Navigating the Legal Landscape of Psychedelics

legal psychedelics

If you are interested in having a psychedelic experience, you may be put off by the prohibited status of many psychedelics. This is understandable. Ideally, no one would want to pursue an experience that involves committing any crimes. Fortunately, there are still many legal psychedelics you can possess and consume. The purpose of this article is to highlight legal and decriminalised psychedelics in the US and the rest of the world. You can either enjoy a legal psychedelic experience in your home country or somewhere abroad, depending on the particular psychedelic you would like to take.

But first, it’s worth exploring why many psychedelics are illegal in the first place.

Why Are Psychedelics Illegal?

There are many reasons why there are so few legal psychedelics in the world. Many of these reasons are also related to each other. 

60s Hysteria, Stigma, and the War on Drugs

When LSD became mainstream and widely used in the 1960s, the media published sensational stories about its negative effects. During this time, LSD tabs were also potent. Underground chemists like Owsley Stanley were producing tabs with 250ug (micrograms) of LSD on each tab. This is a strong dose, capable of inducing mystical experiences. These large doses were part of the reason for the increase in accidents and hospitalisation as a result of LSD use. 60s drug hysteria led to increased fears about psychedelics. Widespread stigma against psychedelics is one reason why they became the most highly controlled substances. 

As part of the United States Controlled Substances Act (1970), psychedelics like LSD, mescaline, and DMT became Schedule I substances. This means they have a high potential for abuse and no recognised medical value. In 1971, the then president Richard Nixon said that drug abuse was “public enemy number one”. Psychedelics were included in his ‘war on drugs’.

Psychedelics Change How You Think

In the 1960s, psychedelics were associated with youthful rebellion, social upheaval, and political dissent. John Ehrlichman, an aide to Nixon, later admitted that Nixon’s anti-drug campaign was partly fuelled by opposition to the antiwar left. In Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD (1985), authors Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain emphasised that LSD was tightly wrapped up with the antiwar movement and New Left of the 60s. Psychedelics were changing people’s attitudes. Psychedelic writers such, such as Terence McKenna and Dennis McKenna, have argued psychedelics are illegal because they lead to unconventional thinking, which can challenge the status quo and lead to dissent. 

Legal and Decriminalised Psychedelics in the US

There are many legal psychedelics in the US, but they are only legal in certain contexts, which will be underlined.

Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca, which contains the psychedelic compound DMT, is legal for members of ‘ayahuasca churches’, syncretic religions that combine Christianity and other beliefs, and which ayahuasca feature as the religious sacrament. Ayahuasca is a legal psychedelic for members of União do Vegetal (UDV) religion throughout the country and legal for members of the Santo Daime religion to use in ceremonies in California, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Washington State.

In 1999, US customs officials seized a shipment of ayahuasca and raided a UDV member’s office. Following the incident, the UDV fought court battles in order to stop the US government from interfering with its religious use of ayahuasca (known as Hoasca in the UDV). After long legal battles, the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that UDV members in the US could legally use ayahuasca as a religious sacrament.

Ayahuasca has been decriminalised in Oakland, California and Denver, Colorado. This means you won’t face prosecution if you possess or use the psychedelic brew, but only in these cities.

Cannabis

You can think of cannabis as a mild psychedelic. In higher doses, especially when taken as edibles, cannabis can produce psychedelic effects. Cannabis is legal for recreational use for adults in the following states:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Vermont
  • Washington

Cannabis is also legal for medical use in these states, as well as many other states.

Fly Agaric

Amanita muscaria (also known as fly agaric or the toadstool mushroom) contains the psychedelic compound muscimol. The mushroom is not a controlled substance on a federal level.

Ketamine

We can consider ketamine a dissociative psychedelic since it produces both dissociative and psychedelic effects. It is a legal psychedelic if you use it in a licensed, clinical setting. Outside of this therapeutic context, ketamine is a schedule III drug.

LSA-Containing Seeds

Ergine or lysergic acid amide (LSA) is a psychedelic compound similar to LSD. It is found in Hawaiian baby woodrose seeds and morning glory seeds. You can legally buy and possess these seeds in most states, although in a few states if these seeds are intended for consumption, they are illegal. Extracting LSA from the seeds is illegal throughout the country.

Peyote

The peyote cactus, which contains the psychedelic compound mescaline, is only legal if you are a member of the Native American Church (NAC) or if you are a Native American using the cactus in a traditional Indian ceremony. NAC members and Native Americans can legally use, possess, and transport peyote if done so in a religious context. This exemption is allowed by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) of 1978 and an amendment made to this law in 1994. For everyone else, however, peyote is illegal since it contains the Schedule I drug mescaline. Peyote production, sale, and possession have been prohibited in the US since the Controlled Substances Act came into force in 1971.

Psilocybin

In November 2020, Oregon became the first state to legalise psilocybin (for medicinal but not recreational use). In Denver, Colorado and Oakland, California magic mushrooms are decriminalised, so you can cultivate and possess them for personal use without having to worry about the law but they are not legal to sell.

Salvia

Salvia divinorum is a psychedelic plant that you can smoke, leading to intense psychedelic effects, with a rapid onset. It is not illegal on a federal level, although some states have regulated its use.

Psychedelics That Are Legal or Decriminalised in Other Parts of the World

You can find legal and decriminalised psychedelics elsewhere in North America, as well as Latin America and Europe. These include some of the legal psychedelics in the US, such as LSA-containing seeds, fly agaric, and salvia. But in some countries, you can find other legal psychedelics too.

Legal Psychedelics in North America

  • Canada: cannabis is fully legal and the research chemical 1P-LSD (similar to LSD) is legal to buy and possess. (Research chemicals – or RCs – are compounds used for medical and scientific research that people also use recreationally. Since many are new, they often fall outside the scope of the law.) Santo Daime members can legally use ayahuasca in Canada but only in Montreal and Toronto.
  • Jamaica: psilocybin mushrooms are legal.

Legal Psychedelics in Latin America

You can find legal psychedelics in the following countries in Latin America:

Legal Psychedelics in Europe

  • Netherlands: magic mushrooms are illegal but magic truffles are not (these are parts of the mushroom that grow underground but which still contain the compounds psilocybin and psilocin). Other legal psychedelics in the Netherlands include cannabis, mescaline-containing cacti, and salvia.
  • Portugal: all drugs have been decriminalised, which includes all psychedelics.
  • Spain also has a policy of drug decriminalisation in place.

As we can see, there are many options when it comes to taking psychedelics in a legal context. In many Latin American countries and European countries like the Netherlands and Portugal, you can enjoy legal psychedelic retreats. By referring to this list, you can find a psychedelic or location which will allow you to have a legal psychedelic experience. The benefits of legal psychedelics over illegal ones are less worry and more convenience. 

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