Kelsey Bileen was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and had her first thoughts of suicide at the age of 5.

“I’ve struggled with suicidal ideation, a dissociative disorder, depression, anxiety — my brain has been a very painful place to live,” Bileen said.

Mushrooms, she said, also known as psilocybin, have changed her life for the better.

Bileen said her experience with psilocybin has been “life-transforming.”

“It takes years and years of intense one-on-one therapy to make a dent (in PTSD). ... When you add the synergy of medicine to it — the psilocybin to it — you can make those breakthroughs a lot more quickly,” Bileen said.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, discussed SB200, a bill that would legalize psilocybin in a similar way the state currently regulates medical cannabis.

Speakers, including patients, researchers and others, cited extensive studies on the subject and compared the process to the legalization of other substances.

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Bridger Jensen, Utah Psilocybin Therapy’s executive director, holds a stack of signed petitions in support of SB200, Utah psilocybin therapy, after a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. Around 5,000 people had signed a petition to show their support, organizers say. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, recalled the process of legalizing medical cannabis use in Utah.

After a petition, ballot initiative and hours of negotiation, “we got medical cannabis legalized,” he said.

“We do not want to do that again,” Boyack said. “Our goal is to learn what we did from medical cannabis, to learn from that framework that the stakeholders all agreed with, and apply that learning to this.”

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Boyack said after legalizing cannabis, “The sky is not falling, and everything is OK.” He said he believes legalizing medical psilocybin would be the same.

“When we (legalized) cannabis ... we were able to learn a lot from other states,” he said. But he said Utah should now take the first steps and not wait on the rest of the nation to act first.

“No state has done what we’re trying to do in Utah,” Boyack said. “Two states have decriminalized psilocybin, but no state has legalized it.”

In the states where psilocybin is decriminalized, “you don’t know if the product you’re buying is contaminated,” he said.

Boyack said Utah could become a model for psilocybin policy after, especially considering the extensive research being done.

Kylee Shumway, a member of the appointed Mental Illness Psychotherapy Drug Task Force created last year to investigate psychedelics and psilocybin, cited the research it did over the summer.

Pharmacist Kylee Shumway speaks in favor of SB200, Utah Psilocybin Therapy, during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. Shumway was on a task force last legislative session to look at the safety and efficacy of psilocybin. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
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The task force, she said, focused on the safety and efficacy of psilocybin.

“It is safe and it works,” she said.

“I think that it could be profoundly helpful, and we shouldn’t be treating these patients that need this type of tool like criminals,” Shumway said, urging lawmakers to vote in favor of the bill.

Medications available for depression aren’t always effective and several have serious side effects and patients need more options, according to proponents of SB200.

“This is about giving tools to individuals,” Escamilla said.

Psilocybin, she said, “is not for everyone, and we’re not claiming this is going to solve all of our mental health problems, but it will solve the problem for more than one person and that’s enough for me to save their lives.”

The bill would allow individuals older than 21 to experience a guided session under the influence of psilocybin with a licensed professional for patients who experience depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder if the person has tried at least one other medication and was not proven effective. It would also allow patients in hospice care to use psilocybin.

The amended legislation proposes a pilot program that would allow 5,000 patients to enroll, limiting the number of psilocybin producers to two instead of the initial five.

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“There’s been a lot of research behind this,” Escamilla said. “This will be under a lot of control.”

Bills, she said, are never perfect. As SB200 moves through the legislative process, it’s becoming “a better bill with time,” Escamilla said.

Professionals who administer the treatment undergo “a minimum of 80 hours (of training), plus our license on top of their license,” she said.

“This is not someone going and purchasing this at a pharmacy or any other place. This would be under the supervision of licensed providers.”

Bridger Jensen, Utah Psilocybin Therapy’s executive director, gives Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, a stack of signed petitions in support of SB200, Utah psilocybin therapy, during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. Around 5,000 people had signed the petition to show their support, organizers said. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
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