Collage of Oregon Nature and Mushrooms in foreground

People In Oregon Can’t Afford Psilocybin Therapy

“Unfortunately we’ve seen one service center close down. I imagine there will be more, because very quickly it’s going to get oversaturated.”

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A year in, Oregon’s experiment with the first regulated psilocybin mushroom market in the world is short on customers.

To attract them, advocates say the industry needs to get the word out about its benefits.

“We think everybody knows that psychedelics can help them because we’re in this little bubble. But 99 percent of people have no idea what they could get out of a journey,” said Heidi Venture, founder of a Hood River mushroom center, Vital Reset, where customers undergo supervised “trips” on psilocybin, the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms.

She was among about 100 local psilocybin entrepreneurs who attended a recent industry conference in Portland. Attendees included business owners like Venture, who run state-licensed centers where customers can trip on mushrooms, and trained guides, known as facilitators, who accompany them on the hours-long journey.

The conference was hosted by the Psilocybin Assisted Therapy Association, a nonprofit that’s trying to raise awareness of the health and spiritual benefits detailed in studies on the supervised use of psychedelics like psilocybin.

Panelists recalled a year of challenges, red tape and waning interest in guided mushroom trips under Oregon’s pioneering legal model, but also life-changing experiences for clients. They pledged to share information and lobby lawmakers for regulatory improvements.

A majority of Oregon voters in 2020 approved Measure 109, which directed the Oregon Health Authority to create a legal system for offering psilocybin. Unlike marijuana, customers can only buy and use psilocybin mushrooms under the watchful eye of a state-licensed facilitator and in a service center like Vital Reset. Prices usually range between $800 and $2,500 for a trip and two therapeutic sessions with a facilitator—although advocates say discounts are often available. Activists in other states are watching Oregon’s experiment closely, including in Colorado, which is debuting a more relaxed system. Like Oregon, that state will license centers and facilitators but has also decriminalized the use and sharing of psilocybin and other psychedelics.

When Oregon’s first psilocybin center opened in Eugene in June 2023, it was the first in the nation to offer access to the drug in a licensed setting. The drug is still illegal by federal standards, categorized as a Schedule I substance, meaning that it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

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To date, roughly 3,500 clients have taken a supervised trip in one of Oregon’s 25 psilocybin centers.

The nonprofit Healing Advocacy Fund, which advocates for psilocybin policy and supports entrepreneurs, estimates that number to increase to about 7,000 by the end of the year. That’s lower than expected by some observers, who predicted a surge of interest in the nation’s first legal opportunity to use a psychedelic drug.

‘It’s Going to Get Oversaturated’

Oregon has 25 licensed centers, but not all of them have made it. In March, The Journey service center in Portland became the first to fold for a lack of customers.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen one service center close down. I imagine there will be more, because very quickly it’s going to get oversaturated,” said Tori Armbrust, owner of Satori Farms PDX. Armbrust grows psilocybin mushrooms and sells them to about half of the service centers in the state.

She said competition will intensify next year, when out-of-state business interests can begin launching their own psilocybin ventures in Oregon.

“Overall, marketing seems to be a big challenge. But places are doing well, and there’s product going out to a lot of people,” Armbrust said.

Courtney Campbell, founder of the center Chariot in Northwest Portland, recently told a Capital Chronicle reporter that a steady stream of customers has kept his business afloat, but not lucrative.

Oregon has also seen a spike in the number of training programs, which are pumping out hundreds of facilitators. Coeli Dwivedi, owner of the Entheogen Institute, has only been able to give herself one paycheck despite graduating about 70 students in the last year.

“I’m looking forward to having a real salary as well,” she said in an interview.

Grassroots Advertising

Venture, who owns Vital Reset in Hood River, is trying to attract more customers. Like many centers, Vital Reset is offering discounts to people from underrepresented communities.

However, she said she’s hamstrung by strict rules on online advertisements for psilocybin services. According to the Healing Advocacy Fund, magic mushroom businesses must prove that their advertisements aren’t reaching too many children or consumers under 21 years old. Plus, Venture and others believe that social media companies subtly suppress content related to psilocybin mushrooms. So Venture is relying on word-of-mouth and open houses to bring in business. She recently spoke about her business to members of a local Lions Club.

Facilitators also say they are navigating a competitive market. About 325 facilitators have obtained a state license so far. Many have found that there are limited opportunities to work in service centers. It’s common for more experienced facilitators to find their own clients and work underground, illegally supervising psilocybin trips at homes and in Airbnbs.

Marlin Hofer, a facilitator at Brain Brew PDX and an instructor, said he carries a stack of business cards with him wherever he goes to raise awareness among the public.

Matthew Wissler, another facilitator, said he would provide his services almost for free to certain low-income customers, such as those receiving food assistance, but he hasn’t been able to find any who fit the bill. Initially, Oregon’s model attracted wealthy tourists and people seeking treatment from other states and countries.

While some facilitators are struggling to find work, some have found the work very lucrative, according to interviews with 10 facilitators.

‘Stay Positive’

Despite the business challenges, Oregon’s psychedelic entrepreneurs are often floored by the positive impact felt by customers who use psilocybin, particularly people with treatment-resistant depression, addiction and trauma.

“If we just hang in there, stay positive, it will evolve into something we can all be proud of,” said Mary Nielsen, owner of Brain Brew PDX in Beaverton.

To keep service centers financially sustainable, Armbrust suggested that the Oregon Health Authority limit the number of licenses it approves.

Jesse Sweet, an Oregon Health Authority policy analyst, said the agency doesn’t have that authority. The agency is kicking off another round of rules on a law requiring that centers collect certain data on their customers and will seek public input this year. Its new rules could tweak the current regulations, and lawmakers are expected to revisit the issue perhaps next year.

This story originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle and was picked up by Marijuana Moment

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