If you had said 10 years ago that the US would be undergoing a psychedelic revolution, you would have gotten a lot of skeptical looks and rolling eyes. After all, they were dangerous, illegal drugs. And yet that is just where we are today, watching as psychedelics and hallucinogenic substances follow the trail blazed by cannabis.
If you want to know where psychedelics are legal in the US (and which psychedelics you can get), read on.
What are Psychedelics?
Psychedelics (also know as hallucinogens) are substances that affect the brain to produce altered states of consciousness, where people may see, hear, feel, or experience things that are out of the realm of reality. These substances can have therapeutic benefits when used properly, most notably the ability to help the brain heal from problems that current medical treatments fall short in, like treatment-resistant depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and substance abuse.
Psychedelic-assisted therapy can enact powerful changes in the brain, increasing neuroplasticity and helping the mind forge new neuron pathways to overcome set patterns and self-destructive behaviors.
There are two types of psychedelic substances: synthesized and naturally occurring.
- Psilocybin (magic mushrooms), ayahuasca, ibogaine, and peyote (mescaline) are all naturally occurring psychedelic medicines: they come from plants in nature.
- LSD and MDMA are two examples of synthesized psychedelics; they must be made in a lab. Some, like DMT, can be naturally occurring and made in a lab.
A Brief History of Psychedelics
Naturally occurring psychedelic substances have a long history of religious and spiritual use with indigenous communities who regarded them as natural medicine.
Psychedelics first rose to scientific interest in the mid-20th century and were actually hailed as a psychiatry marvel. But prohibition was swift and brutal, turning these drugs from a tool of psychotherapy into dangerous hippie drugs that needed to be on the list of controlled substances.
But the tide is turning and today psychedelic research is once again opening up. Public opinion is also changing. A study conducted in 2022 by Verywell Mind found that a third of Americans would consider using psychedelics if they were FDA-approved. And many people aren't waiting. Like cannabis, the use of psychedelics is growing. A 2021 study published in Frontiers reported that 8.8 million Americans had tried or used psychedelic substances.
Where are Psychedelics Legal?
Although psychedelic legalization has been grabbing headlines left and right, there are only two US states that have fully legalized certain psychedelic medicine: Oregon and Colorado.
Psilocybin in Oregon
Oregon shocked the nation in November 2020 when voters passed the Oregon Psilocybin Services Act thus legalizing psilocybin for mental health treatment and decriminalizing small amounts of psychedelics for personal use. This does not mean that it is legal for Oregon residents to grow and consume mushrooms at home - the only legal place in Oregon to take mushrooms is in the healing centers with psilocybin-assisted therapy.
The first psilocybin treatment centers won’t be open for some time – the licensing process began in January 2023, and the first license was issued in March. Visitors to these centers will have to pay high ticket prices and need a prescription from a doctor.
Ketamine and DMT are also decriminalized in Oregon, although they are not availed for use at healing centers.
Psilocybin in Colorado
Back in 2019, Denver became the first city in the nation to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms via ballot initiative Proposition 122. The rest of the state caught up in 2022, legalizing psilocybin and psilocin use in designated healing centers. The measure also legalized the possession, cultivation, and personal use of the two substances for adults over 21 in their own homes.
The healing centers won’t be open until late 2024 or early 2025. Colorado residents cannot buy mushrooms, but they can grow, consume, and share them. The initiative also left the door open to add additional substances if the program is deemed a success.
Where are Psychedelics Decriminalized?
- Type: psychedelic plants and fungi
While psychedelic substances are not legal or for sale in Washington DC, a ballot initiative passed in 2020 decriminalized personal possession, making them a low-priority item for law enforcement. Not quite the same, but progress is progress.
- Type: entheogenic plants and psychedelic substances
The cities of Oakland and Santa Cruz both decriminalized possession of “entheogenic plants” and psychedelics, respectively. However, in 2021, in response to feedback from tribal leaders, the Santa Cruz city council revised their resolution to exclude entheogenic cacti that contain phenethylamine compounds such as mescaline. So, peyote is still criminalized in Santa Cruz. In 2022, San Francisco joined the list, decriminalizing psychedelics and ordering law enforcement to deprioritize ticketing for them.
- Type: psychedelic substances
Two cities in Michigan, Ann Arbor and Detroit, voted to decriminalize psychedelics. Ann Arbor decriminalized all psychedelic plants and fungi in 2019, while Detroit focused specifically on psilocybin mushrooms in 2020.
- Type: naturally occurring psychedelics
In 2021, Somerville, Massachusetts voted to decriminalize “naturally occurring psychedelics”. Three more cities followed suit that year with remarkably similar laws: Easthampton, Northampton, and Cambridge (Yes, that Cambridge, home to Harvard.) In 2023, Salem followed suit, decriminalizing psilocybin.;
- Type: psychedelic substances
In 2021, the City Council of Seattle voted to pass a decriminalization resolution for the cultivation and possession of psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, ibogaine, and (non-peyote) mescaline. The city of Port Townsend followed suit.
Where Can I Get Psychedelics Right Now?
While ayahuasca is not federally legal, or even legal at any state level, it is one of the easiest psychedelic substances to take due to the popularity of ayahuasca retreats. How? Religious exception. Ayahuasca comes from the Amazon rainforest where it is traditionally used by indigenous peoples for religious and spiritual ceremonies.
You can take the substance at one of several licensed and recognized ayahuasca churches. Most churches call themselves a “retreat” and you can find them across the country, in California, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Washington, New York, New Mexico, and outside the US as well.
True LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) is hard to find, but globe trotters and Netherland residents are in luck. You can find “happy caps” for sale online and in stores throughout the country. Happy caps contain a natural amount of lysergic acid amide (a naturally occurring, synthesized version of LDS) in doses that equal a tab of acid.
Salvia is one substance that is not controlled under current federal drug law and thus can be found throughout the US in smoke shops. It is, however, controlled at the state level and many states have banned its use.
Ketamine holds the honor of being the only psychedelic substance that is legal under federal law and in all 50 states (plus Washington DC).
It is often used in medical settings as an anesthetic, but in 2019 the FDA fast-tracked a new ketamine nasal spray for treatment-resistant depression. This spurred interest in Ketamine therapy, and today you can consume Ketamine for mental health reasons like anxiety disorder in a clinical setting, or through the structure of therapy in your own home. Ketamine-assisted therapy is growing in popularity.
Some cities have entheogenic clubs, or churches like Oakland’s Zide Door that encourage safe access to and use of entheogenic plants (to be entheogenic, a substance must come from a plant and produce an altered state of consciousness.) You have to apply to join before you can purchase any substances there.
Vancouver is also a worthwhile trip for those hoping to buy illicit drugs from a brick and mortar because The Coca Leaf Cafe has it all: coca leaf, kratom, peyote, psychedelic mushrooms, LSD, DMT, and more!
The FDA is conducting psychedelic research trials to establish clinical guidelines for therapeutic use. Many are done in conjunction with organizations like MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) is conducting phase one, two, and three trials on select psychedelic substances for the treatment of specific issues like treatment-resistant depression and PTSD.
Current research is examining MDMA-assisted and LSD-assisted psychotherapy, ibogaine, and ayahuasca trials. Having double-blind, placebo-controlled studies are the gold standard of scientific research, which gives psychedelic therapy more credibility in professional circles.
Where Will Psychedelics Be Legalized Next?
Several states have bills or legislation on the table to change the legalization status of psychedelic substances, including:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
Whether all of these bills will pass is impossible to predict: some will likely move forward while others lose steam. But a list this long of states examining their psychedelic legal status means one thing for sure: it’s the psychedelic revolution.