A Utah bill that would narrowly legalize medical psilocybin — more commonly known as “magic mushrooms” — has hit a dead end.

At least for now.

The bill, SB200, faltered at its first legislative hurdle on Wednesday when the Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously to carry on with its business without taking action on the bill.

The bill’s sponsor, Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, also voted in favor of holding the bill, saying she looked forward to working with lawmakers on the issue after the Utah Legislature’s 2023 session concludes on March 3.

But she also told Utahns suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental ailments in search of alternatives to opioids to not give up hope.

“Please bear with us, and I’m sorry. This is an uphill battle. But there’s hope,” Escamilla said. “This is introducing something new. I just want to ask for some patience, and this is coming from someone that is getting really frustrated because we don’t see enough help for people (in) our mental health crisis.”

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The moves comes less than a week after Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said he wasn’t supportive of the bill that would allow Utahns over the age of 21 to receive a psilocybin treatment directly from a psilocybin therapy provider for treatment of depression, anxiety, PTSD or a condition for which individuals are receiving hospice care.

Cox, a Republican, told reporters during his monthly PBS Utah news conference he was “just not there yet,” and would rather wait for the FDA to take action on the substance instead of “experimenting” on Utahns.

Escamilla’s bill would legalize psilocybin similar to the way the state currently regulates medical cannabis, but would be enacted only as a temporary pilot program that would be open to no more than 5,000 Utahns.

Psilocybin is currently classified as a federally prohibited drug in the U.S., and there’s no telling if or when federal officials will revisit that classification.

Senators on the Senate Health and Human Services committee hear SB200 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The Senate committee’s lack of action on SB200 likely stalls the bill for the remainder of the Legislature’s general session. It came after lawmakers heard from patients and medical professionals who advocated in favor of the bill, arguing there is growing evidence psilocybin is a safe and effective treatment when administered in a controlled environment. But they also heard from medical professionals and advocates on the other side of the debate who argued Utah should not get in front of the FDA.

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“One experience with psilocybin a year and a half ago saved my life,” Eric Swartz told lawmakers.

He said he joined the Air Force in 2002, became a C-130 pilot, and did five deployments overseas, including two non-combat deployments to Guantanamo Bay.

“When I came home I was diagnosed with an inner ear disorder that took away my career and left me with an ongoing chronic condition. And I found myself in a mental health tailspin,” Swartz said. “And I didn’t know how to get out.”

Swartz said when his doctor put him on antidepressants, “I felt better, but I felt diminishing returns, and got to a point where I kind of lost my will to live.”

That’s when Swartz said his wife suggested he try psilocybin.

“So I did one trip,” he said, “and (it) completely set the reset button for me. It was like all the disconnection that I felt with myself and others after that one trip, I felt reconnected. I felt like I could love myself and forgive myself and I projected that onto others. And it became very obvious how incredibly powerful this medicine is.”

Eric Swartz testifies in favor of the bill as senators on the Senate Health and Human Services committee hear SB200 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Reid Robison, a psychiatrist, said there’s a “growing body of evidence in support of psilocybin for depression and other conditions,” pointing to a 2020 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that showed 71% of patients showed a clinically significant response to psilocybin for treatment of a major depressive disorder after just one or two doses.

However, Michelle McComber, CEO of the Utah Medical Association, spoke against the bill, arguing there are already studies happening and Utah should wait for the fast-track FDA rulings on psilocybin. She also described the psychedelic effects of psilocybin, including hallucinations.

“We think the best way to for this to process to happen if it is an effective medicine is to go through the FDA process, which would make it more cost effective, which would make it safer, which would give a financing mechanism through the government and commercial health insurance, and will greatly offset costs to patients,” McComber said.

Utah Medical Association CEO Michelle S. McOmber speaks against the bill as senators on the Senate Health and Human Services committee hear SB200 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Walter Plumb, president of Drug Safe Utah, also opposed the bill, warning lawmakers that legalization, “no matter how limited,” could have “unintended consequences” on Utah teens.

“This could be due in part to the possibility of an altered perception by teens where they see mushrooms as safe because psilocybin is prescribed as a medicine,” Plumb said.

Ultimately, Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, motioned to move on without taking action on the bill because he’d heard from other legislators as well as legislative leadership “that this probably has an uphill battle” in the larger Legislature.

Escamilla agreed, but said it’s “heartbreaking” to make “desperate” patients wait.

“I struggle when our community, the medical community, sometimes just tells people to wait,” she said, leaving “loved ones ... in really desperate places.”

She noted Utah remains one of the top-ranking states for rates of mental health illness.

“But I’m committed,” she said, “and I know there are others that are committed to work on this.”