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This health director says Hobbs' veto is keeping PTSD research and treatment inaccessible

psilocybin psychedelic mushroom
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Psilocybin is a "hallucinogenic chemical obtained from certain types of fresh and dried mushroom," according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed a bill last week that would have legalized magic mushrooms for medical treatment — but, at the same time, extended funding for research into the psychedelic drug, also known as psilocybin.

Some say it’s putting the science before the legalization. Others say it’s keeping the treatment inaccessible for many who could benefit from it.

And that includes Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association. Humble sat down with The Show to talk more about the vetoed bill and psilocybin.

Full conversation

LAUREN GILGER: Good morning there, Will.

WILL HUMBLE: Good morning.

GILGER: Thanks for coming in. OK. So why do you think it would have been a good idea for the governor to sign this bill legalizing clinical therapy with magic mushrooms? What's the argument?

HUMBLE: Well, I think the argument is there are people out there with PTSD who have heard anecdotally some pretty convincing stories about the effectiveness of magic mushroom or psilocybin treatment for their condition and that it is also something that's not ongoing like it can be a couple of episodes of treatment and then you don't, you're good to go.

So there's these stories out there that are pretty compelling and people with PTSD said, jeez, I'd like to try that and what the bill would have done is charge the state health department with creating a new category of licensed clinical facility that would allow, they call them guides, I think, but a technician or a clinician to help guide people through their psilocybin treatment.

And so it would have been a licensed facility in a, in a, you know, a therapeutic environment and regulated by the state health department. But ultimately, as you said, the governor vetoed it and your statement at the beginning where you said it's either this or that, it's really both of those things. It's, there's limited published evidence that this is an effective treatment. Lots of anecdotal evidence and people who want to use the therapy who were hoping that they would have that opportunity in Arizona, there's other states they can go to.

GILGER: Sure. Right. Right. I mean, so what do you make of this argument that there's not enough research? It sounds like you agree there's not a ton, you know, but, and the Governor's Psilocybin Research Advisory board told her basically, like, they don't have enough research yet to support. I think the quote was widespread clinical expansion.

HUMBLE: Right. No, it's true. I mean, there is really, like I said, it's mostly anecdotal, there's really no published evidence that this is effective, but lots of anecdotal stories. Now there's people who said, I've tried everything and I'd like, and everyone's telling me that mushrooms are a really good way to go and now I can't do that. So she, she's true. That is true that the, that the evidence is pretty lacking. And as you mentioned, there is $5 million from last fiscal year that got extended into this next, I think, maybe even indefinitely so that that research can continue in Arizona. But there won't be the kinds of clinics where people could go in and get that treatment now, since the bill was vetoed.

GILGER: So there's a, a comparison or, I guess a contrast to the legalization of marijuana here, right, which you were very involved in when you were serving as the director of the state health department. A lot of folks will say, you know, we did that backward. It's sort of like we have legalized marijuana and now a lot of the research is playing catch up. Do you agree?

HUMBLE: Well, yes. And there's a cop, there's a reason why that's true is because both marijuana and mushrooms are the DEA drug enforcement administration calls those Schedule 1 drugs, which means they, they don't work and they have a potential for abuse.

So that makes it really, really hard to do the research because now you're, you're putting in for a grant, for example, to say to the granting agency, you know, National Institutes of Health, we're gonna give people an illegal drug and test it on them. And so it's really hard to get funding for those kinds of things because it's in that Schedule 1 category.

GILGER: So, does this come down to the federal level then in your mind?

HUMBLE: Well, yeah, I mean, because the mushrooms, as I said, are in Schedule 1, just like marijuana, by the way, they're in the process of rescheduling marijuana down to Schedule 3. I don't think there's a common, I haven't heard of an effort to reschedule mushrooms. So, yeah, it's a real, this controlled substances act goes back to the 1970s and hasn't really been adjusted now, the agencies that implement it can change their regulations over time. But I really honestly think it's time for a CSA Controlled Substances Act overhaul at the Congress level. These days, it seems like that's something impossible to do.

GILGER: So let me ask you about the state of research into this here in Arizona. Now, with that funding that has now been extended, are we sort of a leader in this? Like you, you mentioned, there are other states where you can go in and, and use magic mushrooms clinically but, but it seems like we are sort of at the forefront.

HUMBLE: Yeah, this is unique in that there's actually state general fund money that's appropriated $5 million for this research. So that's a really unusual thing in, it's unusual in Arizona for the state to invest in something like that. And it's also unusual across the country. So, yeah, I would call us a leader in that respect. Now, having said that the money was there a year ago and not anything has been done. So there hasn't been any research. So that's why they had to extend the 5 million because it never even got used from the previous year.

GILGER: Interesting. OK. So let me ask you in the last minute here before I let you go. The governor and the leg also approved treatment using MDMA, which is ecstasy, for people suffering from PTSD, but only if it's approved by the FDA that's already under consideration by the FDA. Now, where does this stand?

HUMBLE: Yeah. So those drugs are also called Molly and Ecstasy besides MDMA and also a Schedule 1 drug. So it's been really hard to do the research on it. However, there has been some PTSD research, the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration is looking at that evidence and they expect to issue an approval for that or disapproval in August. And if that happens, then the bil the governor signed kicks in and firefighters and police officers, for example, could get treatment with MDMA and have it be part of workers comp and stuff. So, but that all depends on what the FDA does.

GILGER: So waiting for that. All right, we'll leave it there for now. Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association. Will, thanks for coming in. Appreciate it as always.

HUMBLE: Thanks.

KJZZ's The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text is edited for length and clarity, and may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ's programming is the audio record.

Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.
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