| Catherine Anise

Why Is Psilocybin Still Illegal?

Nothing of value is achieved easily. Many of the rights that we cherish and enjoy today were attained after considerable struggle. Acts of resistance and revolt against existing norms, aimed at achieving a better tomorrow, remain widespread.

One movement that has spurred significant debate and research is the legal status of psilocybin in the United States.

With a shift in societal perspective and a growing body of evidence regarding the potential health benefits of psychedelic mushrooms, people are questioning why psilocybin is still illegal.

To build a case for legalizing psilocybin, we need to comprehend its history, understand why its use became illegal, explore its potential health benefits, examine arguments for and against its use, and delve into much more. Here is everything you need to know about psilocybin.

spiritual woman

What Is Psilocybin?

Why is there such a significant interest in psilocybin? You have probably heard about magic mushrooms. Well, it is the hallucinogenic compound psilocybin in mushrooms that renders certain types of fungal species magical in nature.

The chemical psilocybin belongs to the tryptamine family and has a hallucinogenic effect on the body.

Upon consumption, the compound converts into psilocin, which readily binds with 5-HT2A and other serotonin receptors. These interactions have a profound effect on the brain.

Users may experience intense emotional episodes, changes in thought patterns, sensory distortions, and altered perceptions of reality and the surrounding environment.

Psilocybin and its hallucinogenic properties are not breaking news. People have been aware of this substance and psilocybin mushrooms for centuries. The substance is featured in many spiritual, ritual, and medical practices across various cultures.

In Mesoamerica, the Aztecs consumed mushrooms with psilocybin in religious ceremonies to witness visions of the future and communicate with the gods.

In other indigenous American cultures, psilocybin mushrooms were used by shamans in healing ceremonies.

It was a Mazatec traditional healer who introduced these mushrooms to Gordon Wasson and other Western researchers about a hundred years ago.

Although there are only scattered records, as most of the documents detailing traditional medical practices were destroyed, it is believed that in parts of Southeast Asia and Africa, psilocybin mushrooms form a crucial part of ritual and healing practices.

Historical Context: Psilocybin’s Path to Illegality

The Western world’s first contact with psilocybin occurred in the 1500s when Spanish missionaries attempted to eradicate and suppress all records of indigenous rituals and substances used in religious ceremonies, including mushrooms.

A century later, driven by mushrooms possessing hallucinogenic properties, various Spanish historians, and Franciscan friars extensively documented teonanacatl (the psilocybin mushroom) in their records.

In the early 20th century, numerous ethnopharmacologists and other researchers diligently worked to uncover the identity of the mushrooms referred to as teonanacatl (translated as “God’s flesh”) by the locals.

It was not until the 1950s, following the publication of a photo essay in a magazine, that the existence and identity of the psilocybin mushroom became widely recognized in the Western world.

In the United States, the 1960s marked a period of cultural upheaval, experimentation, protests, wars, and the flourishing expression of art, music, and love.

During this era, many psychedelic drugs gained popularity among the general populace and celebrities alike. The array of drugs used during this time was extensive, and psilocybin mushrooms were just one among them.

Notable personalities, including musicians, folk singers, film figures, and even renowned psychologists like Timothy Leary, often referred to as the pioneer of the psychedelic movement, endorsed the usage of psychedelic substances.

The prohibition of psilocybin did not occur overnight. In the early 1960s, intense debates arose over the escalating consumption of psychedelic substances.

This discourse led to the introduction of the Drug Abuse Control Amendment of 1965, which primarily focused on regulating stimulants and hallucinogenic compounds. Psilocybin mushrooms were indirectly addressed under the term “hallucinogenic substances.”


The Road to Criminalization of Psilocybin

The regulation of the unlicensed manufacture, possession, and sale of hallucinogenic drugs was not as strict as expected. The law exempted many categories of people from police action.

The possession and use of psilocybin were allowed if the substance was for personal use, held for the use of members of the household, or kept for administration to animals.

The first major legislative action against psilocybin happened in 1970. That year, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) was enacted by Congress.

The act placed psilocybin in Schedule I of the Act. Drugs placed in Schedule I are illegal, considered to possess no known therapeutic benefits, and are perceived to have a higher potential for abuse.

The very next year, in 1971, the UN adopted the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances, urging its members to restrict the use of psilocybin and implement strict regulations on research involving these substances. Many member states introduced legislation based on the UN treaty.

Since many mushroom species contain psilocybin compounds, there was a general ban on psilocybin mushrooms as well.

