ENVER — Fresh off his third tour of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Jason Lopez awoke in crisis from an alcohol-induced nap during a family gathering in Colorado in 2014. The Army Special Forces soldier, thinking he was once again in battle, grabbed the heavy coffee table in front of him and threw it across the living room.
“(I was) coming out of an intense panic situation, thinking I was in, literally, hand-to-hand combat and not knowing whether I was dreaming or what was reality,” recalled Lopez, now 34 and out of the military.
Recognizing he was experiencing symptoms of PTSD, Lopez dismissed taking strong synthetic drugs he says are often prescribed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Instead, he turned to what he had dabbled with for much of his life: psychedelic mushrooms.
Lopez is among a group of veterans, natural medicine proponents, mental health advocates and entrepreneurs backing a ballot initiative in Colorado this November that would decriminalize so-called “magic mushrooms” for those 21 and older and create state-regulated “healing centers” where participants can experience the drug under the supervision of a licensed “facilitator.” Military veterans like Lopez have been at the forefront nationally of trying to persuade lawmakers to study psychedelic mushrooms for therapeutic use.
If the initiative passes, Colorado would join Oregon in establishing a regulated system for substances like psilocybin and psilocin, the hallucinogenic chemicals found in some mushrooms. After June 1, 2026, Colorado would allow an advisory board to add other plant-based psychedelic drugs to the program, including dimethyltryptamine, commonly known as DMT, ibogaine and mescaline not derived from peyote, a type of cactus that some conservation groups are trying to protect.
The ballot initiative comes a decade after Colorado voted to legalize recreational marijuana, which led to a multi-billion-dollar industry with hundreds of dispensaries popping up across the state.
Proponents argue that jailing people for the non-violent offense of using naturally occurring substances costs taxpayers money. They also say the state’s current approach to mental health has failed and that naturally occurring psychedelics, which have been used for hundreds of years, can treat depression, anxiety, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions.
“When I’m on psychedelics, for example, like mushrooms or psilocybin, it opens my eyes to the beauty of the world, the love that I have for the world. … All of that anger, or being upset or frustrated … it dissolves. It melts away,” said Lopez, who also took part in the successful campaign to legalize recreational marijuana in Colorado.
But critics of the latest ballot initiative note that the Food and Drug Administration has not approved the psychedelics as medicine. They also argue that allowing “healing centers” to operate, as well as allowing private personal use of the drugs, would jeopardize public safety and send the wrong message to kids and adults alike that the substances are healthy.
“I am going to take medical advice from doctors and scientists over entrepreneurs any day of the week,” said Luke Niforatos, the head of the ballot committee, Protect Colorado’s Kids, which opposes drug legalization and decriminalization efforts. “We should listen to the American Psychiatric Association. We should listen to the FDA. We should listen to our doctors. We should not be listening to people with a profit incentive.”