Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said he intends to issue an executive order Friday instructing the city’s police officers to, essentially, look the other way when it comes to the purchase and use of certain illegal psychedelic drugs.

Coming as a growing number of cities, including Denver, Detroit and washington, adopted more permissive attitudes about psychedelics, Mr Frey’s order notes that people are increasingly turning to substances such as psychoactive mushrooms to improve their mental health.

The growing appeal of psychedelics in clinical and spiritual settings has alarmed some health professionals, who say they are concerned about the rise of an unregulated field of therapeutic interventions using mind-altering compounds. At the same time, efforts to decriminalize and expand access to psychedelics have received a surprising degree of bipartisan political support in Minnesota and elsewhere.

Mr. Frey, a Democrat, acknowledged that some residents might oppose any relaxed enforcement of drug laws. But he said he hopes the measure will contribute to a national reconsideration of drug laws that date back to the Nixon era, and draw attention to the role plant-based psychedelics can play for people dealing with depression, trauma and addiction.

“We have a massive proliferation of deaths of despair,” he said, citing the nation’s high rates of suicide and opioid abuse. “This is something that can help.”

Psychedelics, a class of psychoactive substances that alter mood and perception, have long been illegal. But stigma surrounding their use has receded in recent years as scores of celebrities, military veterans, athletes and entrepreneurs have described psychedelic trips as transformative experiences and opportunities for self-exploration and spiritual growth.

Mainstream psychiatrists have come to see psychedelics as potential game changers in the treatment of certain mental health problems.

In 2021, about 8 percent of people in the United States between the ages of 19 and 30 disclosed that they had used psychedelics in the past year, up from 3 percent in 2011, according to survey commissioned by the National Institutes of Health.

The growing use and changing public opinions have sparked legislative and regulatory moves. After ballot initiatives in 2020 and 2022, Oregon and Colorado legalized therapies that include the use of certain psychedelics.

Minnesota may soon follow. In May, a bipartisan group of state legislators created task force that will present a detailed proposal for the legalization of medicinal psychedelics.

The changing policies in states and cities have propelled a booming, unregulated marketplace of psychedelic therapies and rituals.

Books and online forums advise people on microdosing protocols, a popular wellness hack that involves regularly consuming tiny doses of psilocybin mushrooms, also known as magic mushrooms. Luxury resorts abroad offer psychedelic retreats. Psychedelic therapists or guides in the United States openly promote treatments that were once done in the shadows.

This growing field is alarming some medical professionals and federal health officials, who say the benefits of psychedelics are overstated and their risks downplayed.

In position paper published last year, the American Psychiatric Association said psychedelic treatments should be limited to clinical studies for now. Some mental health experts warn that psychedelic sessions can be more psychologically destabilizing than healing for some people, citing cases of psychotic and manic episodes.

Dr. Joshua Gordon, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, a federal agency, called the spread of unregulated therapeutic use of psychedelics problematic.

“Even if these drugs are effective for some individuals or for some diagnoses,” said Dr. Gordon, “their unregulated use could mean that people who would actually benefit from some other therapies might be going down a path that doesn’t work for them and could even be harmful.”

Many users of psychedelics oppose efforts to limit their use to clinical settings, arguing that mind-altering drugs have played a central role in the spiritual life of indigenous people for centuries and are used as sacraments by several religious groups.

“Not everyone will investigate these issues in the traditional Western medical model,” said Jessica Nielson, a neurobiologist and data scientist at the University of Minnesota who serves on the state task force and advised city officials on the executive order. “I think that would be restrictive.”

In Washington, lawmakers from both parties have supported initiatives to expand access to medicinal psychedelics, often citing their appeal among veterans with mental health challenges. Representatives of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the White House did not respond to a request for comment.

In March, Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, sponsored a bill with Sen. Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, that would make it easier for terminally ill patients to be treated with psychedelics to ease their distress.

In the House, Representative Dan Crenshaw, Republican of Texas, joined forces with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, to pressure the Pentagon to provide psychedelic therapies to active service members as part of clinical trials.

When the latest iteration of the bill was unveiled last month, sponsor Rep. Morgan Luttrell, another Texas Republican, revealed that he was treated with psychedelics four years ago in a clinic in Mexico.

Mr. Luttrell, a former Navy SEAL, survived a helicopter crash in 2009 that left him with a traumatic brain injury. After retiring from the Navy in 2014, Mr Luttrell said he struggled to settle into civilian life because he was constantly on edge and “hyper-aggressive”.

As a graduate student studying applied cognition and neuroscience, Mr. Luttrell said he heard about psychedelic therapies that helped other struggling veterans. Over time, he said, those accounts helped him overcome what he described as a lifelong aversion to using illegal drugs, and he signed up for rehab at a clinic in Tijuana.

The protocol included ibogaine, a psychoactive substance derived from African plants, and 5-MeO-DMT, a psychedelic made with toad secretions, he said.

Mr Luttrell described the experience as terrifying but amazingly cathartic. “It was like 20 years of therapy in three days,” he said. “I look at it as a rebirth.”

In Minneapolis, Mr. Frey’s executive order, his first in 2023, does not legalize psychedelics but designates them as the lowest enforcement priority for the police. Arrests related to psychedelics have been rare in recent years, city officials said, and the ordinance makes clear that people could still be charged for distributing them in schools or driving under the influence.

The order applies only to naturally occurring psychedelics, such as magic mushrooms, ayahuasca, mescaline and iboga. It excludes synthetic drugs such as LSD and MDMA, which are often used recreationally.

In fact, the order itself avoids using the word “psychedelics” – coined by a British psychiatrist in 1957 – and instead refers to naturally occurring psychoactive compounds as entheogens. This expression generally applies to the use of the compounds in spiritual and ritual contexts.

When Kurtis Hanna, a Minnesota lobbyist and critic of drug prohibition, began discussing the possibility of a psychedelic task force with state lawmakers, he assumed Democrats would be more receptive than Republicans. To his surprise, he said, lawmakers in both parties seemed eager to study the issue.

“A lot of people around the country who say this is extremely helpful are our veterans, police officers, first responders,” Mr. Hanna said. “I think the candid stories that come out of these communities really resonate with conservatives.”

The state task force will include clinicians, health policy experts, veterans, indigenous people and individuals with severe mental illness who have found little relief from existing treatments.

Adam Tomczik, a prosecutor in Minneapolis, was among those who applied for a seat, which he received. He said he struggled with a severe depressive episode after riots swept the city in 2020, and drank heavily and struggled with thoughts of self-harm.

“It was like being in a bottomless pit and you can’t climb out,” he said.

Desperate for release, Mr. Tomczik said he was treated with infusions of ketamine, an anesthetic that is legally prescribed off-label to treat depression. At low doses, the sedative induces a dissociative, psychedelic-like state.

The ketamine sessions helped Mr. Tomczik stop drinking, he said, and he began to think more clearly and feel considerably better. His therapist told him he would most likely find more lasting relief by taking psilocybin mushrooms, but that was a nonstarter for Mr. Tomczik, who is paid to uphold the law.

“I want to be a representative for people in Minnesota with treatment-resistant mental health issues, of which there are many,” he said. “I approach this position with a lot of humility because I don’t have all the answers.”

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