George A. Michael, Deputy Commissioner of the State Health Department, expressed his opinion yesterday that psilocybin "falls into the classification of drugs that must be administered by a physician," but Richard Alpert, assistant professor of Clinical Psychology, disagreed.
"It was my understanding," Alpert stated, "that the laws of the State of Massachusetts do not forbid the use of this drug by qualified researchers under proper conditions."
According to Michael, currently conducting an inquiry into Alpert's psilocybin research, the State "harmful drug" law requires that hypnotic or somnifacient (sleep-producing) drugs be given by physicians only. Noting that the Massachusetts law is more stringent than the corresponding federal law, the commissioner said that as far as he was concerned the federal government was not important in this case, and that it "need only provide an army and navy."
Alpert commented "I don't consider this a hypnotic drug."
In addition to determining whether psilocybin is included in the "harmful drug" category, Michael is seeking to learn whether a physician prescribed and administered the drug during the research at Harvard. He is now examining a preliminary report of the findings of the investigation.
"If the drug is 'harmful' and was not administered by a physician," Michael said, "those who gave it would be subject to prosecution, even if they discontinued their work." The fact that a doctor was available for emergencies would have no bearing, he added.
Drug's Legal Status Uncertain
When told of Michael's remarks, Edward M. Ginsburg, Alpert's attorney, maintained that the legal status of psilocybin was still uncertain. He refused to make any further comment before the results of a meeting scheduled for Thursday with state officials.