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More Than One-Third of Americans Support Psychedelics Legalization, New Poll Finds

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Jun 15, 2021   
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Last year, support among Americans for the legalization of cannabis reached an all-time high of 68 percent. Since then, legalization has only spread further, with Alabama and New York legalizing medical and recreational cannabis, respectively. But legal frameworks are not only changing for cannabis; the campaign to decriminalize the psychedelic psilocybin has also achieved some major milestones over the past year.

Given the volume of these recent legislative changes, USA Rx recently surveyed over 1,000 Americans to assess their current attitudes towards cannabis and psychedelic drugs, and to discover what it would take for them to change their minds.

They found that 75 percent of respondents now support cannabis legalization for all purposes, with just 5 percent opposed to both recreational and medical legalization. By comparison, 39 percent believe in the legalization of certain psychedelics for any use and a further 37 percent would support legalization specifically for medical use.

Three-quarters of respondents find cannabis use acceptable

Among the group surveyed, 78 percent reported having used one or more forms of cannabis product at least once. Smokable products and edibles were the consumption methods most commonly reported across the whole sample, though vaping was the most common among respondents in their 20s. Just over one-quarter of the group reported having previously used psilocybin, the active component in psychedelic mushrooms.

When asked about the general acceptability of cannabis use, approximately 75 percent of respondents felt that cannabis products were acceptable for any use. However, there was some interesting variability with respect to the exact cannabis product being considered. Just 4 percent of respondents felt that topical cannabis products are unacceptable for either recreational or medical use, rising to 9 percent for vape products.

Overall, 47 percent of respondents also believe that it is acceptable to use psychedelics for therapeutic purposes. Ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic drink used ceremoniously by indigenous groups in South America, was the most widely accepted, only 7 percent opposed its use. Research into the active psychedelic ingredient in ayahuasca, N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), has indicated that the drug could be useful in treating depression and substance abuse.

Psilocybin was the next most accepted psychedelic, with 17 percent of respondents opposed to its use. To date, there have been around 60 clinical trials investigating the therapeutic use of psilocybin. The compound has also been granted a “breakthrough therapy” designation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the investigation into its effect on treatment-resistant depression (TRD) and major depressive disorder (MDD). Psilocybin is also being actively studied for applications in treating addiction, anxiety, chronic migraine, and mild traumatic brain injury.

The USA Rx surveyors also asked respondents who were opposed to the use of cannabis and psychedelics about what it would take to change their viewpoint. Medical research and clinical trials were overwhelmingly the most impactful factors, with 69 and 61 percent respectfully saying that further advancement here might change their beliefs. Just 29 percent stated that legalization of the drug they disapprove of would be likely to affect their current stance.

Seventy percent believe psychedelics hold some medical benefit

Across all respondents, 89 percent said that they believe there is at least some positive benefit(s) to using cannabis, compared to 70 percent for psychedelics.

Two-thirds of respondents believe that cannabis can ease feelings of anxiety and lower stress, compared to around one-third who believed the same for psychedelics. A majority of respondents also endorsed a belief in cannabis’ ability to benefit pain, sleeping problems, general relaxation, cancer-related symptoms, and depression. The most commonly reported benefits for psychedelics were helping with depression (39 percent), anxiety (35 percent), stress (32 percent), and post-traumatic stress disorder (29 percent).

In terms of perceived downsides to drug use, 64 percent believe that psychedelic drug use might result in mental impairment, compared to 51 who believed the same to be true for cannabis. Psychedelics were also seen as considerably more of a concern to long-term health, and at a higher risk for death from overdose or using tainted drugs.

Overall, psychedelics such as ayahuasca and psilocybin were considered to be “high-risk, high-reward” substances in comparison to cannabis. Still, 40 percent of those surveyed indicated that certain psychedelics do provide a better treatment option than other pharmaceutical drugs that are currently available. This belief is also backed up by early scientific research indicating that psilocybin, ketamine, and MDMA have all demonstrated promise in combating treatment-resistant forms of either depression or PTSD.

Cannabis/psychedelics legalization continues to advance in the US

As public opinion continues to move in favor of legalization, legislative action is never far behind.

In the first half of 2021, Alabama has legalized medical cannabis and New York has also legalized the drug for recreational use. Virginia has passed legislation to legalize recreational cannabis, which will take effect from July 1, 2021. Similarly, legislators in New Mexico have also passed legislation to allow for legal recreational cannabis, with a licensed recreational market expected to be fully operational in the state by April of next year.

South Dakota was previously expected to legalize medical cannabis by July 1, 2021, but a legal challenge to the amendment has put this plan on hold while the South Dakota Supreme Court considers the matter. There is no set deadline for the court’s decision to be made.

The campaign to decriminalize certain psychedelic drugs has also enjoyed great success in recent months. In November 2020, Oregon became the first state in the country to decriminalize the possession of psychedelics, through a new measure decriminalizing the possession of minor amounts of all currently illegal drugs. At the same time, the state also specifically legalized the use of psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.

In the same month, voters in Washington DC approved an initiative that would effectively decriminalize the possession of all entheogenic plants and fungi – a term used to describe psychedelic plants. While the initiative does not make any substantive changes to the penalties for possessing and using entheogenic plants, it instructs law enforcement in Washington DC to treat investigations and arrests for this type of drug possession as their lowest priority.


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