Seattle Decriminalizes Psychedelics for Non-Commercial Use

Seattle skyline

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Key Takeaways

  • Seattle is the latest U.S. city to decriminalize personal use of psychedelics, following in the footsteps of Denver, Colorado, Washington, D.C., and the State of Oregon.
  • Psychologists who advocate the use of psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelics to treat mental health conditions welcome the news.
  • More research is needed on the effects of psychedelic substances on people with anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses.

Seattle has officially become the largest U.S. city to decriminalize non-commercial use of psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelics, like ayahuasca, ibogaine, and non-peyote-derived mescaline.

On October 4, the city council unanimously passed a resolution that aims to protect those who cultivate and share psychedelics for “religious, spiritual, healing or personal growth practices.”

Previously, the city had taken decriminalization steps to decriminalize personal drug possession, with a policy to not arrest or prosecute in those circumstances. 

What Does the New Legislation Mean?

The new legislation states that those engaging in activities involving psychoactive substances should be among Seattle’s lowest enforcement priorities and urges Seattle’s police department to take the necessary steps to follow that directive. While the resolution passed, it is not an ordinance, which would allow for amendment of the city’s municipal code.

Council member Andrew Lewis

It is a long overdue conversation to decriminalize these non-addictive natural substances.

— Council member Andrew Lewis

However, the legislation also states that the council will work to establish the changes required to protect those who cultivate entheogens (psychoactive substances that produce shifts in behavior, mood, perception, or consciousness) from arrest or prosecution.

The new legislation was introduced by council member Andrew Lewis, who advocated for it before the vote.

“It is a long overdue conversation to decriminalize these non-addictive natural substances," Lewis said, per the press release. "Our law enforcement officials certainly have more important things to do than arrest people for possession of entheogens, and this resolution affirms that.”

Psychedics in Other Parts of the U.S.

In 2019, Denver became the first U.S. city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms. Other jurisdictions that have decriminalized some or all entheogens include Oakland, California; Santa Cruz, California; Denver, Colorado; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Washington, D.C.; and the State of Oregon. 

Clinical psychologist Brian Pilecki, PhD has been studying psychedelics for over 20 years and is passionate about the potential for psychedelic substances to be used as tools for personal growth and in the treatment of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. 

“Seattle’s recent decriminalization of psychedelics is another step towards undoing the harms perpetuated by the failed war on drugs and moving towards an era where psychedelics are more accessible to the public,” Pilecki says. “It reflects the rapidly changing public attitudes towards substances in general, as more and more states and localities are moving towards decriminalization.”

However, Pilecki points out that it doesn't really change access to psychedelic therapy, as these medicines are still considered illegal by the state and federal government, and giving them to clients would also be in violation of professional licensing boards. “But it is a step in the right direction,” he says. 

Using Psychedelics in Therapeutic Settings

Pilecki says we're still only scratching the surface in understanding how psychedelics may be useful in therapy. Early models of using therapy with psychedelics seems to suggest that the psychedelic experience can enhance therapeutic processes, especially in clients who are stuck or treatment-resistant.

"Psychedelic-assisted therapy is a new paradigm of treatment in that it is a combination of a drug and psychotherapy together, where previously we have separated out psychopharmacological interventions from psychotherapeutic interventions," Pilecki explains.

Brian Pilecki, PhD

Seattle’s recent decriminalization of psychedelics is another step towards undoing the harms perpetuated by the failed war on drugs and moving towards an era where psychedelics are more accessible to the public.

— Brian Pilecki, PhD

More research is needed on the effects of psychedelics on mental health. To date, the most evidence is for MDMA-assisted therapy for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psilocybin-assisted therapy for the treatment of depression, says Pilecki.

"Results are promising in that these early clinical trials are showing more effectiveness over standard therapy or psychiatric medications," he says. "Again, we are really just beginning to research psychedelics in a serious manner after several decades of hiatus after early psychedelic research in the 50's and 60's was sadly halted."

Future research will focus on more applications of these psychedelics (along with others, like LSD, DMT, and ayahuasca) for the treatment of other mental health conditions. "This will tell us more about what types of problems or conditions they are best suited for, as well as whether there are certain people who might not benefit from or may be harmed by them," says Pilecki.

What This Means For You

Decriminalization and legalization of drugs like mushrooms in places like Denver and Seattle may lead to broader public acceptance, but it's likely that existing anti-depression drugs, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) class, will remain the first line of choice in therapy for many years to come.

But while you shouldn't expect to be be able to get a prescription for a psychedelic substance any time soon, there may be a time in the future when that's an option.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Seattle City Council. Resolution 32021: Entheogen Enforcement and Decriminalization.

  2. City Council Affirms Support for Decriminalization of Entheogens.

  3. Curtis R, Roberts L, Graves E, et al. The role of psychedelics and counseling in mental health treatment. Journal of Mental Health Counseling. 2020;42(4). doi:10.17744/mehc.42.4.03

  4. Mitchell JM, Bogenschutz M, Lilienstein A, et al. MDMA-assisted therapy for severe PTSD: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase 3 study. Nature Medicine. 2021;27(6). doi:10.1038/s41591-021-01336-3

  5. Davis AK, Barrett FS, May DG, et al. Effects of psilocybin-assisted therapy on major depressive disorder. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online November 4, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.3285

  6. Nutt D. Psychedelic drugs—a new era in psychiatry? Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. 2019;21(2). doi:10.31887/dcns.2019.21.2/dnutt

By Claire Gillespie
Claire Gillespie is a freelance writer specializing in mental health. She’s written for The Washington Post, Vice, Health, Women’s Health, SELF, The Huffington Post, and many more.