Federal prohibition, state laws, and court rulings have, for the most part, prohibited the use of magic mushrooms. However, active underground dealing and ongoing research have kept the public interested in the topic.

Recent Legal and Legislative Developments

As mentioned above, the use of psilocybin for scientific research was strictly regulated. Therefore, only a handful of studies took place in the 70s and 80s.

However, in the 1990s, the positive results reported by the previous studies encouraged more research on the hallucinogenic substance.

After several years of scientific dormancy, interest in psilocybin only increased. Over the past 20-25 years, we have witnessed a growing interest in the public and scientific community to unravel the mysteries of psilocybin mushrooms.

Study after study reported potential benefits in treating psychological conditions and an impressive safety record of psilocybin mushrooms.

Several groups and activists pushed for reconsideration at the state and federal levels regarding the legalization of psilocybin.

Years of research and activism resulted in the first victory in 2021 when Oregon made the use of magic mushrooms for mental health treatments legal.

In 2021, another bill came into effect legalizing the possession and gifting of psilocybin mushrooms, this time in the District of Columbia.

In California, a bill to legalize the transportation, acquisition, possession, and distribution of various psychotropic drugs, including psilocybin, is currently pending. The Senate has approved the bill, which is currently being reviewed by a committee of the state assembly.

Following Oregon, Colorado became the second state in the United States to approve the use of magic mushrooms.

mental health

The Mental Health Benefits of Microdosing Psilocybin

Although not legal nor approved by the FDA, research on psilocybin has proven the numerous mental health benefits of this psychedelic substance.

Psilocybin in shrooms has been extensively studied for its ability to treat depression, so much so that the FDA granted ‘breakthrough therapy’ designation to psilocybin therapy last year.1

This psychedelic compound in mushrooms is equally effective in dealing with other health conditions, such as migraines, cluster headaches, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.2,3

Scientists have conducted thorough studies and authored reports on the role of psilocybin in reducing existential anxiety in advanced cancer patients.

Members of the research team claim to possess overwhelming proof of the positive effects of psilocybin in treating cancer-related anxiety and depression.

According to a 2016 double-blind study, a single dose of this psychedelic substance reduced anxiety, depression, and overall quality of life in people with life-threatening cancer.4

The growing interest in magic mushrooms has certainly led to more research and deeper study of their active compounds. Researchers are identifying new areas where psilocybin can be used to enhance mental health.

Several studies found that the psychedelic substance in shrooms can treat various addictions including smoking, alcohol, cocaine, etc.

According to a Johns Hopkins University study, the use of the psychedelic substance in magic mushrooms improved smoking abstinence in the 12-month follow-up period.5 In a similar study, the use of psilocybin helped treat both normal and heavy drinking.6


What is Microdosing?

There is also a little apprehension in the minds of people advocating psilocybin regarding the potential negative effects of consuming such a potent hallucinogenic substance.

Microdosing psychedelics is a rapidly growing trend. Currently, there is greater media coverage, both in online and offline discussions, along with an increasing body of literature and research suggesting that micro-dosing psychedelics can treat psychological disorders without any significant side effects.

In a safe and effective microdosing protocol, you consume only a small dose of the psychedelic substance. Normally, this dose is only one-tenth or one-twentieth of the standard dose.

The microdose is only strong enough to induce a subtle change in mood or cognition. Among psilocybin advocates and researchers, microdosing has gained attention due to the following reasons:

  • Microdosing alleviates anxiety and depression, enhances focus and creativity, and reduces the risk of full-blown hallucinations, nervousness, and other intense psychological experiences.
  • Microdosing does not disrupt your daily routine. As a result, you can take psilocybin every day or as often as recommended by an expert and still carry out your regular activities and responsibilities.
  • There is ample scientific evidence and numerous anecdotal reports to demonstrate that microdosing psilocybin alleviates PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

How to Microdose for Optimal Benefits

If you are into supplements, then you would know about stacking. Stacking involves combining two or more health-boosting substances to achieve a health goal or improve overall well-being.

One such stack that is quite popular among microdose users is the Stamets Stack, introduced by Paul Stamets. In this stack, a non-psychoactive substance is added to a microdose of a psychedelic substance to augment the effect of the latter.

In the Stamets Stack, psilocybin is joined by Lion’s Mane and Niacin to provide overall cognitive enhancement. This stack achieves results through neurogenesis, neuroprotection, and neuroregeneration.

