Hawaii legislature to study psilocybin as behavioral health treatment

A bill that would convene a task force under the Hawaii Department of Health to study the availability of psilocybin-based products in Hawaii is making its way through the state legislature. 

 

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Psilocybin is a naturally-occurring chemical compound found in certain mushrooms and may be used to treat certain mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, and “end-of-life psychological distress,” according to the bill text.

The bill was first introduced last month in the Senate by Sens. Chris Lee (D – Kailua), Stanley Chang (D – Hawai‘i Kai), Jarrett Keohokalole (D – Kane‘ohe), and Maile S.L. Shimabukuro (D – Kalaeloa). The work group, consisting of the Director of the Health Department, licensed physicians and psychiatrists, and other health professionals, would need to develop a long-term plan to ensure the availability and accessibility of psilocybin products to adults age 21 and older and submit its findings to the legislature prior to the start of the next session.

The use of psilocybin products can aid in relieving stress associated with life-threatening diseases, said Ashley Lukens, Ph.D, a brain cancer patient and founder of the Clarity Project, an advocacy group. 

“Research from major institutions around the world has shown psilocybin to be a promising clinical treatment tool for a wide range of mental and psychiatric diagnoses including anxiety, addiction, depression, end-of-life anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder,” Lukens wrote in testimony. “As a result, psilocybin is increasingly considered one of the most natural, effective, non-addictive, and safe treatment options for depression and anxiety when administered in clinical settings.”

Hawaii is not the first state to consider the use of psilocybin. Several jurisdictions nationwide have enacted policy that decriminalizes its use, including Denver, CO, Oakland, CA, and the state of Oregon

However, the Hawaii Department of Health initially opposed the measure, citing lack of sufficient research on the use of psilocybin. The department’s statement to the Senate also said psilocybin remains a schedule 1 drug, which has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. 

The Senate eventually passed the measure, but added an amendment that would make the creation of the task force subject to psilocybin’s approval for medical use by the Food and Drug Administration. 

When the bill moved to the House earlier this month, supporters urged representatives to remove the federal approval requirement. 

“It is within the state’s jurisdiction to decide when access should be granted … so we just want to make sure the state remains having that in power, and not relinquish that to the FDA,” Clarity Project Manager Doorae Shin told members of the House Health, Human Services, and Homelessness (HHH) committee bill on April 14th. The FDA is already planning to grant approval of psilocybin within the next few years, Shin added.

However, the HHH committee also passed the bill as amended. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce for consideration.