California is considered to be one of the epicenters of the psychedelic movement in the United States, with hallucinogens like psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, and DMT having a rich history in the state.
From the 1950s to present day, experimentation with these substances have spanned across a variety of purposes, including spiritual exploration, personal growth, and therapeutic use for mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.
As we will explore in this article, California’s social movements and scientific advancements have paved the way for a renaissance of interest in mind-altering substances across the country.
With the passing of Oregon Measures 109 & 110 and Colorado’s Proposition 122, laws are beginning to change, reducing penalties for drug possession and even laying the groundwork for a regulated model for psychedelic therapy.
While California has yet to pass official state-wide policies, Oakland, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco have all decriminalized the possession and usage of psychedelic substances. In this article, we will explore the history, culture, and legality of psychedelics and psilocybin-assisted therapy in California, as well as how to legally access psychedelic-assisted therapy in the state.
Psychedelic Passage’s Serviceable Cities in California
Before diving into the history of California, we wanted to highlight our services here at Psychedelic Passage for those seeking intentional and guided psychedelic experiences in the state.
We connect clients with a network of pre-vetted psychedelic guides and facilitators who specialize in preparation, ceremonial space-holding, harm reduction, and integration for your psychedelic experience.
Our network of guides provides services in almost all major cities of the US, including California locations listed below and more. Facilitators will typically travel to your location, so don’t be alarmed if your city isn’t included in the list.
Cities We Service in California:
- San Jose
- San Diego
- San Francisco
- Los Angeles
- Long Beach
- Orange County
- Santa Ana
Please contact us directly for more information if you are unsure if a facilitator could travel to your specific location, and we will be happy to work with you. Also, note that—as stated before—the only jurisdictions in California that have decriminalized psychedelics like psilocybin mushrooms are Oakland, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco.
This means that even medicinal use of psychedelics is at the risk of the user, and understanding the legality of entheogenic substances in the United States is an important part of knowing how to safely utilize them.
Oakland, California was the second city in the United States to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms, and the city is home to a number of organizations dedicated to promoting the responsible use of psychedelics.
Like Oakland, Santa Cruz has also decriminalized psilocybin mushrooms and other natural psychedelics. The city is home to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) which pioneers therapeutic psychedelic research.
Overall, for psychedelic seekers in the state of California, psychedelic therapy—that is, with a licensed therapist—is currently unavailable given the state’s current laws. In a past article, we discussed the differences between a psychedelic guide and therapist, but, most importantly, licensure does not always indicate high quality, safety, or efficacy.
Ways in Which we Support Your Psychedelic Journey
- Microdosing consulting
- Preparation support
- Integration support
- Harm & stress reduction
- Ceremonial space holding
In the next section, we will cover ongoing efforts to change policies in California, for both personal and therapeutic/professional use.
The History: How Psychedelic Drugs Shaped California’s Culture
The 1950s — Budding Psychedelic Discovery in The Golden State
Funny things happen in a small world. Who would have thought that the man who coined the term “psychedelic” also unwittingly inspired the creation of The Doors of Perception and the “reducing valve” metaphor for the brain.
The scene is set in 1950s Los Angeles. Humphry Osmond was a renowned psychiatrist who studied schizophrenia extensively and became increasingly interested in mescaline and LSD in treating mental disorders.
When Osmond increasingly became interested in psychedelics, not as previously believed schizophrenia-inducing substances (“psychotomimetic”), but as therapeutic tools for illuminating the mind (“mind-manifesting”).
It is from that realization that Osmond coined the term “psychedelic,” to refer to the way in which these substances magnify the state of human consciousness. At the same time, Aldous Huxley, a famous British writer, wrote a letter to Osmond requesting to try mescaline. As the story goes, the two met up in Los Angeles at a convention and Osmond supplied Huxley with his desired drug.
This is the same mescaline which famously inspired Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception. The rest is history. To zoom back out—the 1950s really was the start of the psychedelic renaissance in the US as we know it today, when pioneering researchers first began investigating the therapeutic potential of substances like LSD and psilocybin.
The Beginning of a Psychedelic Era — California in The 1960s
California played a key role in the cultural exploration of psychedelics, with the state becoming a hub for the counterculture movement of the 1960s. In San Francisco, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood became a center of the hippie movement, and the use of LSD and other psychedelics became a defining feature of the culture.
One of the most famous events in the history of psychedelic culture was the Human Be-In, which took place in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in 1967. The event, which was attended by thousands of people, featured speakers such as Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg, and helped to cement San Francisco’s status as the epicenter of the psychedelic movement.
Ironically, in 1966, California became the first state to criminalize the possession and sale of LSD, and other states soon followed suit.
The 1970s — The War on Drugs, Counterculture, and Propaganda
The 1970s was kicked off by the Controlled Substances Act, beginning what is infamously known as the War on Drugs in which the government attempted to snuff out anti-war and counterculture rhetoric. Despite this setback, interest in psychedelics remained high among some communities, particularly those interested in spiritual exploration and personal growth.
