Indiana nurse faces 10 years in prison for microdosing psilocybin mushrooms

Between the rise of ayahuasca luxury hotels in Costa Rica, billions of dollars channeled into psychedelic research and development, and bestsellers like Michael Pollan How to change your mind, it is not surprising that psychedelics have left their mark on the collective consciousness. Once the target of smear campaigns and deeply stigmatized, these mind-altering substances are now prolific in public discourse, with new studies on microdosing psilocybin mushrooms coming out every month. You can almost imagine walking to the corner store to grab a packet of magic mushrooms like you might buy a packet of tobacco.

Except you can’t. In most places, magic mushrooms are still illegal. And even if you grow your own mushrooms, there’s always a chance you’ll end up in jail.

For Jessica Thornton, who has lived with treatment-resistant depression since her senior year in high school, psychedelics are a lifeline. Thornton, a mother of five and neonatal intensive care nurse, turned to psilocybin after twenty years of taking an assortment of antidepressants with little or no effect. Desperate for a solution, she tried microdosing psilocybin mushrooms after researching the practice online. However, his experimentation with psilocybin came at an inconceivable cost. On July 11, she will appear in court and risk up to ten years in prison.

Thornton’s situation is symbolic of the crossroads that characterizes the contemporary psychedelic landscape in the United States. In Michigan, right next to Indiana where Thornton lives, three cities have decriminalized psychedelics for personal use. Another neighboring state, Illinois, has opened statewide talks psychedelic decriminalization. In Indiana, on the other hand, psychedelics are primarily considered illegal and dangerous substances. Those who dare to use them risk seeing their lives turned upside down if they are apprehended. For Thornton, however, microdosing psilocybin mushrooms was a matter of life and death.

“I decided to try microdosing psilocybin for depression because nothing else worked for me,” says Thornton. “I felt like I was in a constant battle with myself. For a very long time, I felt like a part of me was missing, despite everything: a good job, a paid house, 5 beautiful children and my health. Eventually I started having suicidal thoughts and I knew I had to do something about it. I didn’t want my children to have to deal with the loss of their mother.

The decision to try psilocybin represented an alternative when it felt like all other avenues had been exhausted. Thornton anchored his choice in evidence for his own peace of mind.

“I did a ton of research online and started listening to podcasts,” she recalls. “I found out that Johns Hopkins and other major research universities were doing clinical studies on psilocybin and treatment-resistant depression.”

There are a growing number of studies documenting the beneficial effects of psilocybin on depression and mood disorders, with new data emerging all the time. For instance, a large clinical trial recently concluded that psilocybin offers a “rapid and sustained” antidepressant effect. Additionally, the authors found that there was “strong and reliable evidence” that psilocybin’s antidepressant properties were due to its integrative effect on the brain. A brain that functions in a connected and holistic way is happier, healthier and more flexible than a brain constricted by ruminative thinking. In contrast, the study also reported that escitalopram, a conventional SSRI antidepressant, had a milder effect and did not cause these beneficial global brain changes.

Ineffective conventional treatments for depression are something Thornton knows all too well.

“I took many antidepressants: Paxil, Prozac, Celexa, Lexapro, Wellbutrin, Effexor, Abilify, Cymbalta, Trazodone, Remeron, and Pristiq,” says Thornton. “The drugs all seemed to make me feel like I was living in a box. I was seeing a psychiatrist and a psychologist, and at some point I was admitted to an inpatient psychiatric facility.

Thornton describes herself as an empath, for whom the deprivation of feeling emotions was unbearable. “I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t sad. I was just numb. The drugs also made me sweat, feel anxious, and I was unable to have an orgasm.

Armed with research and her medical training, Thornton set out to develop a careful regimen for microdosing psilocybin mushrooms. Simply put, microdosing means administering sub-hallucinogenic doses of psychedelics. While they can alter mood or perspective, these small doses don’t provide a full-fledged trip.

“It took a few months of microdosing 3-4 times a week and titrating to find the right dosage,” says Thornton. “I stacked psilocybin with Lion’s Mane and niacin. Then one day, after about three months of following this protocol, I found myself examining my surroundings – the cold air of an Indian winter – and I found myself said it was a beautiful world after all.

At that moment, Thornton felt freed from the burden she was carrying. Freed from this burden, she could perceive the beauty and the opportunity that had always been there.

“I noticed nature. I felt like I could breathe easily. I remember feeling that the world could be anything I wanted it to be and that I could achieve my dreams because I didn’t feel the hate and disgust I had felt.

The psilocybin helped light up what was once dark. Thornton felt like life was opening up to her again, but was aware that consistency with the microdosing regimen could be key to her success. She needed to find a reliable supply of psilocybin. Given Indiana’s strict stance on controlled substances, magic mushrooms aren’t very easy to find.

“I decided to grow psilocybin because I didn’t know how else to get it,” says Thornton. “I mean, I knew it was illegal. I didn’t realize how illegal it was, however, that it was up there classified as a schedule I substance. So I didn’t definitely wasn’t going to look anywhere to buy it – didn’t want to get in trouble.

However, it turned out that growing your own mushroom stash was even more risky. Police confronted her at her home in Indiana after being tipped off that she was growing a controlled substance.

“The cops broke down my door and all pointed their guns at me. You would have thought I had committed murder, says Thornton, who has been charged with two crimes – trafficking in a controlled substance and child endangerment. Although Thornton did not sell magic mushrooms, Indiana law requires anyone apprehended with more than 28 grams of fresh or dried mushrooms to be charged with a felony of intent to sell. Because she grew her own fresh mushrooms, the amount she was seized exceeded this limit.

“My whole world came crashing down on me just when I was starting to feel better about life. I’ve now lost everything. My children have been taken away from me. I have to have supervised visitation. My license to nurse is at stake, and I don’t know if I can get her back, I don’t know if I can get a job back if I’m convicted of a crime.

The ramifications of these accusations are profound. Besides the potential jail time and job loss, Thornton is especially haunted by the threat of being separated from her children and not seeing them grow up.

“I feel like I’m not their mother because I’m not good enough. I had no intention of hurting them. In retrospect, I would have done it all so differently,” she recalls.

Ironically, while Thornton is plunged into shame with the accusation of endangering her children, other parents in the United States are openly sharing and supporting their experiences with psychedelics. Organizations such as plant parenting, for example, provide a supportive space for parents to come together and discuss psychedelics and parenting. Additionally, a recent Harper’s Bazaar article, Moms Who Mushroom, shares stories of moms who take psychedelics like vitamins. This reality couldn’t be further from the one Jessica faces and serves to illustrate the deep juxtaposition at play. While some parents feel safe experimenting with psychedelics, others risk losing it all.

Currently, Thornton regularly receives ketamine infusions, which are legal in Indiana because they are an off-label use of a legal anesthetic. At $500 per session, they’re not cheap, especially because in Thornton’s case, they’re only effective for about two weeks. Given the specter of what she faces, however, they help her deal with her depression as she ponders what the future may hold for her.

“My lawyer told me that I would never win a case. He advised me to plead guilty to the crimes,” says Thornton. “The prosecutor said something like 10 years in prison maximum. I don’t know what will happen and I’m so scared. Probation would be a blessing.

“The thought of being cooped up for years, just wasting away — I can be so much more productive than that,” Thornton points out. “I still have so much to offer. I have so many goals and dreams, and I need to raise my children.

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