DENVER (CBS4) – Patients using psilocybin mushrooms to treat terminal conditions say the vote to approve an initiative decriminalizing the drug will help others. Specifically, to help them feel safe about using the treatment when they have likely run out of options.
"I've tried everything that the doctors had to throw at me and none of it worked," said Chris, a patient living in Colorado who did not want to give his full name. "I have gone through 12 years of hell, absolute hell and pain management, psychiatric care."
He was told in 2006 he would only have two years to live because of tumors on his spine. He is considered an "end stage" patient dealing with chronic pain. The medications prescribed for that condition sent him into depression and 16 different legal drugs did not make it go away. As someone with a terminal illness, he has the option to use certain illegal drugs for medical purposes under the Right To Try Act, including mushrooms.
"What an incredible moment we have, and with an incredible moment comes an incredible amount of responsibility," said Kevin Matthews, the campaign director for Decriminalize Denver.
Supporters and the team working on the campaign celebrated in front of the City and County Building Thursday as the vote looked in their favor on Initiative 301. Early returns on Tuesday night showed the ballot measure facing defeat but results updated after more votes were counted moved the decision of citizens in their favor.
"I'm thrilled in the vote, I never lost faith," he said.
The change in policy to lower the priority of pursuing cases involving mushrooms will take affect later in the month when the elections office certifies the result. Matthews says his next step is to reach out to city leaders to help educate the public. He hopes to connect with the council members in office and those facing a runoff next month. He plans to do the same with both candidates for mayor as well.
"I think we can now actually come to the table and have an intelligent, rational conversation," Matthews said.
Comparisons to marijuana have already begun locally and across the country as many take interest in how Denver will handle this change in policy. The federal government has yet to weigh in on this issue, which classifies mushrooms as a Schedule 1 drug. But Matthews says it is not accurate to expect a similar path moving forward like Colorado saw with cannabis. Chris says as a patient who works with mushrooms on a daily basis and creates his own dosage, he does not see the similarity.
"Mushroom shops are not going to be opening up on every corner like you saw marijuana," he said.
He explains that the capsules he makes and takes when needed contain 150 mg of the drug. The chemical effect many people associate with mushrooms is usually achieved by consuming around 1500 mg. He also says that over the past four months he can take less of the drug, no longer needing 300 mg and also taking a dose less often.
"I have more physiological symptoms from a single cup of coffee than I have taking one pill, 150 mg, of psilocybin," he said.
Chris explained that he can take a dose in the late morning and the drug will be most active in his body between noon and 4 p.m. that day. But it is more important to him how it impacts him the next day or later in the week.
"It's not how I feel when I use the medication," he added. "How do I feel tomorrow? How am I feeling the day after tomorrow?"
The Denver District Attorney's Office told CBS4 that from 2016 to 2018 they had 9,267 drug cases. Only 11 involved psilocybin and they filed charges in three for possession with the intent to manufacture or distribute the drug.
Patients like Chris hope that with the right team of professionals guiding the city, more people can turn to this treatment when they truly believe they have no other option.
"This is going to revolutionize that doctors can potentially treat these largely un-treatable diseases," he said.
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