The beta-glucans and other polysaccharides in Lion’s Mane are known for their potent antioxidant, immunomodulatory, and anti-inflammatory properties. Moreover, by supporting the production of the Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), this mushroom has a direct role in neuroprotection and neuroregeneration.

The second ingredient in this stack, Niacin, plays an important role in over 400 crucial biochemical reactions. This vitamin helps regulate blood glucose levels, control blood pressure, manage cholesterol levels, and boost brain functions.

The third and most important component of the Stamets Stack, Psilocybin, helps reduce stress, alleviate anxiety, and treat depression. This psychedelic substance alters mood and perception, thereby reducing the effects of stress and anxiety on the body and mind.

Challenges in Legalizing Psilocybin

With substantial public support, scientific and anecdotal evidence, as well as a wealth of literature on historical usage, why is psilocybin still considered illegal in numerous parts of the United States?

We are witnessing a positive shift, with several districts and a couple of states legalizing psilocybin while establishing clear guidelines for its possession and strict medical use. Nevertheless, the fact remains that psilocybin continues to be misclassified.

The transition of psilocybin from Schedule I to IV and its attainment of FDA approval appears to be years away, hindered by legislative and bureaucratic obstacles.

These impediments are obstructing access to a vital and proven treatment for the mental health crises currently afflicting the United States. Moreover, the delay in legalizing magic mushrooms is impeding research, innovation, and competition in this field.

Despite compelling scientific evidence and bipartisan support, some staunch critics vehemently oppose the legalization of psilocybin. They present three key arguments:

  • Psilocybin trials lack sufficient scale.
  • They cast doubt on the efficacy of trial results due to the absence of suitable placebos to match psilocybin, leading to an overestimation of the benefits of psychedelics.
  • They contend that the trials necessitate the direct observation of clinical benefits.

All three of these points are outcomes of psilocybin’s classification as a Schedule I substance. Rescheduling has the potential to bolster research and trial sizes, resulting in a greater accumulation of evidence regarding its mental health benefits.

Furthermore, the requirement for direct observation of benefits establishes a higher threshold for clinical efficacy compared to other trial measurements.

There are three expeditious paths for the rescheduling of psilocybin:

  1. Congress could amend the Controlled Substances Act. However, this is unlikely to occur soon due to political opposition and the stigma associated with the substance, stemming from its connection to the Vietnam War.
  2. The US President could issue an executive order directing the DEA to reclassify psilocybin from Schedule I. Nevertheless, the DEA is unlikely to act without FDA approval, and historical precedent shows that the DEA has previously declined to reschedule similar psychedelic substances.
  3. Activists and individuals can pursue legal action to compel the DEA to reschedule psilocybin. Nevertheless, past attempts, particularly in the case of cannabis, have proven unsuccessful.

Final Thoughts

There is ample evidence to reschedule and legalize psilocybin. However, governmental mechanisms never keep pace with people’s aspirations and needs.

Public representatives, advocacy groups, and the general public are playing their roles, which will ultimately lead to the legalization of psilocybin.


  1. Compass Pathways. “Compass Pathways Receives FDA Breakthrough Therapy Designation for Psilocybin Therapy for Treatment-Resistant Depression.” PR Newswire, 2018, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/compass-pathways-receives-fda-breakthrough-therapy-designation-for-psilocybin-therapy-for-treatment-resistant-depression-834088100.html 
  2. Johnson, Matthew W., and Jason Reed. “Harm Reduction Journal.” Harm Reduction Journal, vol. 14, no. 1, 2017, https://harmreductionjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12954-017-0186-6 
  3. Grob, Charles S., et al. “Safety, Tolerability, and Efficacy of Psilocybin in 9 Patients with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.” University of Arizona, https://experts.arizona.edu/en/publications/safety-tolerability-and-efficacy-of-psilocybin-in-9-patients-with 
  4. Carhart-Harris, Robin L., et al. “Neural Correlates of the LSD Experience Revealed by Multimodal Neuroimaging.” Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 36, no. 11, 2016, pp. 2812-2824, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0269881116675513 
  5. Garcia-Romeu, Albert, et al. “Psilocybin-occasioned Mystical Experiences in the Treatment of Tobacco Addiction.” Journal of Psychopharmacology, vol. 31, no. 8, 2017, pp. 974-989, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5641975/ 
  6. Ross, Stephen, et al. “Rapid and Sustained Symptom Reduction Following Psilocybin Treatment for Anxiety and Depression in Patients with Life-Threatening Cancer: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” PubMed, 2015, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25586396/