SEPTEMBER 29, 2023

Guiding the Journey: Navigating Psychedelics' Legal Labyrinth and Advocacy Roles

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A somewhat complicated legal environment has arisen as the globe takes a closer look at the possible therapeutic benefits of psychedelics. It’s going to take a coordinated effort from numerous individuals and organizations to navigate this tricky landscape. To help you make sense of all the moving parts, we’ll look at the legal and compliance aspects of the psychedelics sector in this article, digging deeper into the responsibilities involved in negotiating regulations, advocating for policies, and campaigning for going about this all in an ethical way.

Understanding the Legal Landscape

Are psychedelics legal? The answer to this question is a tad more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no”. A lot rides on the specific country, the psychedelic drug in question, and why it’s being used. Generally, most countries regulate psychedelic drugs as controlled substances, with differing degrees of legal and medical restrictions on their use and possession. 

The psychedelic legal landscape is thus a challenging one to navigate, since no two jurisdictions are taking the same approach. In the US, a handful of cities have decriminalized certain psychedelic compounds, but if you’re outside that city’s jurisdiction, the law no longer applies. Moreover, several US states have legalized psilocybin, but are imposing strict restrictions on how it’s used.  

Several countries have legalized (some) psychedelic compounds on an international level. On the other hand, other countries have not legalized any psychedelic compounds but don’t do much to enforce their laws – which allow psychedelic therapists and retreat centers to flourish. 

Many psychedelics (e.g. psilocybin and LSD) are classified as Schedule I substances under international drug control conventions. To clarify, The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classifies Schedule I drugs as substances with a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. This classification is problematic for reform, since it restricts the availability of these drugs for research purposes. 

Despite their Schedule I status, the use of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy to treat a variety of mental health conditions is showing promising results, which is causing international drug policy to change quickly. Canada, for example, is progressively extending access to psychedelic drugs for medicinal purposes. In 2020, the first exemptions for the legal possession and personal use of psilocybin mushrooms were permitted, 50 years after their prohibition. And in January 2022, the 8-year ban on medical exemptions was repealed through the Canadian Special Access Program

Roles in Navigating Regulations 

  1. Legal Experts: Drug policy and regulation lawyers play a crucial role in assisting individuals and organizations in understanding the ever-changing legal landscape. They offer advice on compliance, licensing, and navigating the intricate regulatory web. 

  2. Regulatory Consultants: These individuals help organizations satisfy compliance criteria. They assist in getting licenses and permissions, as well as ensuring that operations follow local and international regulations. 

Policy Advocacy: Shaping the Future 

  1. Advocacy Groups: Organizations like MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) and Decriminalize Nature are actively engaged in policy advocacy. They aim to update outmoded rules and regulations to properly reflect the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. SPORE (The Society for Psychedelic Outreach, Reform and Education) is a national organization that first came online last year. Its launch followed the nation’s first successful effort to decriminalize psilocybin in Denver – a breakthrough that has inspired a slew of local and state campaigns to change psychedelics policies. Another example is Melissa Lavasani, the founder and CEO of DC-based Psychedelic Medicine Coalition, a national association committed to educating lawmakers and advocating for policies that support research and safe, equitable access to psychedelic medicines at the federal and state level. 

  2. Patient Advocacy: Patients and their advocates play a crucial role in destigmatizing psychedelics and pushing for legal reforms. Their personal stories often carry significant weight in shaping public opinion and influencing policymakers. Kathryn Tucker, for instance, is a lawyer focused on expanding access to psychedelics for groups that include terminally ill people. She organizes campaigns with the aim of compelling the DEA to allow use of psilocybin under the Right to Try law, which Tucker argues should supersede the Controlled Substances Act establishing the U.S.’s drug policy.

Ethical Practices: Safeguarding the Psychedelic Renaissance 

  1. Medical Professionals: Doctors, therapists, and researchers must adhere to strict ethical guidelines when working with psychedelics. This includes informed consent, patient safety, and a commitment to advancing the science responsibly. Given that psychedelic substances induce non-ordinary states of consciousness, extra care and attention must be given to support these states and use them skillfully as a therapeutic tool. To promote the ethical use of psychedelic psychotherapy, specialized training and direction are required in light of these unique aspects. The groundwork for ethical codes in non-ordinary states has been laid out through the efforts of groups such as the Council on Spiritual Practices, who developed their first version of a “Code of Ethics for Spiritual Guides” in 1996. Learning from the work of others, the MAPS MDMA Therapy Training Program has also developed a Code of Ethics for its practitioners.  

  2. Community Education: Raising awareness about safe and responsible psychedelic use is essential. Communities and organizations promote this by organizing educational events and workshops to ensure that individuals have access to accurate information. PsyPAN co-founder Leonie Schneider, for example, frequently gives public talks to raise awareness of the possibilities (and pitfalls) of psychedelic medicine, including Women in Psychedelics: Psychedelic Therapy and Clinical Trials (Drug Science) and Psilocybin Assisted Psychotherapy (Psychedelic Society), and the upcoming documentary on the Psychedelic Renaissance (to be released). 

  3. Ethical guardians: These include researchers, therapists, and advocates who oversee the responsible use of psychedelics. They emphasize the importance of set and setting, informed consent, and psychological support during psychedelic experiences. Ethical guardians are committed to minimizing potential risks and maximizing the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics. The Psychedelic Participant Advocacy Network (PsyPAN) is a non-profit organization created to connect and empower all psychedelic participants, whether they are taking part in clinical trials or receiving therapy at the various legal treatment centers being set up globally. PsyPAN aims to give a collective voice to all participants and help improve participant safety and wellbeing by building best practice across all levels of the global psychedelic sector.

The Bottom Line

Since the legal regulation of psychedelics is beginning to become a reality, we need to start thinking about our options for responsible adult use. Government decisions on the regulation of these substances will affect future access to and the use of psychedelics, for both medical and non-medical purposes. The conversation needs to shift from whether they should be legalized to how we should legalize them in a safe and responsible manner. We’ll keep on facing problems with public health, human rights, and safety – inherent in an unregulated market – unless we can settle on regulatory safeguards for manufacturing, distributing, and consuming psychedelics.  

Unfortunately, shame, morality, and drug-related fallacies continue to dominate popular attitudes and conversations regarding the use of these substances. To turn the tide, we need all the above-mentioned role players to engage in non-threatening and intentional conversations with the public, which includes exposing people to different viewpoints, dissecting the values and beliefs that underlie opinions, and pressing them to make concessions on workable solutions.


Monique Demes

Copywriter at CanMar

TagsCannabis Advocacycannabis blogCHP industrycompliancehistory of psychedelicslegalizationLSDMagic MushroomsMDMAmental healthmental health awarenessMicrodosingPsilocybinPsychedelicsPsychedelics IndustryPsychedelics Study

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