Measure 109 would allow therapeutic use of psilocybin
When Mara McGraw of Portland learned that her three-year treatment for a rare cancer would come to an end, she was depressed.
She had undergone surgery, radiation and chemotherapy in failed attempts to check neuroendocrine tumors.
"I went to a pretty dark place after that," she said. "What was the point?"
The antidepressant Prozac did not help her cope with some of the end-of-life decisions she faced — and sedatives and opiates posed unwanted side effects.
But McGraw heard about a different kind of therapy from Canada — involving the use of psilocybin — that eventually relieved her depression and left her more willing to face the future.
"I would say I had a seminal experience," she said. "I just felt fine and I felt like I rejoined everything in the universe."
McGraw told her story as part of an effort to persuade voters to approve Measure 109 and make Oregon the nation's first state to allow limited therapeutic use of psilocybin, a psychoactive ingredient found in some "magic" mushrooms.
Tom and Sheri Eckert are psychotherapists who are the chief sponsors of the measure.
"For people suffering from debilitating mood disorders, the available options just are not enough," Tom Eckert said.
Measure 109 is not legalization in the same sense that a 2014 ballot measure allowed recreational use of marijuana in Oregon. It is not the same as 2019 ordinances in Oakland, Calif., and Denver that decriminalized possession and use of magic mushrooms.
Under Measure 109, people would have to pay for the mushrooms, which are subject to a state tax of 15% of the retail price. But they would be barred from taking them home. Unlike legal marijuana, no marketing is permitted.
They would have to use them at places licensed by the Oregon Health Authority, which would have until the end of 2022 to set the rules for licensees in a process specified by Measure 109. Each user would be subject to sessions for preparation, administration — during which the user is under observation by a therapist — and a post-use debriefing.
Sheri Eckert said recent research indicates that psilocybin may help with a range of mental health issues, among them depression stemming from advanced cancer, and addiction to alcohol and tobacco.
Studies are underway at Johns Hopkins University, New York University and the University of California at Los Angeles.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has applied the "breakthrough therapy" label to psilocybin in 2018 studies by COMPASS Pathways and 2019 studies by the Usona Institute for treatment of major depressive disorder. The studies are ongoing.
An opposing view
The lone statement in the state voters pamphlet opposing Measure 109 was filed by the Oregon Psychiatric Physicians Association, an arm of the American Psychiatric Association. It says the studies mentioned above have a long way to go before psilocybin can be established as a safe treatment. It also says that, while psilocybin facilitators must be licensed by the state, they are not required to be physicians.
"In essence, it will allow prescribing of a controlled substance with effects on the body and brain to a practitioner with no medical training," the statement furnished by Executive Director Patrick Sieng said.
"Furthermore, it must be considered that legalizing psilocybin for such a wide variety of medical conditions would increase availability to Oregon minors for illicit use."
Thomas Hartle, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in 2016, was the first of four Canadians whom the government allowed to use psilocybin in a therapeutic study. They did so in August.
"For me, the act of taking antidepressants is like going to the hospital after a heart attack — and they give you morphine and send you home," he said. Hartle, who lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, spoke in a video offered by Measure 109 advocates.
"It was very critical for me to be safe and secure and have a healing environment," he said.
Dr. Nicholas Gideonse is a family doctor at an Oregon Health & Science University primary care clinic in Southeast Portland. He also specializes in addiction treatment and end-of-life care. He sees the addition of psilocybin as another tool joining counselors, social workers and medications.
"This is a greater opportunity to move something forward for our patients," he said.
Supporters of Measure 109 have raised slightly more than $3 million, virtually all of that amount from outside Oregon.
New Approach PAC, a super political action committee that favors drug policy reform, has given $2.25 million. It also has given to a similar measure on the Washington, D.C., ballot.
Five investors have given most of the rest — Austin Hearst, a grandson of media magnate William Randolph Hearst, and Michael Cotton of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, $250,000 each; William Sterling of Chicago and Adam Wiggins of Miami, $100,000 each; and James Bailey of Santa Monica, California, managing director of Ball Capital, $50,000.
There is no single campaign committee in opposition to the measure. The Advance Liberty committee opposes all four statewide ballot measures Nov. 3.
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