Open Letter to an Indiana Judge
By Erica Zelfand

What happened:

A woman in Indiana, USA was arrested for growing small amounts of psilocybin-containing mushrooms in her home. After trying a number of different pharmaceutical drugs to help her condition, she turned to microdosing for help with treatment-resistant depression. Microdosing helped her juggle the demands of her health, with being a mother, and with working full time as a nurse in the intensive care unit (ICU). 

In light of this arrest, this woman was facing 10 years in prison for the “federal offenses” of “dealing” a schedule I substance (despite only using the mushrooms for personal healing) and endangering a child (for growing the mushrooms in her home, where her children lived). 


How we helped:


We had several healthcare consultations with the woman to help her find other solutions for getting her mental health stable. Right to Heal’s CEO wrote a letter to the judge (shared below). We then connected her with our allies in the media to get her story the attention it deserved. This attention led to a crowd funding effort to cover her legal fees, as well as volunteer help from an attorney who specializes in drug cases like hers.


The outcome:


Our client dodged a decade-long prison sentence. In fact, she did no jail time at all. Unfortunately, she was sentenced to 90 days of house arrest, which therefore meant that she had to stop working as an ICU nurse. She also lost custody of her children

The letter:


Dear Judge _____;

 I hope this letter finds you well. I am an Oregon-licensed family doctor, writing to express my support for my client, Ms. ____ of _____.

As you likely know, mental illness afflicts approximately one in five Americans, and depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. [1,2] Unfortunately, antidepressant medications (SSRIs and others) do not work as well as they once did – or as we once thought they did. [3,4] (That being said, I still do prescribe these medications sometimes.) About one-third of patients who try antidepressants do not respond to the therapy. [5,6]

Ms. ____ is one such a patient. Despite her diligence in following the advice and prescriptions of her other doctors, and despite her engagement in psychotherapy, Ms. ____ continues to suffer from this debilitating condition.

Fortunately, a wave of new research has shown that there is hope for individuals like Ms. ____: Psilocybin, a constituent found in over 200 different species of mushrooms,  has been shown to safely and effectively treat depression. [7-18] Psilocybin has also shown compelling outcomes in a head-to-head study against the SSRI medication escitalopram. [19]

These findings are so compelling, in fact, that I have worked to inform and educate the medical community and policy makers about the promise of this natural medicine that has been used by humans since at least 6,000 BCE. [20,21] I have also taken sabbaticals from my practice to travel to countries where psilocybin mushrooms are legal. There I have directly witnessed the profound healing potential of these humble fungi.

My efforts in this regard are not merely a curiosity or a pontification: the FDA has granted psilocybin breakthrough drug status twice – once in 2018 for the treatment of Treatment Resistant Depression (TRD), and again in 2019 for the treatment of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). [22] In the fall of 2021, the United States government also granted funding to Johns Hopkins University to conduct research on the potential of psilocybin in smoking cessation. [23]

Unfortunately for Ms. ____ and countless of other individuals, however, psilocybin is currently a Schedule I substance in the United States. Considering that the U.S. government was conducting studies on psilocybin and LSD in the years preceding the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, it has been suggested that Nixon’s anti-psychedelics stance had less to do with a legitimate concern for public safety than with a disdain for the demographics that tended to use cannabis, psilocybin, and LSD – namely Blacks and anti-war hippies. [24,25]

But the laws are changing: The state of Oregon just legalized psilocybin services state-wide, and numerous other cities and jurisdictions in the United States have voted to decriminalize the medicine. [26,27] I suspect that within the span of our professional careers that you and I will see this medicine legalized at the Federal level. According to an analysis performed by researchers at Johns Hopkins, the data suggest rescheduling psilocybin no more restrictively than Schedule IV. [28]

Did Ms. ____ break the law by growing in her home an age-old, natural medicine that grows wild on every continent except Antarctica [29]? Yes. But is that law one that should even exist? In my medical opinion: absolutely not.

This is not only because of psilocybin’s profound healing capabilities, but also on account of its excellent safety profile. With respect to children, the risk of poisoning by psilocybin exists, though it is low. First of all, psilocybin-containing mushrooms both smell and taste like rotting dirt, making them unappetizing to even the experienced, adult “cosmonaut.” Furthermore, psilocybin has an overall gentle safety profile and no known lethal dose. [30] In certain at-risk populations (such as children and pets), a high dose of psilocybin may induce a seizure – a frightening, but thankfully typically self-limiting reaction. [31] Furthermore, psilocybin is not physiologically addictive. [32,33]

In comparison, alcohol toxicity is a growing cause of toxicity in children. Even small amounts of ethanol (alcohol) can induce hypoglycemia, coma, and hypothermia in a young child, and higher doses can kill. [34] We have also recently seen a rise in ethanol-induced injury to children from ingesting ethanol-containing hand sanitizer. [35]

An adult under the influence of ethanol is also much more likely to harm a child than an adult under the influence of psilocybin mushrooms. This risk of harm from a parent under the effect of psilocybin becomes even smaller – almost comically so – when we consider that Ms. ____ was taking psilocybin in micro-doses. A microdose is one-tenth to one-twentieth of a “psychedelic” dose, and exerts no psychoactive effect. [36]

A multicriteria decision analysis of drugs published in The Lancet further speaks to the matter of harm. [37] In this study, twenty substances were scored based on criteria related to: (1) the harm a drug produces in the individual who takes that drug, and (2) the harm that individual may pose to others (children, family members, the community, etc.).

While heroin, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine were found to be the most harmful drugs to individuals, alcohol was found to be the most harmful to others. Overall, alcohol was the most harmful drug (overall harm score of 72 out of 100 possible points). (Heroin and crack cocaine came in second and third places, respectively.) The least harmful drug was mushrooms: mushrooms were found to pose no risk to others (overall harm score of 6 out of 100 possible points). Here is a graph from the published study:


These findings support my conviction that a liquor cabinet in the home poses more direct and indirect threat of harm to a child than do psilocybin mushrooms. In short: the argument that Ms. ____ endangered a child by growing mushrooms in her home is not one backed by scientific evidence.

What we lose by punishing people like Ms. ____ is vast. Her community loses a nurse. Her children lose their mother. And Ms. ____ loses her rights to medical freedom and a life without depression.

What do we gain by locking her away? We gain proof of how misguided the laws are around these powerful medicines, and how misinformed and hypocritical our legal system is when it comes to drugs. We make Ms. ____ a kind of George Floyd. Ms. ____’s case will be used to fuel policy change and legalization efforts. She will be a martyr for the cause.

Personally, I do not think we need any more martyrs in this War. I hope that you will agree, and that you will see Ms. ____ for what she is: an empowered woman who refused to be destroyed by depression, and who finally found something that tremendously helped her care for herself, her children, and her patients while posing little to no harm to anybody.

Thank you kindly for your consideration.

Yours in Healing,

Dr. Erica Zelfand


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Simba Health, LLC | Tel: +1 971 317 0222 | Fax: +1 971 317 0223 | 4

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