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Arizona Funds Research into ‘Magic Mushrooms’ to Treat PTSD and Depression

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by Caitlin Sievers, Arizona Mirror
May 12, 2023

Arizona is headed toward funding the first controlled clinical trials for whole mushroom psilocybin, or “magic mushrooms,” to treat an array of health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. 

The state’s nearly $18 billion 2024 budget contains a provision providing $5 million for whole mushroom psilocybin trials. The money is the culmination of the efforts of Dr. Sue Sisley, an internal medicine physician and principal investigator at Scottsdale Research Institute, which conducts nonprofit drug development research on psychedelics, along with a bipartisan group of state legislators. 

“We’re thrilled that the research on natural mushrooms will finally be able to move forward, so this is a big achievement that finally we’re going to get objective data,” Sisley told the Arizona Mirror. “This will give us reliable insight into how these mushrooms might help or harm people. We need to learn more about how this works.”

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Using whole mushroom psilocybin is what will make these trials different, since previous clinical trials have used synthetic single molecule psilocybin, which is significantly chemically different from the substance found in whole mushrooms.

Sisley, along with advocates in the legislature including Republicans Rep. Kevin Payne and Sen. T.J. Shope and Democratic Reps. Jennifer Longdon and Stacey Travers, originally worked together on House Bill 2486, which contained similar provisions for psilocybin research as the budget bill, but with $30 million in funding. That bill died after failing to secure a committee hearing. 

Sisley told the Arizona Mirror that she only learned a few weeks ago that legislators were working to incorporate the bill into the state budget.

She said she’s not discouraged that the funding was cut from the original $30 million that was sought, since the budget also funds many other worthy causes. While the original amount would have funded phase I, II and III clinical trials, she said she is hopeful the $5 million will fund at least one phase I trial, which will give her research some momentum to possibly garner funding from another source. 

Sisley has seen firsthand the benefits of taking psilocybin for people dealing with addiction and trauma, but as a scientist, she still remains skeptical. 

“I couldn’t believe how many police officers and firefighters came to me and said they’ve had PTSD for years and this was the only thing that helped,” Sisley said of psilocybin assisted therapy. 

Some of the biggest advocates of psilocybin therapy are military veterans, but all those who wish to take the drug right now, even for therapeutic purposes, must do so underground because it’s illegal in Arizona, as it is in most other states. 

“The GOP has often fought for medical freedom, opposing FDA overregulation and pushing for ‘Right-to-try’ laws,” Payne said in a statement. “Arizonans, especially veterans, deserve alternatives to dangerous and addictive prescriptions. This bill will help.”

The bill requires that the nonprofits or universities that are awarded the grants use veterans, first responders, frontline health care workers and people from underserved communities as trial participants. 

“This bill will place Arizona at the forefront of psilocybin research,” Shope said in the statement. “We owe it to our veterans to find ways for them to live healthy normal lives”

The psilocybin allocation in the budget bill is set to provide funding for competitive research grants for phase I, II and III clinical trials of whole-mushroom psilocybin that could be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat mental health conditions including: PTSD, long COVID-19, depression, anxiety disorders, end-of-life distress, OCD, substance abuse and addiction disorders, eating disorders, chronic pain, inflammatory disorders, autoimmune disorders, seizure disorders and other degenerative disorders. 

The budget provision also creates a psilocybin research advisory council that would have to include: one member who has a federal license to study psychedelics; a military veteran; an Arizona law enforcement officer and a professor or researcher from a university under the jurisdiction of the Arizona Board of Regents who specializes in clinical research or psychedelic studies. 

The advisory council would also be charged with making recommendations to the governor, speaker of the state House, the president of the Senate and Department on Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy, based on current federal and state research policy. 

The Scottsdale Research Institute, where Sisley works, plans to apply for a grant, which must be awarded by Feb. 1, 2024. Her organization is already growing the kinds of mushrooms that will be used in the trials and has a 10-year history of conducting schedule I drug trials, Sisley said, so she believes the Institute has a good chance of being awarded a grant.

***CORRECTION: This article has been updated with the correct spelling of Sue Sisley’s name. 

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Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.