Bill that would establish group to study therapeutic benefits of psilocybin passes Hawaii Senate committee


Shane Ersland


A bill that would establish a working group to study the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin has garnered support in Hawaii’s Senate.


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Members of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services unanimously passed Senate Bill 1454 during a public hearing on Monday. Several healthcare professionals testified in support of the bill, which also garnered support from the governor’s office.

Tia Hartsock, executive director of the Office of the Governor’s Office of Wellness and Resilience, said it is very important to have a fluid conversation about the use of psilocybin. 

“It’s not advocating to have this treatment available immediately,” Hartsock said. “It’s looking at having a conversation to be able to look at alternative ways to address trauma, adverse childhood experiences, and look at it in ways that recognize and address the circumstances around healing and building resilience in the state.”

Jeremiah Holguin, a private consultant who specializes in anti-aging and regenerative research, said that while he does not practice medicine, he is continuously reading and examining cutting edge research in his consulting work for medical professionals. 

“Psilocybin-induced neurogenesis, or the creation of new neuronal pathways in the nervous system, is a thing,” Holguin said. “It’s not speculation. This is one of the most inspiring statements we could make in the modern era of health and wellness. We desperately need health professionals who are ethically congruent and willing to examine all the empirical data to utilize this natural product, which has an outstanding safety profile that outclasses any other antidepressant or pharmaceutical we have available.”

Several community members said they have used psilocybin to treat their mental health needs, prompting Sen. Joy San Buenaventura, committee chair, to ask how they acquired the illegal substance. Dr. Blaine Williams, an emergency physician in Honolulu, said psilocybin is being used illegally and in the underground, but noted how it could be used legally in a treatment facility. 

“That’s a good reason why it should be brought above ground,” Williams said. “People should be held accountable and make sure people get adequate therapy. This isn’t a recreational thing. This is something you do over three to five hours, and you have at least one person watching you the entire time to make sure you remain safe. It’s nontoxic; it’s impossible to overdose from psilocybin. You can’t ingest enough mushrooms to die from it.”

Amanda Lillibridge, who helps operate a family medicinal mushroom business in Hawaii, said she is a huge advocate of the healing powers of mushrooms as medicine, both psychoactive and non. 

“Aside from the clinical evidence proving psilocybin’s advocacy as an effective treatment for mental health disorders, I personally have benefited greatly from having safe access to this medicine,” Lillibridge said. “It’s completely transformed my life and allowed me to heal from debilitating adolescent trauma that I thought I would never fully recover from. I wish everyone had safe access to this opportunity for healing, and I believe the people of Hawaii deserve better mental health solutions.”

Nikos Leverenz, board president for the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, said he hopes Hawaii can someday adopt the same type of philosophy Oregon has around psilocybin. Oregon became the first state to legalize the adult use of psilocybin after voters approved a historic ballot initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use in 2020. The Oregon Health Authority expects new psilocybin service centers to open their doors to clients and begin offering psilocybin services sometime this year. 

“This country had some great research underway with respect to psilocybin,” Leverenz said. “But unfortunately, our ruinous drug war policy has gotten in the way. This bill is needed so we can afford people in need with therapeutic assets to psilocybin. And hopefully we can get to the place where Oregon is right now.”

If it is enacted, SB 1454 would direct a working group to examine the medicinal and therapeutic effects of psilocybin to treat conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and end-of-life psychological distress. It now needs to be approved by another committee before being presented to the Senate for a final vote.