Maine, like the rest of the country, is confronting a devastating mental health crisis. One in five adults in the United States experiences mental illness, and in Maine, nearly 40% of adults reported symptoms of depression or anxiety last year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In February, our state’s leading health officials released a report finding that, on average, two Mainers die from a drug overdose every day. Rates of veteran suicide, substance use disorder and severe depression are clear signs of a mental health epidemic that causes untold levels of suffering. For some people, standard treatments and prescription drugs can help. But for far too many of our friends and family members, these traditional approaches are not working.

Psilocybin mushrooms are seen in a grow room at the Procare farm in Hazerswoude, Netherlands, in 2007. Maine has been having a public discussion about psychedelic medicines, thanks to the leadership of state Sen. Donna Bailey. Peter Dejong/Associated Press, File

In recent years, some of the nation’s top medical research institutions – including Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Yale and New York universities – have published peer-reviewed research showing tremendous promise for a new treatment that could help address our urgent mental health challenges: psilocybin-assisted therapy.

These studies show that psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in certain species of fungi, can be enormously helpful in treating individuals with treatment-resistant depression, substance use disorder and end-of-life anxiety, as well as some severe pain syndromes like cluster headaches.

Among the hundreds of published academic articles, one shows that psilocybin-assisted treatment had a significant impact on reducing binge drinking among people struggling with alcohol use disorder. Many find that psilocybin-assisted therapy can significantly improve outcomes for patients with major depressive disorder. Population studies indicate that people who have had a psilocybin experience at some point in their lives are less likely to struggle with opioid addiction or exhibit antisocial behavior. The research is so promising that the federal Food and Drug Administration has designated psilocybin as a “breakthrough therapy” in the treatment of major depressive disorder to fast-track clinical trials.

Along with a growing body of scientific evidence, more and more individuals are coming forward to share their stories about how their lives have been transformed through the use of psilocybin. With so much potential to help people who are in pain, it’s critical that we do more to make psychedelic-assisted therapy accessible to people who need it.

Thanks to the leadership of state Sen. Donna Bailey, Maine has been having a serious public discussion about psychedelic medicines for over a year. Last year Sen. Bailey championed legislation that would create a psilocybin-assisted therapy program for people in Maine. After dozens of people shared their stories and testified to the healing potential of these treatments, the bill passed in the Senate. This year, she has reintroduced a revised version of the legislation with bipartisan support, L.D. 1914.

Over the last three years, dozens of states have seen similar bills to create pathways for individuals to access these promising treatments. In 2020, voters in Oregon approved a law to establish a regulated program that allows adults to visit state-licensed clinics to receive psilocybin-assisted treatment. Facilitators are now undergoing rigorous training, and the first healing centers are expected to open later this year. Last year, Colorado voters approved a similar law at the ballot box.

It’s encouraging that the FDA is studying psilocybin and may eventually approve its use for a narrow set of conditions – but that could take many more years and will not provide access to everyone who can benefit. We have a moral obligation to help families and people who are suffering before we lose more lives. We know that psilocybin is relatively safe, and with mounting evidence that it can treat a wide range of conditions, no one should fear being arrested for seeking healing. States like Oregon and Colorado are already paving the path forward and showing how these policies can be implemented at the state level. There is no reason we cannot do the same here in Maine.

Veterans, first responders, people with terminal illness and so many others stand to benefit from the passage of Sen. Bailey’s bill. As health care providers, we see the overwhelming suffering that exists across the state and the need for new tools in our mental health toolkit. We urge the Legislature to work with Sen. Bailey and find a way to make psychedelic-assisted therapy a reality in Maine.

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