Magic mushrooms and MDMA could soon treat mental health problems at these Utah hospitals

The psilocybin program was introduced as another option to help solve the state’s mental health crisis. Utah Governor Spencer Cox will allow the program to go into effect later this spring.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Research conducted at Numinus Wellness Inc. in Draper on Tuesday, March 28, 2023. Gov. Spencer Cox allowed a bill to go into effect that would authorize doctors at two of Utah’s largest hospital systems to treat patients with psilocybin and MDMA.

Doctors at Utah’s two largest health care systems will have the opportunity to treat patients with psilocybin and MDMA — illegal drugs that are being fast-tracked for development by the Food and Drug Administration because of promising research showing their success in treating depression, anxiety, post-traumatic. stress disorder, substance abuse and other mental health issues.

While Gov. Spencer Cox did not sign the legislation creating this pilot program, he did not veto it either, citing “overwhelming legislative support.” He is allowing it to take effect on May 1, Cox announced Thursday.

“I am generally supportive of scientific efforts to discover the benefits of new substances that can alleviate suffering,” Cox said in a statement. “However, we have a task force that was created specifically to advise the Legislature on the best ways to study psilocybin, and I’m disappointed that their input was ignored.”

The task force concluded last year and previously issued a report saying that while evidence suggests these drugs are safe and effective, lawmakers should wait to act until they are approved by the FDA. This has not happened yet.

Lawmakers took that advice in 2023, when they failed to pass a similar but broader bill that would have legalized the production of psilocybin as well as a therapeutic pilot program. At the time, Cox said he didn’t “believe we should be experimenting with 5,000 people here in our state.”

This year’s bill, however, sailed through the Utah House and Senate with little protest or opposition.

What does SB266 do?

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Sandy, introduced SB266 as a way to address Utah’s growing mental health crisis. Utah ranks seventh in the nation in the percentage of adults with depression, and suicide is the leading cause of death for Utahns ages 10 to 17 and 18 to 24, according to recent studies.

“So this bill will allow a doctor, who has an intimate understanding of a patient’s mental health diagnosis and treatment protocols, to make the best decision for their patients,” he said.

Once stigmatized, psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin (sometimes referred to as magic mushrooms) and MDMA (sometimes called ecstasy or molly) are making a resurgence in the US due to their therapeutic potential. As regulators consider legalizing these drugs, research — by professionals and amateurs alike — has been booming in Utah.

The program under Cullimore’s bill would be open only to providers at Utah Health and Intermountain University. The pilot program will end in three years, allowing the Legislature to choose whether or not to continue it, Cullimore said.

Under this program, doctors who dose patients with psilocybin or MDMA must do so in a medical facility, meaning patients will not be allowed to take any of the drugs at home, unlike medical cannabis and some ketamine therapies, it said. he, adding that medicines cannot be used to treat minors.

Health care providers that create such a program must report to the legislature by July 2026 with information about the drugs used and their side effects, patient health outcomes and other information “necessary for the legislature to assess the value medicine of any herb”.

Implementing such a program will take “extensive” work, said Huntsman Mental Health Institute medical director Dr. James C. Ashworth in an emailed statement ahead of Cox’s ruling. The institute is part of the University of Utah Health Hospital System.

“As an institution, we like to be data-driven, and if this is legitimate, we will review the available data and develop an implementation plan at that time,” Ashworth said.

Intermountain did not respond to The Salt Lake Tribune’s request for comment.

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