Casey Kulla: Psilocybin therapy deserves a chance

Image: Creative Commons/Wikipedia##Psilocybe semilanceata mushrooms.
Image: Creative Commons/Wikipedia##Psilocybe semilanceata mushrooms.

Unanimous. That’s right, the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners is united in allowing therapeutic psychedelic mushrooms in unincorporated Yamhill County.

What does that mean for you? It means you will not see a county commissioner-sponsored ban on the ballot this November, and sometime next year, you may have local access to this promising new therapy.

What you will see are proposed bans and temporary moratoriums on therapeutic psilocybin — the medicinal compound in psychedelic mushrooms — from many of your city councils, including McMinnville’s. These bans would prevent state-regulated businesses from offering therapeutic psilocybin-based treatment in affected cities.

In November of 2020, county voters joined voters statewide in opting to legalize regulated psilocybin-based therapy through Measure 109. Next year, licensed facilitators will start offering treatment to Oregonians with Oregon-grown psychedelic mushrooms.

This is amazing, because we are the first state to allow such a system. For more information on the rollout, visit https://www.oregon.gov/oha/ph/preventionwellness/pages/oregon-psilocybin-services.aspx.

This is all about potential. Psilocybin is full of potential as a therapy and our state is full of potential for providers.

Guided psilocybin-based therapy is one of the most promising new treatments for a host of mental health issues, from post-traumatic stress disorder to drug addiction. Clinical trials for veterans are already underway with the Veterans Administration (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/24/us/politics/psychedelic-therapy-veterans.html).

There is solid data on the large, rapid, long-lasting effects of guided trips for drug-resistant depression. (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2772630)

One unique aspect of guided psilocybin therapy as a mental health treatment is its long-lasting nature. An advocate estimated that Oregonians struggling with mental illness may only need two to three treatments in a lifetime to stay healthy. And all thanks to a mushroom.

So what can we expect from psilocybin production and treatment centers?

Mushroom production is considered a commercial farm use. But it will require a license, tracking and security, similar to that mandated for Oregon’s cannabis industry.

Growing the mushrooms is an odorless, small-scale and indoor activity. And because the psilocybin therapy is long-lasting, only a very small harvest — a Rubbermaid container full, perhaps — will meet the needs of many therapeutic centers.

The therapeutic side can take many forms. Treatment can be offered at a medical clinic downtown, a secluded forest property in the Coast Range or a rural farm building.

Therapy includes a pre-consumption meeting, an hours-long therapy session and a post-consumption follow-up. It is quiet, nondescript and careful.

Though we will not be using our commission authority to restrict access to legal psilocybin here, we have asked staff to draw up land use rules for businesses proposing to provide therapy outside areas of city jurisdiction. They will go before the county planning commission in October.

These rules will determine what zones treatment centers are allowed in, and detail the allowed scale and hours, in order to limit the impact to neighbors and farm activities. Between the land use permit process and the conditions placed on operations, our goal is to allow the businesses to operate while not impacting anyone else’s peace and quiet or commercial activities.

If you live outside city limits, and have concerns, please consider testifying.

If you live inside city limits, your planning commission should be working on similar land use regulations.

Placing a ban on the ballot is no guarantee that your community will in fact ban psilocybin businesses, so preparing land use regulations for psilocybin therapy is the best risk management strategy. Otherwise, your community may find itself unprepared, come January, for a new type of business with a legal right to operate.

Measure 109 included a provision that local governments could send a measure to the ballot opting out of allowing psilocybin therapy in their community. Accordingly, the county joined cities and other counties across the state in taking up the issue.

In June, we convened here to consider putting a ban to the November ballot.

At first pass, we were far from agreement. We had one commissioner in favor of a ban on both production and treatment; one eyeing a two-year moratorium on treatment, but in support of production; and one, me, arguing we should allow both production and treatment, tailoring land use regulations to what our community wanted to protect or encourage.

We received hours and pages of testimony, all in support of allowing psilocybin production and treatment.

We heard from a palliative care nurse from Lafayette and a farmer from McMinnville. We heard from veterans and psilocybin experts.

Each person had his or her own perspective, own knowledge base and own reasons for wanting psilocybin therapy allowed here in his or her home county.

It was incredible to see and effective to hear.

In the end, all three commissioners agreed to not send a ban to voters, though for different reasons. They cited potential therapeutic benefits, potential business innovation and the feeling bans are awfully blunt instruments to achieve relatively narrow aims.

From start to end, our discussion was shaped by the people who showed up, spoke up and cared about the community. Our decision reflected the wishes of our voters, as Measure 109 passed in Yamhill County, and the testimony we got bore that out.

If you live in an incorporated community, you will likely see a psilocybin ban on your ballot this fall. I hope you will reflect back on  folks we heard from who are in need of long-lasting, effective mental health treatment.

We know that there is a need for effective mental health treatment in our county.

We should not foreclose the possibility of this promising new therapy here at home. Instead, we should do the work of tailoring operations to our local community needs and situations through the land use system.

Guest writer Casey Kulla is a farmer, father and Yamhill County commissioner. He and his wife, Katie, farm on a river island in the Willamette. In their free time, they explore the Coast Range. As a farmer and farmland owner, he needs to disclose a potential conflict of interest; allowing regulated psilocybin in the county could have a financial impact on him, either positive or negative. 


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