‘Launching pad’ for next steps on decriminalizing psychedelics in Seattle

Seattle is now working on the next steps toward decriminalizing possession of substances like magic mushrooms and LSD — something that’s already happened in cities like Denver, Colorado; Washington; Oakland, Califonia; and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Oregon has legalized psychedelics for therapeutic use.

A City Council member, Andrew Lewis, hosted an information session on Thursday that was streamed live on YouTube with doctors and people sharing personal testimony on how the drugs can help treat a variety of mental health disorders.

“This is a good launching pad for us to continue that work on the City Council that started officially with that letter in June and steadily has become more and more engaged,” Lewis said during the session.

On June 8, 7 out of 9 council members signed a letter to the state’s Overdose Emergency and Innovative Recovery (OEIR) Task Force, asking the task force to investigate the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics and saying in the letter it “urges OEIR to incorporate into their work plan recommendations to liberalize policy on entheogens” (also known as psychedelics).

“That recommendation came back, asking for broad decriminalization of these substances at the state level and asking local jurisdictions to peruse ordinances deprioritizing enforcement in the interim of existing laws,” Lewis said.

It’s something Decriminalize Nature Seattle has been working on with City Council for nearly a year.

“I know Seattleites are ready for this,” said Tatiana Quintana, a co-director for Decriminalize Nature Seattle. “I feel really, really confident it will take hold.”

One of the speakers on the panel was Dr. Nathan Sackett, a psychiatrist with UW Medicine.

He and other doctors discussed studies are showing that compounds like psilocybin and other psychedelics can have a major impact on treating mental disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety, and addiction.

“In the addictions world, our treatments are so limited. It’s really, really hard to get — to actually see — positive impact. And suddenly, with psychedelics, I was starting to see people who were changing,” Sackett said.

“It’s the combination of the use of psychedelics in conjunction with some sort of therapy. They really act, in my opinion, as a catalyst for further behavioral change,” he said.

One common concern about treating addiction with psychedelics has to do with using one illegal drug to treat addiction for another illegal drug.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea because you may be starting them on a whole other addiction,” said Kane, who only wanted to be identified by his first name. Kane said he was born addicted to crack and uses meth daily.

However, Sackett explained that psychedelics are not addictive because they don’t trigger a dopamine response in the brain. They also impact people in an entirely different way as compared to drugs like heroin, meth or cocaine. He said it also doesn’t cause the same cravings, withdrawals or tolerance you see with addictive substances.

“It’s a really exciting time. I think we are at the precipice of a big change in psychiatry particularly. In psychiatry, we desperately need new and innovative treatments. Walking around any neighborhood in Seattle, you see the remnants of mental health problems all over the place. You see people struggling all around, so it feels exciting to be part of a change,” Sackett said.

Lewis said the full council will be briefed on the latest on Monday. While there’s no timeline for when an ordinance might be drafted, Lewis said based on the current timeline, action before the end of the year could be possible.