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Denver first responders to get psychedelic crisis training

The curriculum addresses topics such as de-escalating and managing psychedelic crises


Home-grows psilocybin mushrooms are pictured in August. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

Hyoung Chang/TNS

By Tiney Ricciardi
The Denver Post

DENVER — First responders in Denver will soon undergo training designed specifically to bolster psychedelic crisis response and intervention.

The training, developed by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelics Studies (MAPS), aims to “enhance the knowledge, attitudes, and skills of first responders to quickly recognize and effectively respond to emotional and behavioral crisis incidents involving psilocybin and other psychedelics,” according to an announcement this week.

Local law enforcement — including the Denver Police Department and Denver Sheriff’s Department, emergency medical service personnel at Denver Health Paramedics and Denver Fire Department, and mental health first responders with the city’s contractor WellPower — will receive the Psychedelic Crisis Assessment and Intervention training. Each department will receive a customized version to enhance responder safety and reduce risk and liability when individuals are experiencing a psychedelic-induced crisis.

The curriculum addresses topics such as the psychological and physiological effects of ingesting psilocybin, which is one compound in “magic mushrooms”; potential adverse effects of psilocybin; and best practices and techniques for assessing, de-escalating and managing psychedelic crises. It also covers the history and broader use of psychedelics.

The training will be integrated as part of the local agencies’ learning management systems and available to existing and future staff.

“We believe that this program will equip first responders with the necessary knowledge and skills to handle psilocybin-related crises in a safe and compassionate manner and ultimately improve the health and well-being of the community. This program is also a testament to the progressive and visionary leadership of Denver , which has taken a bold step to decriminalize psilocybin and create a model for other cities to follow,” Sara Gael, a former harm reduction officer with MAPS who was instrumental in the program’s development, said in a statement.

The Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Policy Review Panel commissioned MAPS to develop the training after the Mile High City became the nation’s first to effectively decriminalize “magic mushrooms” in 2019. It took three years and more than 20 experts, both at MAPS and beyond, to create the curriculum.

“It represents a giant leap forward for public health and safety with psilocybin and natural medicines in Denver and is a perfect example of what cities can do to better integrate emerging psychedelic policies into their existing infrastructures,” said Kevin Matthews , an advocate and member of the policy review panel, in a statement.

It’s unclear exactly when training is expected to start, but the roll-out is timely considering Colorado’s recent drug-reform efforts. In 2022, voters simultaneously legalized psychedelic therapy and decriminalized five different substances at the ballot box. Decriminalization has already taken effect, meaning it’s no longer a crime to use, possess, grow and share certain psychedelics.

Additionally, a legal industry around psilocybin-assisted therapy is beginning to take shape, with regulators drafting rules around occupational licensure. Psychedelic therapy centers are expected to open sometime in 2025.

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