This column is a collaboration with DoubleBlind, a print magazine and media company at the forefront of the psychedelic movement.
Many people likely know of 4/20 as the international cannabis holiday and 4/19, a.k.a. Bicycle Day — the anniversary of when chemist Albert Hofmann intentionally took LSD, and rode his bike through Basel, Switzerland — as the international holiday for acid. But magic mushrooms, too, have their own holiday: 9/20.
Unlike April 20th, which was established as a holiday in the 1970s, and April 19th, which dates back to 1943, September 20th is a fairly new holiday. It entered the lexicon of psychonauts in 2015 when Nicholas Reville, a mushroom advocate from Providence, Rhode Island, dubbed September 20th an “educational day of action.” The coalition is aimed at building dialogue around the benefits of psilocybin, the main psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms.
Inspired by 4/20 as a day for activists and enthusiasts to come together to talk about policy reform — and maybe even partake in the medicine itself — September 20th fosters a similar spirit. “9/20 was chosen because it is at the beginning of autumn, when mushrooms are most plentiful; because it is close to the equinox, representing a change in direction; and because it echoes 4/20 and the successful movement for marijuana decriminalization and legalization,” Reville tells Rolling Stone.
Is Psilocybin Legal?
Indeed, in a legal sense, psilocybin is following a similar trajectory to cannabis. While at the federal level, psilocybin — in synthetic form, and in conjunction with psychotherapy — has been placed on the FDA’s fast track to become a prescription medication for major depressive disorder and treatment-resistant depression in the coming years, both psilocybin and cannabis are still considered Schedule I drugs by the DEA. Yet, just like cannabis activists did 25 years ago, its initial political gains are starting at the local level.
In May 2019, Denver voters decriminalized psilocybin for personal possession at the ballot box, and a month later, Oakland’s city council decriminalized not only psilocybin mushrooms, but all naturally-occurring psychedelics, thanks to an advocacy group called Decriminalize Nature, which has chapters all over the country. In January, the Santa Cruz, California contingent helped pass a similar measure in city council. This November, voters in Washington D.C. will be deciding on their own Decriminalize Nature initiative, which would classify naturally occurring psychedelics as the “lowest priority for law enforcement,” while in Oregon, citizens will vote on two different measures: an initiative, dubbed PSI 2020, which would legalize psilocybin specifically in therapeutic contexts, and another to decriminalize personal possession amounts of all drugs, from heroin to mushrooms. PSI 2020 — short for the Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative — would authorize the state to regulate a formal licensing program for psilocybin medicine practitioners, which, after a two-year development period, would allow people to access psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy.
Psilocybin has shown promise for a host of mental health conditions, from anxiety caused by terminal illness to addiction to depression to eating disorders. In addition, it’s also been shown to occasion a “mystical experience” — which psychedelic scientists define using a handful of criteria including a sense of oneness, deeply felt positive mood, and an inability to describe the experience with words. Research published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology shows a correlation between having a mystical experience and increased feelings of forgiveness, gratitude, and even purpose. What’s more: psilocybin has been shown to increase peoples’ openness, helping them break old patterns, establish new, healthier ones, and even shift their political ideologies.
What’s Next for Psychedelic Mushrooms?
The cannabis industry is already a model for what to do and not do, as folks in the emergent psychedelic field look to those who came before them. Cannabis policymakers and entrepreneurs have struggled with social equity and access to the industry, which in many places has become so regulated that only the most well capitalized players can survive in it, let alone compete. Stakeholders in the psilocybin space will have to make decisions in the coming months and years about retail, accessibility to medicine, and how to ensure access to all people, regardless of who they are or where they live.
While we aren’t seeing psilocybin dispensaries just yet — save for a mail-order mushroom dispensary in Canada, where psilocybin is still federally illegal (although a team of therapists were recently granted an exception to give psilocybin to terminal patients), and a cannabis and psilocybin church dispensary that was recently shut down in Oakland — there is already a robust underground market, replete with well-branded merchandise ranging from microdosable capsules and chocolates to dried mushrooms of varying psychedelic species.
In the future, just as we’ve seen a secondary holiday for cannabis — 7/10, or Dab Day, celebrating cannabis concentrates — we may see the same for mushrooms, too. Travis Tyler Fluck, field coordinator for Decriminalize Denver, says he’s been trying to designate May 8th as the holiday — at least in his city, he says — to commemorate the day the county decriminalized psilocybin. “Our charge is to diligently integrate the profound insights and radical healing gifted to us by the mushroom,” says Fluck. “[And], in turn, honor that gift through our activism.”