Photo by Maranda Vargas | A mixture of dried psilocybe and lions mane mushrooms

Decriminalizing entheogens for mental health


by Maranda Vargas

It is a sunny afternoon, and Cal Poly Humboldt student Camryn Hanf is standing in front of the Student Activities Center with a stack of petitions for potential supporters to sign and send to the Eureka City Council in support of decriminalizing the use of specific entheogens within city limits.

Hanf moved to Arcata a little over two years ago to pursue a degree in psychology. Quickly after moving to the area, Hanf expressed she felt an innate curiosity towards psychedelics. One afternoon while at the Arcata Farmers Market, she saw a table for Decriminalize Nature Humboldt. Although she says she felt nervous about approaching due to anxiety she had at the time, she felt compelled to approach the table and quickly joined the cause.

“I feel entheogens are not the answer for everybody,but they are absolutely life changing for some people,” said Hanf. “I feel strongly that people should have the choice whether to use them or not.”

Photo by Maranda Vargas | Camryn Hanf sits with a stack of petitions in front of the Gutswurrak.

A California State bill that will decriminalize the usage and possession of entheogenic substances, plants and fungi was passed by the state assembly and has moved along to Governor Newsom’s desk. Newsom has until Oct. 14, to veto or approve the bill. 

The bill was sponsored by Senator Scott Weiner and will decriminalize the possession and use of a list of approved psychedelics for adults 21 years of age or older. If Governor Newsom approves the bill, it will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2025, making California the third state to decriminalize entheogens for personal and medical use. Orgeon legalized the use of entheogens in 2020, while in 2023, Colorado legalized the usage of certain psychedelics, including psilocybin containing mushrooms. 

The usage of naturally occurring psychedelics known as entheogens are being studied for their potential in treating and alleviating anxiety, depression, PTSD, addictions and cluster headaches. Psilocybin containing mushrooms are one of the proposed entheogenic substances on the list that has been gaining the attention of research hospitals and institutions for its treatment of mental and physical health issues. The bill, SB 58, would end the practice of criminalizing access to entheogenic substances despite their potential benefits.

“Veterans and anyone suffering from PTSD and depression should not face criminal penalties for seeking relief,” said Senator Wiener in a press release. “Plant-based psychedelics are non-addictive and show tremendous promise at treating some of the most intractable drivers of our nation’s mental health crisis.”

The Department of Veterans affairs has advocated for the need to study the therapeutic usage of entheogens such as psilocybin containing mushrooms for the treatment of PTSD, depression and substance abuse disorders. 

The usage of naturally occurring psychedelics found in entheogens as a therapeutic treatment for mental and physical health issues is being studied at a rapid pace by research hospitals as well. Johns Hopkins Hospital is a non-profit academic and research medical facility that has a Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research that has been conducting studies exploring the medical usage of psilocybin for over twenty years. 

Those who live in the cities of Arcata, Oakland, San Francisco or Santa Cruz where entheogens have been decriminalized can use the approved psychedelics. Entheogens have been decriminalized in Arcata since the city council approved the measure almost two years ago. 

“I have only used it a couple times myself. I think it’s really helped me feel more of a connection to all living things,” said Hanf. “I had this one experience that was really helpful for me. I used to struggle with being alone quite a bit and didn’t really feel capable of helping myself out of my rut or like, my bad feelings… and during that experience, I was opened up to, you know, like the voice in your head. That’s kind of just stuck with me. I would call it like an older Cameron, kind of guiding me through.” 

Cal Poly Alumnus Danielle Daniel of Decriminalize Nature Humboldt presented the Eureka City Council with 105 letters from the community in support of decriminalizing entheogens for personal use at the first council meeting of September. 

Decriminalization would make the possession and usage of entheogens a low priority for law enforcement. It will allow for those over the age of 21, the ability to grow, gift and gather entheogens. If the measure is approved to decriminalize the usage of entheogens within city limits, the law prohibits entheogens on school grounds, the sale of entheogens, impaired driving  or being a public nuisance. 

“The decriminalization model is needed so people feel safer to heal with these medicines and have safe access to these medicines,” said Daniel. “The freedom to grow, gift and gather without having a fear that they are stepping over the line to some regulation which is going to turn them into a criminal.”

The Eureka City Council can decide on the proposed decriminalization measure to allow the usage of the approved entheogenic plants and fungi within city limits. On Thursday, Sept. 28, there will be a community roundtable open to the public from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Labor Temple community center to discuss the decriminalization of entheogens in the city of Eureka.

“I think in this climate with mental health issues being so prominent and profound, it’s important that we look at all avenues of treatment,” said Bergel.

Eureka Mayor Kim Bergel said the Eureka City Council sent a letter to the state in support of State Bill 58, which will decriminalize entheogens in California. If the Eureka city council approves the proposal, they will be following in the footsteps of Arcata.

 “On a personal level, I do support this coming forward,” said Bergel. “I know so many people with PTSD and different trauma problems that this has helped.”

Resource List 

SB 58

Eureka City Council Meeting 09.05.2023

John Hopkins Center for Psychedelics Research and Psilocybin Therapy

VA Health Services and Research Development

STLPR The VA looks to psychedelic drugs to treat its veterans

The NYT Psychedelic Therapy returns to the VA

Decriminalize Nature Humboldt

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