Bipartisan Lawmakers Celebrate Psychedelics Research Amendment And Say House Speaker Has Committed To Pushing The Issue

July 14, 2023 ·

Bipartisan congressional lawmakers are celebrating the inclusion of a psychedelics research amendment as part of a must-pass defense bill that’s on the House floor—and a GOP congressman says he has the commitment of the House speaker to fight to broaden the scope of the measure in talks with the Senate.

At a press conference that took place shortly after the House Rules Committee advanced the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with the psychedelics language that were previously attached in the House Armed Services Committee—but blocked floor consideration of an amendment to broaden the provision—Reps. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Lou Correa (D-CA) held  a press conference to discuss the development and next steps.

The amendment, which is similar to a standalone bill that Crenshaw filed last month, still needs work, the congressman said. As he explained during a Rules Committee meeting on Tuesday, staff at the prior panel that adopted it as part of NDAA had removed key language on funding and replaced the requirement for Department of Defense (DOD) clinical trials with clinical studies, a meaningful difference.

The Rules Committee declined to accept an amendment to fix the problem, along with more than a dozen other drug policy reform amendments—blocking them from being able to receive votes on the House floor.

As adopted in the current form of the NDAA, the defense secretary would be required to carry out a clinical study into the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics for active duty service members with PTSD, traumatic brain injury or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

The clinical studies would need to involve psilocybin, MDMA, ibogaine or DMT. The secretary would need to provide lawmakers with a report within one year of the enactment of the legislation with information about trial findings.

Crenshaw said that he’s spoken about the issue with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who he says has committed to work with him on restoring the original language, possibly when the NDAA goes to bicameral conference negotiations with the Senate.

The congressman initially voted against the rule for NDAA on the floor in protest of the Rules Committee blocking his amendment, but The Hill reported that he switched to a “yes” vote after getting the assurances from leadership that they would push to restore his language in conference or otherwise.

“We’re either gonna fix that in conference or, you know, there’s a couple vehicles to fix that still,” he said. “So we shall see. Or maybe it’s a standalone bill.”

Ocasio-Cortez said at Thursday’s briefing that members are “very excited here today to really celebrate the enormous amount of progress that’s being made in the study and advancement of psychedelic research and the applications of PTSD for our veterans communities, as well as many other survivors across the country.”

She reflected on her earlier attempt to remove barriers to research for psychedelics and other Schedule I substances through an amendment to appropriations legislation in 2019, when a majority of Democrats joined Republicans in soundly defeating the proposal. Four years later, the coalition has significantly strengthened as interest in the therapeutic potential of substances like psilocybin and MDMA has swelled.

“While we are here to celebrate this legislative progress, I also want to acknowledge that we are not yet done,” the congresswoman said. “While we expect this psychedelic provision to make it through the House, we also expect it to encounter resistance in the Senate. So if you are at home, if you care about this legislation, I highly encourage you to contact your senator and let it be known your thoughts.”

Crenshaw observed the rarity of having lawmakers on opposite sides of the political spectrum united around a policy like psychedelics, attributing it to “a realization that these therapies are working.”

“There’s already some pretty solid studies, specifically on MDMA, that show just unbelievable outcomes— massive reduction in PTSD symptoms,” he said. “We need to keep replicating those studies. There’s other drugs that show incredible promise.”

“I still can’t find one member of Congress that is actually opposed to this,” he said. “The obstacles we have run into have largely been procedural at the staff level, but I still can’t find one member of Congress who was saying that they’re against this. That’s that’s an amazing thing. I think that’s why this will succeed. It should succeed.”

Correa, who is the founding co-chair of a first-ever congressional psychedelics caucus, said at the press conference that “we’re on the verge of success.”

“This is so important—so critically important—not only for our veterans, but for our society,” he said. “The stigma placed on these possible medical solutions that work from the failed war on drugs is terrible. The cost this war on drugs keeps exacting on our society is unacceptable.”

Correa and Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI) also recently touted the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) new draft guidance on researching psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA.

Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) and Ro Khanna (D-CA) separately joined Crenshaw in reacting to the FDA move, crediting it for making progress in a way that was responsive to their legislation.

FDA’s draft guidance provides scientists with a framework to carry out research that could lead to the development of psychedelic medicines. A 60-day public comment period is open for interested parties to submit feedback on how final guidance should be shaped.

Marijuana Moment asked HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra last month about the department’s current thinking around psychedelics policy, and he said he needed to “defer” to the expertise of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which also falls under his agency, “because I want to make sure that I touch base with what they’ve been doing on that.”

Last month, NIDA called for research into the impact of evolving laws around psychedelics, including the effects of allowing regulated access to substances like psilocybin.

NIDA separately announced in May that it is soliciting proposals for a series of research initiatives meant to explore how psychedelics could be used to treat drug addiction, with plans to provide $1.5 million in funding to support relevant studies. (Full Story)

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