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Denver first responders to learn how to identify, approach psychedelic emergencies

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) says the training is the first of its kind.
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Posted at 10:03 PM, Mar 27, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-28 00:23:52-04

DENVER — The City and County of Denver is believed to be the first municipality in the country to train first responders on how to identify, understand and approach psychedelic emergencies.

Denver Fire Department Assistant Chief of EMS Jeff Linville has spent the past 25 years as a firefighter.

“I'm very mission-focused. So the mission is always to serve the people of Denver and ways to improve that," said Linville.

In recent years, Linville said the department has trained extensively on how to respond to fentanyl crises, which have increased dramatically. His department will soon start training for something very different.

"The goal is to be able to train our first responders to recognize the difference between some of the stuff that we see on a day-to-day basis versus a psychedelic emergency," said Linville. “Hopefully it'll help our first responders recognize a psychedelic emergency when it happens.”

Denver was the first city to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms for personal use in 2019. Since then, Linville said first responders have not seen many emergencies related to psilocybin.

“We're not seeing a whole lot. But also, I might attribute some of that to the fact that the first responders haven’t essentially been trained on what a psychedelic emergency looks like," Linville said.

Local News

Denver voters narrowly pass ‘magic mushroom’ measure

Robert Garrison
4:41 PM, May 08, 2019

The year after Denver voters decriminalized psilocybin for personal use, a partnership between the city and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) began. MAPS is a nonprofit that "develops medical, legal, and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful uses of psychedelics and marijuana."

“In 2019, Denver made enforcement of psilocybin-related crimes the lowest law enforcement priority. It is a subset of decriminalization. Most people think of it as decriminalization. That's not entirely accurate but it's not so far off," said Betty Aldworth, director of communications and post-prohibition strategy for MAPS. “Last year, Coloradans voted on the Natural Medicines Act, which decriminalized the use and possession of a variety of natural medicines.”

MAPS spearheaded the creation of a training video for first responders in Denver, and those with the Denver Police Department (DPD) said they worked on reviewing and vetting it.

“Shortly after Denver voters de facto decriminalized psilocybin, Denver took a very proactive approach and formed a working group to determine what policy changes needed to be made to increase public safety around psilocybin and ensure that the community was incorporating these new policies in a way that was most responsible and safest," said Aldworth.

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Colorado voters decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms

The Associated Press
2:18 PM, Nov 11, 2022

The training video aims to educate first responders on how ti identify a psychedelic emergency and handle it appropriately.

“One of the primary characteristics of a psychedelic experience is a heightened experience of your senses... In a psychedelic emergency, someone is unable to ground themselves in what's happening around them and might become very fearful of their environment or even their own thoughts," said Aldworth. “Things like an authoritarian approach, restraining or constraining a person, giving direct orders that they might not understand, these things all might increase the sense of fear, might increase the sense of danger, and thereby increase the danger for everyone involved.”

Aldworth said psychedelic emergencies are rare but it's best to prepare first responders for the possibility.

"Law enforcement and EMTs and other first responders receive all sorts of different trainings. But there's nowhere in the country where first responders are receiving psychedelic crisis intervention training," said Aldworth. “In Denver, I believe law enforcement and other first responders are going to be well-equipped and ready to take in this new information about psychedelic-related crises and change their approach in a way that is helpful for everyone.”

Aldworth said MAPS is currently speaking with other municipalities about bringing the training there but could not specify where.

A spokesperson with DPD said in part, "The Denver Police Department hopes, like with much of our training, it will help increase awareness. This falls in line with much of our health-based and mental health-centered approach. The goal is to help officers have better tools to approach and recognize people in psychedelic crisis. Please note that this training is online and none of it revolves around decriminalization. It is more for awareness to recognize those in crisis."

DPD and the Denver Fire Department are still working to determine a timeline for the training.

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