In September, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution urging local law enforcement to deprioritize the investigation and arrest of adult users of plant-based psychedelic substances—and calling on both the state of California and the federal government to “decriminalize entheogenic plant practices.”
If you’re wondering what that means in lay terms, you aren’t alone. We compiled the following primer to help you understand what local consumers of psychedelic mushrooms and other naturally occurring hallucinogenic compounds can expect in the near-term. We also bring you the latest on one SF-based California legislator who hopes to change the legal landscape of psychedelics even further.
What Does the Resolution Say?
In short, the supervisors are declaring their belief in the therapeutic value of psychedelic-assisted treatment, acknowledging centuries-old indigenous spiritual practices and advocating for a de-escalation of the War on Drugs.
To put it another way, San Francisco has decriminalized plant-derived psychedelics—sometimes called “entheogens.” Specifically, the city not longer prohibits the use of psilocybin (found in 180 species of mushroom), DMT (found in ayahuasca) and ibogaine (from iboga, a shrub native to the Central African rainforest). Of them, psilocybin—the alkaloid responsible for putting the “magic” in magic mushrooms—is likely the most familiar.
Why Did SF Take Action Now?
Increasingly, Americans are “cautiously curious” about about these compounds, although the idea of improving one’s well-being with the aid of psychedelics is not new. In recent years, an increasing number of mainstream Western medical practitioners have come out in support of psychedelics as medicine. They back their position with data showing that certain psychoactive chemicals hold great promise in treating chronic depression, PTSD, end-of-life anxiety in terminal cancer patients and even substance abuse.
Additionally, Native American people have long used plant-derived psychedelics, boosting decriminalization efforts from a religious liberty angle.
In taking this step, San Francisco joins cities like Denver, Seattle and—most famously—Oakland, as well as the state of Oregon.
What Are Psilocybin’s Therapeutic Effects?
While everyone is different, light nausea is common. Medically supervised users report a heightened mood and reduced sensitivity to negative stimuli. Studies have demonstrated that mushrooms can stimulate nerve regrowth in parts of the brain that govern emotions and memory. For PTSD patients, this can mean overcoming fear and “breaking the cycle” associated with trauma, often without the side effects that may accompany some synthesized pharmaceuticals. These positive effects may remain for up to a month.
A forthcoming paper may also settle a long-running debate over which is more potent, mushroom caps or stem. (On average, caps contain more psychoactive components.)
What’s an ‘Entheogen’?
An entheogenic substance—such as psilocybin, ayahuasca, ibogaine or peyote—is any plant-derived chemical used in culturally sanctioned visionary experiences in a ritual or religious context with the aim of reestablishing a direct relationship to nature. (“Theo” refers to god or the divine.) In other words, in addition to the growing evidence that many illicit substances have medical value, there is an increased acceptance of their use for spiritual reasons or as a kind of divinely provided sacrament.
What Does ‘Decriminalized’ Mean?
Essentially, the San Francisco Police Department has been instructed to treat the possession and distribution of mushrooms as “among the lowest law enforcement priorities.” While arrests had long been relatively uncommon, they are now actively discouraged. You may now grow, consume and “distribute”—in the sense of sharing, not selling—entheogens without fear of criminal prosecution or even incurring a citation or fine.
But Mushrooms Aren’t Entirely Legal, Either?
Correct. Although occasionally available in places like Dolores Park, you cannot legally manufacture or buy mushroom-infused products. So dispensaries in San Francisco won’t be stocking any psilocybin edibles just yet.
I Heard You Can Buy Mushrooms in Oakland. Is That True?
As The Standard previously reported, people have been able to buy products containing psilocybin over-the-counter at certain retailers in Oakland. However, this remains illegal in that city, and it’s still a felony at the state and federal levels.
So, What’s Next?
San Francisco’s state Sen. Scott Wiener is leading the effort to reevaluate personal drug possession at the state level. Introduced in 2021, Wiener’s SB 519 would decriminalize psilocybin, ibogaine and ayahuasca across California—and it would also encompass small amounts of MDMA, LSD and ketamine, all of which have shown therapeutic potential. (San Francisco’s decriminalization resolution cites this legislation.)
Intriguingly, the bill would not decriminalize peyote, which naturally produces the psychedelic compound mescaline and is native to the southwestern U.S. and Northern Mexico. Peyote is threatened by poachers and habitat loss—and its ceremonial consumption is considered a closed cultural practice. The bill’s exclusion of the diminutive cactus is meant to acknowledge this.
While SB 519 has not yet been enacted, it builds on a 2014 state ballot measure, Proposition 47, which recategorized many nonviolent offenses—including drug possession—from felonies to misdemeanors.
Until the federal government weighs in, however, psilocybin will remain in the same legal limbo as cannabis. In early October, President Joe Biden released a statement saying he had asked the U.S. attorney general and the secretary of Health and Human Services to review marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug, noting it didn’t belong in a more restrictive tier than fentanyl or meth. While Biden did not mention any entheogens, and the recategorization would be undertaken purely to reduce over-incarceration, this represents a significant step forward in the federal government’s attitude toward psychoactive substances.
Peter-Astrid Kane can be reached at [email protected]