Steven Hoenstine May 10, 2022

On March 16, 2022, Pennsylvania State Representative Tracy Pennycuick, a Republican representing parts of Montgomery County, and five bipartisan co-sponsors introduced House Bill 2421, providing for state-regulated clinical trials of psilocybin’s efficacy to treat a variety of psychological conditions. The bill is currently awaiting action in the House Health Committee alongside its predecessor, House Bill 1959, introduced by Rep. Pennycuick in 2021 but now abandoned in favor of House Bill 2421’s preferred language.

House Bill 2421 would require the Department of Health (DOH) to contract with at least one health care research institution in Pennsylvania for the purpose of collecting and studying the efficacy and cost-benefit optimization of psilocybin and psilocybin-assisted therapy in the treatment of any of the following conditions: PTSD, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, chronic pain, migraines, substances abuse disorder, and traumatic brain injury. The bill implies that the research institutions contracting with the DOH would conduct their own clinical studies by providing test subjects with psilocybin-assisted therapy, but the language of the bill—which is sure to change before it becomes law—does not specifically authorize the research institutions to conduct such research. The bill is silent about the source of the psilocybin that would be used in the clinical studies.

Indigenous peoples of the world used psychoactive mushrooms for ceremonial and medicinal purposes for thousands of years. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist, first isolated psilocybin from the mushroom P. Mexicana and developed a process by which researchers could synthesize psilocybin in laboratories, enabling researchers around the world to conduct hundreds of studies on the medicinal effects of psilocybin. As the USA’s War on Drugs heated up, domestic research waned, and it all but ended with the enactment of the Controlled Substances Act by President Nixon in 1970. American research in the field was stalled for decades, but in the early 2000s researchers began studying psilocybin under highly regulated conditions enforced by the federal government. In the last two decades, the medicinal uses of psilocybin have become clearer, and in 2018 the United States Food and Drug Administration granted a “breakthrough therapy” designation for the use of psilocybin to treat treatment-resistant depression. Research in the space continues to accelerate.

Like cannabis, psilocybin remains a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Just as states have taken advantage of federal enforcement policy to enact their own medicinal and adult-use cannabis regulatory schemes, states appear poised to regulate psilocybin relatively free from federal interference. House Bill 2421 is Pennsylvania’s second bill that would do so, but likely not its last.