Here's what Arizona can learn about magic mushrooms from one state with a legal industry (2024)

Ray SternArizona Republic

A magic mushroom industry similar to Oregon's could be on its way to Arizona, potentially offering new business opportunities for those who want to own a psilocybin clinic or serve as a guide for psychedelic "trips."

State lawmakers are considering a bill this year that would create jobs in Arizona by repurposing the Schedule I substance. According to a federal Drug Enforcement Agency fact sheet on psilocybin, that means "it has a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision." Mushroom advocates dispute those claims.

Senate Bill 1570 would create a system of licensed "psychedelic-assisted therapy centers" similar to the program Oregon voters approved in 2020 and began operating about six months ago. Psychedelic therapy has shown promise in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, addiction and other mental health issues, but research has lagged over the years because drugs used in the therapies are often illegal.

State Sen. President Pro Tempore T.J. Shope who sponsored the Arizona bill, said he wants to offer to Arizonans the alternative health care option while staying ahead of a potential ballot measure that would take the rules for the program out of the hands of lawmakers.

The Republican from Coolidge has eight co-sponsors for the bills, including a Democrat. On Feb. 13, the bill passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee unanimously. But it still has a long way to go in the legislative process before a potential signature by Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs.

The Oregon Health Authority launched the program last summer and now lists 19 licensed service centers that run mushroom clinics, seven manufacturers, two testing labs and 211 mushroom trip facilitators.

A wide array of new businesses would flourish in Arizona if Shope's bill passed, said Scottsdale attorney Laura Bianci. She's been specializing in Arizona's medical marijuana industry for about 10 years and sees many similar challenges and opportunities with magic mushrooms.

"I've been working with clients and people in other states sort of anticipating this coming to Arizona," Bianchi said. "There's definitely a lot of interest."

Bianchi said more lawyers will be needed for mushroom industry clients because the proposed law would come with scads of regulations and rules. Zoning and "dealing with municipalities" like Bianchi does for cannabis dispensary owners would be routine, she said. Some of the opportunities would enter new legal territory: Besides growers and guides, magic mushroom clinics would need managers, educators, insurance providers, security options and other needs.

"All of those things are going to come into play," she said.

Oregon cannabis executive switches focus to mushrooms

Andreas Met of Ashland, Oregon founded one of that state's first psilocybin service centers, switching to the burgeoning industry after years as an executive in cannabis businesses. He got into the cannabis industry because of its medicinal potential, but the medical potential of magic mushrooms interests him more now, he said.

"I wanted to get out of the cannabis industry and start really helping people," Met said.

He's also interested in the potential to expand his business, called Satya, Inc.

The company currently owns a manufacturing facility and a service center. Oregon clients book their trips through service centers, which rent the room where the experience will occur, hire the facilitator who will be with the client through the trip, and provide the mushrooms. Satya sells mushrooms to other service centers that don't cultivate their own product, Met said. Federal authorities haven't intervened because, like legal cannabis, psilocybin mushrooms are legal under state law, he added.

Related: 'Magic mushrooms' treatments are having a moment. If legalized, will they stay medical in AZ?

Possession of psilocybin mushrooms in Arizona is currently a Class 4 felony, though first-time offenders can't be sentenced to jail under the law. Shope's bill would legalize the use of mushrooms under state law, but it avoids taking chances with federal law enforcement by sourcing the mushrooms legally by using a local scientist's Drug Enforcement Agency cultivation research license.

Met said his business has been grossing $25,000 a month but he's "basically breaking even" after starting up six months ago. He's helping a lobbyist write a psilocybin treatment bill in Missouri and would like to see Arizona pass Shope's bill. He could see scaling up to "four or five service centers" in Oregon and maybe other states.

The Arizona bill, however, requires service center owners to have lived in Arizona for at least four years before they can be licensed.

Facilitating the 'journey'

Under Oregon's law, the mushroom experiences can't be considered true therapy. The guides, who typically are not doctors, can't direct the conversation during the experience.

"It's allowing a client to use their own inner-healing intelligence," said Angela Ybarra, a licensed facilitator in Oregon. "We usually start with meditation. But it's really non-directed, so wherever the clients want to go, they go. Some choose to talk, some choose to not."

Preparation is key for the experience. Ybarra asks patients what kind of music they want to listen to, if any. Patients can sign consent forms to allow Ybarra to hug them or place her hands on their hands, feet or shoulders, but no other touching is allowed. Patients may talk about what they'd like the experience to resolve, and usually are already working with doctors on their issues, she said. She works primarily as a marriage and family counselor and usually facilitates only a few patient "journeys" per month.

She likes to give each patient a handkerchief before the session begins.

"They're like 'I'm not going to cry.' And within a half-hour they're like, 'Oh, my gosh, where are these tears coming from?" she said. "They're actually shocked that they are having that release. People nowadays just don't have the space to be held in the way that we can hold them when they're having this experience."

Ybarra sits with the patients by herself, but staff remains just outside the door if she needs help. No cameras or recording equipment are allowed in the room unless the patient consents to it, though "some of the doors" at the clinic where she works have peepholes that allow staff members to check on the sessions.

Ybarra said she shelled out about $20,000 for the training and other charges to get licensed. She charges $850 for the session, which includes a two-hour meeting before it begins. Patients receive 24 milligrams of psilocybin from whole mushrooms for another $138, she said.

Most have never tried psychedelic drugs before, Ybarra said. They've often read about mushroom therapy and hope it can help them.

"A lot of them come in because they have deep-rooted relational issues, issues from childhood, things that they haven't been able to heal from in traditional talk therapy," she said. "These very intense images and thoughts give them some space to be able to touch things that otherwise they wouldn't be able to."

Reach the reporter at rstern@arizonarepublic.comor 480-276-3237. Follow him on X @raystern.

Here's what Arizona can learn about magic mushrooms from one state with a legal industry (2024)
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