In the 1970s, the use of magic mushrooms and LSD became especially popular, particularly among the followers of the emerging New Age movement who believed it to be a means of accessing higher states of consciousness.
During this era, some of the great psychedelic thought leaders, scientists, and artists either emerged from or occupied California as a cultural hub, such as Alan Watts, Timothy Leary, the Grateful Dead, and The Doors.
The infamous War on Drugs is highly criticized for its failure to handle substances based on research and genuine risk for danger, abuse, addiction, and potential uses, and instead disproportionately targets minorities.
“Alarmingly, 48% of Californians arrested for “[d]angerous [d]rugs” were Hispanic, and 12% were Black. The war on drugs failed; it is time for a psychedelic renaissance” (Salazar, 2022).
Senate Bills for Decriminalizing Psychedelics in California
Psychedelics are still classified as Schedule I substances according to the Controlled Substances Act. However, California has been taking big steps toward decriminalizing the possession and use of psychedelics state-wide.
Even though Denver, Colorado was the first city in the US to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms, in 2019, Oakland, CA became the second city followed by Santa Cruz, CA in the next year. Both Oakland and Santa Cruz altered the priority of law enforcement policies which previously harshly penalized residents for possession, cultivation, and use of psilocybin mushrooms.
Provisions in the California Senate Bills
In 2021, Senator Scott Wiener introduced Senate Bill 519 which would have eliminated criminal penalties for casual possession, social use, and sharing of psychedelic substances. While the bill passed in initial hearings, it ultimately was thrown out in late 2022. However, Wiener and other advocates promised to reestablish bills in the future, persisting past expected obstacles.
In 2023, Senator Wiener again introduced a senate bill—this time Bill 58–which, similarly, decriminalizes possession and social use as well as allows for facilitated, therapeutic, or supported usage (Wiener et al, 2022).
SB 58 plans to provide access to “assisted personal use,” such as guided therapeutic psychedelic journeys for “purposes of group counseling and community-based healing, or other related services, including risk reduction.”
It also recognizes that prohibition increases drug-associated dangers and that current policies overlook the therapeutic uses of psychedelic substances. The bill goes beyond combating stigma through softening harsh penalties, but also calls for drug education and access to drug testing kits for greater safety.
Just this month, the bill was read for a second time on May 2nd with a third planned for May 8th, so new developments are brewing as we speak (Wiener et al, 2023).
Substance Inclusions and Exclusions in Senate Bill 58
Importantly, this new bill does not apply to synthetic psychedelics like LSD and MDMA, but rather focuses on “natural” psychedelics. This contrasts the original Bill 519, because it applied to a wider variety of substances.
The current Bill 58 includes psilocybin, psilocin, mescaline, DMT, and ibogaine, but, in respect for Native American traditions local to the state of California, the bill excludes mescaline derived from peyote cacti.
This was an effort to protect and honor the voices of indigenous advocates who expressed concerns around peyote being excessively harvested and disrespected as a sacred plant within Native American traditions.
While these measures do not fully legalize psilocybin therapy and psychedelics, they do represent a significant shift in attitudes towards these substances and a growing recognition of their potential therapeutic benefits.
Frequently Asked Questions About Our Services
Is psychedelic therapy legal in California?
Firstly, there are a few key distinctions between regulated psychedelic “therapy” with a licensed therapist and a professional facilitated psychedelic experience.
Because psychedelics are still scheduled under the Controlled Substances Act, they are illegal according to the federal government. This means that, for most states including California, a regulated framework for psychedelic therapy doesn’t exist.
However, certain states, cities, and jurisdictions have decriminalized the possession and use of psychedelics—even within the context of facilitation—such as Colorado, Oregon, and the California cities of Oakland and San Jose. In the next few years, however, new policies in California are expected to be passed that will decriminalize possession, use, and professional facilitation.
How does it work having a psychedelic guide?
Psychedelic guides or facilitators soberly hold space for you while you trip, contributing a stable and experienced element which can improve the outcome and safety of your trip.
The role of the guide is really to hold compassionate space and allow the substance to lead the experience, however, on occasion, calming practices and de-escalation techniques are implemented to help the user stay calm. Facilitators also provide supportive services leading up to (preparation) and after (integration) the trip, which helps to both anchor and process the experience.
What substances do you sit for?
Most guides in our network will sit for experiences with psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, ketamine, MDMA/MDA, LSD, DMT, mescaline, and cannabis, however the most common substance we see being used for ceremonies is psilocybin. Check out our article on which psychedelic substance is right for you for more information.
Talk to a Psychedelic Professional
We hope that you enjoyed this topic on the psychedelic renaissance in California! For more information and articles on topics related to current legal developments, scientific research, and guides, check out our resources page.
We at Psychedelic Passage connect psychedelic seekers who desire an opportunity to safely and intentionally interact with psychedelic medicines with a network of pre-vetted, professional psychedelic guides.
We encourage you to discover what to look for in a psychedelic guide and prioritize a set and setting that is conducive to a transformative journey. Book a consultation with us today to gain access to our supportive network, ranging from microdosing consulting, integration support, setting intentions, and more. As always, safe journeys!