Mar 19, 2021 | NEWS | By Isabel Hicks | Illustration by Maren Greene

Last October, the push to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in Colorado Springs found a potential ally in City Council President Richard Skorman.

The Decriminalize Nature movement gave a presentation to the City Council advocating for the decriminalization of magic mushrooms in the Springs, a push which follows the successful initiative in Denver that decriminalized the drug through a ballot measure in May 2019.

Skorman acknowledged how mushrooms had a positive impact on a family member, The Rooster reported. His sister-in-law was diagnosed with cancer and enrolled in a psilocybin trail that had profound impacts on her.

“She was predicted to not live and went through a lot of trauma and was able to survive,” the councilman said. “She became part of a study at Columbia University on psilocybin mushrooms … It was something that has helped her tremendously. So, it has affected my family as well.”

Skorman, a Democrat and Colorado College graduate who represents District 3, where campus falls, is up for reelection this April 6.

Though the push to decriminalize psilocybin is just taking off in Colorado Springs, some CC students think that decriminalizing the drug would make its consumption safer on college campuses.

Sada Rice ’22 said that in her experience, the use of mushrooms is widespread at CC, but the source of the drug is always ambivalent.

“It goes from person to person at CC until you don’t really know where exactly it’s coming from and you don’t know exactly what you’re getting,” Rice said. “Just not knowing where it’s coming from but it being so accessible seems a little problematic to me.”

Other college students, like her friends at the University of Kentucky, find it easier to obtain cocaine, Rice said, but mushrooms seem to be the hard drug of choice at CC.

“I know multiple people I could text right now and probably get it today,” Rice said.

A former CC student who wished to remain anonymous because of legal consequences agreed that the use of mushrooms is common across campus.

“Who’s to say if it’s more widespread than a standard college campus, but I would say the culture at CC is very much prone to the use of psychedelics, in a good way,” they said. “CC, they pride themselves — it’s all about ‘CC innovation’ and I think, like, mushrooms have definitely added to that.”

On decriminalization, Rice said it might make people more communicative about the source of the drug.

“I would hope it would make it safer. People would know where it’s coming from if there’s less of a fear,” Rice said. “Maybe there’d be more open communication about where it’s coming from and how [dealers] obtained it.”

Those outside of the CC bubble, like the Decriminalize Nature Movement of Colorado Springs, hold that psilocybin use is a valuable tool for people struggling with PTSD, anxiety, and depression. The Springs’ large veteran population in particular could benefit from decriminalization, proponents argue.

Anthony Caballero, a disabled veteran who founded the Colorado Springs chapter of Decriminalize Nature, told KRDO last week that after struggling with a traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and suicidal thoughts, trying psilocybin mushrooms had a profound and life-saving impact on him that antidepressants did not. 

Now, Caballero is helping build a grassroots movement to pressure the council into passing legislation that would decriminalize psilocybin, among other entheogenic plants.

These advocacy efforts in the Springs “definitely face an uphill battle,” Westword reported last November. Indeed, the City Council voted five to four last summer to block the question of allowing recreational cannabis use in Colorado Springs from going to voters.

The council, which has six open seats up for grabs this April, could pass its own measure to decriminalize psilocybin. It would need six votes to do so and then would face a potential veto from conservative Colorado Springs mayor John Suthers, Westword reported.

The Gazette Editorial Board came out strongly against decriminalization last month. Using veterans as political pawns to advocate for drug use, the piece said, is exactly what the campaign for medical marijuana did to Colorado in the past.

“They told us veterans needed it — which quickly led to full legalization and the state’s incubation of Big Marijuana,” the editorial reads. “If the mushroom campaign keeps gaining momentum, Colorado could become the world’s first large-scale, state-sanctioned hub for the recreational production and sale of psychedelic drugs.”

Some CC students aren’t completely sold on the supposed mental health benefits of mushrooms either.

“I know a lot of people that it’s been only a good thing … it’s a one-time thing where they just want to try it to see what it’s like. I know people that regularly trip to try to boost creativity or find answers for difficult things,” Rice said.

“But I also have seen people come out more anxious,” she added. “So, I think there is probably more downside than CC kids openly want to talk about.”

But others attribute the drug to decreasing their anxiety and depression, and even helping taper down prescribed antidepressants.

One CC student who wished to remain anonymous out of future employment concerns said that her trip on mushrooms provided a valuable reflection on a difficult year.

“My first mushroom trip came at the end of a really rough year — I went through a breakup, a pandemic, and was dealing with my terminally ill alcoholic mother,” the student said. “The experience allowed me to reflect on how much I went through and how much happier I was, allowing me to get some real closure and move forward.”

The anonymous former CC student said they believe psilocybin is on the path to becoming accepted in Western medicine, noting that they helped them get off taking SSRIs daily.

“I really do think that this time around is when [mushrooms are] going to actually be able to make that breakthrough, make that consistent long-term being accepted in Western society,” they said. “Now that Western medicine is accepting psilocybin for Western medicine purposes.”

The former student pointed out how other drugs that are used recreationally have made their way into modern medicine.

“We get prescribed speed, like Adderall and f*cking meth … that’s not stigmatized at all. Whereas mushrooms, that just allow you to be in touch with things, really are. It’s kind of a backwards way of life,” they said.

To the former student, decriminalizing mushrooms would mean a more equitable campus drug policy for CC. They believe the current policy causes unnecessary trauma and disciplinary effects. 

“The drug policy is not beneficial for student mental health,” they said. “We know zero tolerance does not work, we know students that are removed from an institution are then with even less support and more likely to, you know, go and do … like actual drugs or become suicidal.”

The CC website states that establishing a program to prevent the unlawful possession, use, and distribution of illicit drugs is a condition to receiving federal financial assistance, which likely wouldn’t change if mushrooms were decriminalized locally. 

The political climate of Colorado Springs is not conducive to shrooms-friendly legislation, the former student acknowledged.

Their solution?

“I think the quicker we get mushrooms to the conservatives, the quicker they’ll be decriminalized.”

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