Healthcare professionals consider Alaska’s potential for psychedelic therapies

A grower holds psilocybin mushrooms in growing medium. (Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media)

Health professionals discussed the potential of psychedelic therapy in Alaska Nov. 2. The panel was hosted by the Alaska Entheogenic Awareness Council. Entheogens are plant-based psychedelic substances, though the experts also discussed synthetic psychedelics. 

Melissa Bradley, an epidemiologist for the Alaska division of public health, said when she started studying public health, she was floored by the data supporting psychedelic therapy. 

“I saw that statistical significance in the data and it’s unlike anything else in the social sciences,” Bradley said. “There’s huge potential there not just from a clinical perspective, but from a scientific perspective.”

Most psychedelic therapy is not legal in Alaska, except for ketamine therapy. Ketamine is an anesthetic with hallucinogenic effects, but it’s also used off-lable to treat depression, suicidality, and other mental illnesses. The panel discussed stigma as a barrier to wider acceptance of psychedelic therapies. 

Dr. Tami Lubitsch-White, who is trained in psychedelic therapy, said both good and bad stereotypes of psychedelics can be harmful. 

“There is the stigma against it that makes it dangerous and addictive and, you’re gonna go to hell or be institutionalized,” Lubitsch-White said. “But there is another stigma that says, it’s amazing, it’s wonderful, and you’re going to see all these things and all these things are going to happen. That’s equally dangerous. And those two sides need to meet in the middle and there we have a future.”

But, despite stigma, some cities like Seattle, Washington DC, and Detroit, and states like Oregon and Colorado have decriminalized psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychedelic or so-called “magic” mushrooms. Decriminalization means psilocybin in those places is not yet legal, but people there aren’t prosecuted for having it. And Oregon has also legalized psilocybin for supervised mental health treatment.

Bradley talked about a recent study in a medical journal that uses cannabis legislation in the United States to predict a majority of states will likely legalize psychedelics within 10-15 years. But Bradley said it’s important to dig into the details of legislation as it emerges to make sure it’s well-written. 

“If states do it right, they can be the leaders in this,” Bradley said. “That policy will be able to inform not only other states, but potentially federal legislation.”

Alaska was one of the earliest states to decriminalize and legalize cannabis. But the state has not considered bills yet to decriminalize psychedelics.

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Rachel Cassandra covers health and wellness for Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Rachel here.

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