedelic users AND new facilitators, the lack of experience could lead to a heightened risk of the occasional bad outcome.
The combination of the Controlled Substances Act, which makes psychedelics federally illegal, and promising results from early clinical trials have led to the overwhelming majority of investment and company formation happening in the pharmaceutical drug development category.
Ironically, this investment goes to testing the safety and efficacy of substances that millions of people already consume, mostly without issues. (But, of course, this is not the whole picture, as much of the development is for the discovery and development of novel compounds, most of which are not available to the millions of psychedelic users in the world, but the premise holds.)
In the middle of this paradox sits psychedelic therapy, the critical piece of infrastructure for mainstream adoption that presently exists in both sanctioned clinical research and illicit underground settings.
Since San Francisco and the Bay Area have been the spiritual home of psychedelics and the hub of the psychedelic therapy underground, does this resolution afford therapists greater access and less risk in having their own experiences?
In a 2021 paper from the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, titled How Important Is a Guide Who Has Taken Psilocybin in Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy for Depression? found that patients overwhelmingly prefer a therapist who has had their own psychedelic experiences.
One of the authors, Mitch Earlywine, told Psypost:
“People who hear about psilocybin-assisted treatment for depression think it’s important to have a guide who has used psilocybin, too… In fact, they think it’s more important than having a therapist who has experienced depression, been in the same kind of therapy, or who shares their gender or ethnicity. So training programs for psychedelic guides would likely be better if they included a psilocybin session.”
So, in closing, while the resolution would not allow for legal sales, the allowance of possession, cultivation, and exchange of plant medicines in a place like San Francisco creates the environment for the maturation of psychedelic services.
“Follow-up tests revealed that decreased thought suppression was exclusive to psilocybin responders, whereas rumination decreased in both responder groups. In the psilocybin arm, decreases in rumination and thought suppression correlated with ego dissolution and session-linked psychological insight.”
“A new $900,000 grant from the psychedelics-focused Heffter Research Institute will allow researchers from Johns Hopkins, Yale University, and New York University to build out a postdoctoral fellowship and gold-standard training program in psychedelic therapy….
The Heffter grant will enable psychedelics experts to put together a one-to-two-year postdoctoral fellowship program for psychiatrists interested in using psilocybin and other psychedelics in their practice. Fellows will learn about screening and preparing patients for psychedelic therapy, dosing, creating the right setting and mindset for the treatment, and providing psychotherapy to those undergoing treatment with psychedelics.”
“Wondering how to get involved in the much-heralded renaissance of psychedelic science and psychedelic-assisted therapy? Go out and get an MD-PhD, then run for office and legalize everything. If you don’t have a dozen years and millions of dollars to spare plus family connections in politics, then just go out and meet people.”
Thanks for Reading, and have a great weekend!
My poor family.