Guest opinion: Charles G. Lief: Prop 122 can open door to promising mental health treatments

2022-10-09 07:13:28 By : Ms. YZ BAIYA

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Please support Proposition 122, the Natural Medicine Health Act (NMHA). It will result in two primary changes to the laws regulating several natural medicines including psilocybin. The first change decriminalizes the personal use and possession of the medicines by persons over 21. The second enables the creation of a regulated natural medicine services program including rules around growth, distribution and sale of the medicines to approved entities. Many other states are considering similar legislation, which has already passed in Oregon.

Decriminalization is a societal decision intended to allocate law enforcement resources away from policing the personal use by adults of certain substances. Denver has already decriminalized the personal possession of psilocybin, the use of which has been part of the spiritual practices of indigenous communities for millennia.

The focus of this commentary is the second impact of the NMHA, the creation of a regulated means for trained, licensed facilitators to provide the medicines, starting with psilocybin. This recognizes the considerable scientifically validated beneficial impact carefully managed use is having on various mental health conditions frequently not relieved by standard pharmaceuticals. Those include depressive disorder, terminal illness anxiety, and PTSD. There are several FDA-approved clinical trials using psychedelic medicines with promising results.

The Colorado Division of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) will be charged to create a regulated access program.

Drawing from almost 50 years of training licensed counselors and chaplains, and in anticipation of increasing legal use of the medicines, Naropa University’s Center for Psychedelic Therapies is training clinicians (therapists, MD’s and nurses) as well as chaplains and social workers, in the use of these important medicines. We will also train other facilitators in accordance with individual state regulations.

Unlike currently available drugs often requiring years of use, with frequent bad side effects, research shows the use of psilocybin in a few guided sessions can bring lasting impact. A leading researcher, Roland Griffiths Ph.D. professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found that “Psilocybin not only produces significant and immediate effects, it also has a long duration, which suggests that it may be a uniquely useful new treatment for depression.”

There are two important components of the well-directed use of the medicine. First is the essential need for “integration,” one or more facilitated sessions, without the medicine, during which the client’s experiences and insights are explored.

Second is acknowledging what training and experiential skills are needed for a guided psilocybin session lasting for several hours. Being with a client for that long, facilitators must know how to remain mindfully focused and understand how to offer a safe environment still allowing the medicine user the freedom to deeply connect with the transformative experiences resulting from the medicine session. The skill of being “present” is not easy to learn and requires a personal mindfulness and compassion discipline that is at the heart of Naropa’s educational approach to undergraduate, graduate and professional education.

Another outcome will be a breakthrough in equitable access to mental health care, essential in the face of a mental health crisis. Conventional treatments for serious mental health conditions is likely to be intensive, frequent therapy sessions, and expensive pharmaceuticals. Such treatment is limited to those with wealth or good insurance. Even the best insurance policies are criticized for limiting mental health benefits. If we continue to find that a few guided sessions with a relatively inexpensive medicine are impactful, many more people will be able to afford treatment and insurers will be more motivated to offer coverage. The NMHA will also allow for facilitators who are not licensed clinicians to be certified as guides for a natural medicine session, following comprehensive education and supervision, thereby further increasing access.

Coloradans have the opportunity to move to the forefront of very promising mental health treatment modalities, rooted in plant medicines, carefully regulated and equitably available. As one veteran, diagnosed with PTSD following tours of duty in Afghanistan said after experiencing psychedelic-assisted therapy, “It allowed me to address things which I was not open to addressing, and it has honestly changed my life. I believe I left my PTSD behind in those sessions. I am no longer destructive or closed off. I have my life back.”

Please vote “yes” on Proposition 122.

Charles G. Lief is the president of Naropa University.

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