Psychedelics: California Could Become First State to Decriminalize Magic Mushrooms

Boxes containing magic mushrooms sit on a counter at a coffee and smart shop in Rotterdam on November 28, 2008. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen

After legalizing weed, California politicians have set their sights on a new target—psychedelic mushrooms.

Mayoral Candidate Kevin Saunders filed a ballot measure in the state Attorney General's office on Friday. He is hoping that Californians will be able to vote on decriminalizing the fungi on the 2018 ballot. Saunders, from a city near Monterey, says that an experience with psychedelic mushrooms saved him from his heroin addiction.

If the ballot measure gets 365,880 valid signatures, then the California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative would pass another hurdle toward decriminalizing magic mushrooms. Specifically, the measure would mean that California police could not penalize someone for possessing, selling, transporting, or growing psychedelic mushrooms, so long as they are over the age of 21.

Certain mushrooms contain psilocybin, a chemical that has psychedelic properties. People who consume mushrooms might see halos of light around things, visual trails behind moving objects, and colors dancing and breathing. Users have also reported feelings of euphoria, tranquility, introspection, and difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy.

Taking psilocybin can impair your perception, and, like alcohol, can create dangerous situations if you do things like drive while under the influence. Furthermore, taking too many mushrooms can lead to panic attacks, anxiety, and "bad trips." Unlike alcohol, however, you cannot become physically addicted to mushrooms or die from taking too many.

Saunders cites the legalization of marijuana in California for recreational use as a stepping stone (or "gateway" if you prefer) to decriminalizing other controlled substances. While California won't start getting tax revenue from marijuana until 2018, research suggests that California could reap more than $1.6 billion in tax benefits next year, and $3 billion and $4 billion in subsequent years.

According to the ballot measure, the taxes California earns from psilocybin production and sales are "not likely to exceed a couple million dollars annually." However, the ballot also mentions saving money from reductions in law enforcement and jailing offenders.

As of now, magic mushrooms are considered Schedule I drugs according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), along with heroin, ecstasy, and LSD. That means that the DEA considers them having a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical purposes. THC, the active compound in marijuana, is also considered a federal Schedule I drug, despite its decriminalization/legalization in various states.

Magic mushrooms were used as experimental medical treatment in the 1960s, and some researchers are again looking to them for healing. For example, in a pilot study in 2011, mushrooms appeared to have a positive effect on cancer patients with anxiety. In 2016, a study demonstrated their use in treating depression.

If you're a California resident, get ready for November 6, 2018—that's your chance to vote for or against a more psychedelic state.