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A gray market emerges in Colorado after voters approved psychedelic substances

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

Colorado is once again at the forefront of a new drug industry. After being among the first states to legalize marijuana, it will soon join Oregon in allowing professionals to offer psychedelic mushroom trips starting in 2025. But as Colorado Public Radio's Andrew Kenney reports, some people don't want to wait.

ANDREW KENNEY, BYLINE: In an apartment near downtown Denver, Ashley Ryan runs a small wooden baton around the edge of a Tibetan singing bowl and strikes it once, twice before the tone she wants rings out.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOWL RINGING)

ASHLEY RYAN: And so singing bowls might be incorporated in a healing journey, meditation, mindfulness...

KENNEY: Ryan calls herself a psychedelic guide. She accompanies people as they trip on psilocybin mushrooms. The singing bowl helps her clients relax, even when space-time itself starts to feel unreliable.

RYAN: There is space to sit outside as well as just kind of go for a walk. Whatever people need to heal is what I offer them.

KENNEY: She's a former teacher who says she found happiness through her own careful use of mushrooms. Now, she's guided dozens of trips for fees ranging into the hundreds of dollars.

RYAN: Sometimes it's just a friend calling and telling me, hey, I want to take these mushrooms. Can you come over and hang out with me and watch me and make sure that I'm safe?

KENNEY: Colorado's new psychedelic sector has really sprung up since last November, when voters approved Proposition 122. It allows Coloradans to grow and use plants and fungi containing psychedelic substances like psilocybin, DMT and mescaline.

RYAN: 122 gave us the opportunity to use our voice and to share the healing power of mushrooms with others.

KENNEY: Share is the key word. The new law doesn't allow anyone to sell psychedelics - so no mushroom dispensaries - but people like Ashley Ryan can give away the drug and charge for related services, like trip-guiding.

RYAN: I feel like it's growing every day. I get more and more DMs from people, emails, messages from friends who I would never think would want to try mushrooms.

KENNEY: Other entrepreneurs are pairing psilocybin with physical therapy or selling microdose classes. This is all happening with no licenses, no testing, no regulation. State Senate President Steve Fenberg worries it could invite a crackdown from the federal government.

STEPHEN FENBERG: The sort of unspoken agreement since marijuana legalization is as long as you are regulating it in a mature and professional manner to avoid worst-case situations, the federal government generally is going to assume that you are doing your part and not allowing this to get out of control.

KENNEY: Colorado is working on rules for a regulated psychedelic industry. By 2025, the state is expected to allow licensed healing centers to offer guided mushroom trips. In the meantime, Fenberg helped pass a new law to slow the growth of the gray market.

FENBERG: It was important to us that we didn't totally cut off personal use and sharing, but we also wanted to make sure that we had fidelity to the fact that Proposition 122 asked the state to regulate these services.

KENNEY: Ashley Ryan can still charge for her time while giving away drugs, but the new law does limit her ability to market the business. She's worried she'll have to scrub her website and go silent.

RYAN: The way the law is currently written with the new regulations for community healing, I see it as going underground again.

KENNEY: Travis Tyler Fluck also worries about overregulation. He teaches people how to microdose and gives them psilocybin to do so.

TRAVIS TYLER FLUCK: The most intelligent thing that Colorado can do is foster a environment of, like, motivating people to be as visible as possible with what they're doing. Because most of this work is no stranger to the underground, and that's where a lot of harms are done.

KENNEY: Licensed clinical psychologist Jana Bolduan Lomax thinks psilocybin holds real promise for her clients, including people facing terminal cancers. But she urges caution. A psychedelic experience can turn from enlightening to terrifying.

JANA BOLDUAN LOMAX: My worst-case scenario is that - you know, encouraging a patient to do this and then them being further traumatized by being in a vulnerable position or with someone that didn't have the training to be able to handle their experience in a healing way.

KENNEY: Bolduan Lomax is currently training in psychedelic-assisted therapy and may eventually apply for one of Colorado's formal psilocybin licenses. A psychedelic advisory board is working with state regulators on rules for those, which are expected to be out in the next year or so.

For NPR News, I'm Andrew Kenney. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrew Kenny
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