Should Psychedelics Research be Publicly Funded?

Public funding for new mental health discoveries that can change the lives of millions of Americans for good? In a word: Absolutely.

Over the last three years, clinical trials of psilocybin and MDMA psychedelics assisted therapy in particular have demonstrated their value in treating various mental health conditions, even hard to treat conditions such as so-called treatment resistant depression. It is believed that this new therapy offers real hope for the hopeless.

The clinical trials excitement is tempered by the fact that there are still many answers needed about how various psychedelic substances work inside the human brain. There is so much more work to do. But that is precisely why more public funding is needed.

To be sure, hundreds of millions of dollars in philanthropic investment are actively making a difference. One example: Stephen Jurvetson, co-founder of Future Ventures and a board member at  SpaceX, is reportedly giving about half of his net worth to fund psychedelic science.

Nonprofit Research

The Psychedelic Science Funders Collaborative (PSFC), a nonprofit organization founded in 2017 created to support scientists and organizations working on psychedelic clinical trials, includes some of the leading funders of psychedelic medicine who are supporting organizations at the cutting edge of psychedelic research. PSFC has funded several organizations at the forefront of the psychedelic field, and, in 2020, completed a $30 million fundraising campaign in partnership with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to support the completion of phase 3 clinical trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. 

PSFC’s current areas of focus includes supporting broad and equitable access to high-quality MDMA-assisted psychotherapy post-FDA approval, and supporting the implementation of Oregon’s Measure 109.

It seems that almost every week, another business leader or philanthropist steps up with a psychedelics funding objective—SpaceX founder Elon Musk, Groupon co-founder Andrew Mason, even an anonymous Bitcoin millionaire. But it’s not enough. Deeper pockets are needed for more historic and life-changing outcomes that psychedelics research has just begun to deliver.

A primary source of federal medical science funding comes from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH-funded research has contributed to a 60 percent reduction in the death rates for coronary heart disease and stroke, a 40 percent decline in infant mortality over the past 20 years, and a 30 percent decrease in chronic disability among seniors.

Psychedelics research is at a point where it is ripe for more government funding, as a growing number of U.S. cities and states are taking legislative action to decriminalize or legalize psychedelic use and/or research; and a new Harris Poll reporting that nearly two thirds of Americans who suffer from anxiety/depression/PTSD believe that psychedelic medicine should be made available to patients with treatment-resistant anxiety, depression or PTSD.

Government Funding

And then: The DEA stepped up its allowable production quotas for psychedelics in November citing “a significant increase in the use of schedule I hallucinogenic controlled substances for research and clinical trial purposes.”

There has been a glimmer of hope for public funding in psychedelics. In October, Johns Hopkins Medicine was awarded a grant from the NIH to explore the potential impacts of psilocybin on tobacco addiction. This is the first NIH grant awarded in over a half century to directly investigate the therapeutic effects of a classic psychedelic.

With that announcement comes reference to the stigma problem that began when studies on LSD and other psychedelics that were raging over 50 years ago, in the 1960s and 1970s. LSD became a victim of a politized youth culture at the time that turned the potential therapeutic good of LSD into just another party drug problem. It was made illegal by the DEA as a Schedule 1 drug. Recovering from over 50 years of public disparity has been achieved somewhat, but it is still an ongoing issue with not just LSD but all psychedelics.

It’s clear that today, the NIH needs to get into the psychedelics game in an even bigger way than just its recent grant to Johns Hopkins. The limited support from philanthropic sources has funded the research so far, but these are restricted trials of relatively small samples of patients because of the cost of doing larger studies.

By contrast, NIH is the largest single public funder of biomedical research in the world. Every state and almost every Congressional district has earned a share of this investment. NIH investments in research focused on a particular area has been found to stimulate increased private investment in the same area. A $1.00 increase in public basic research stimulates an additional $8.38 of industry R&D investment after 8 years. A $1.00 increase in public clinical research stimulates an additional $2.35 of industry R&D investment after 3 years.

Dave Hodes

David Hodes is a business journalist based in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. He has contributed feature articles to several cannabis and psychedelics publications, as well as general business/lifestyle publications, on a variety of topics. Hodes was selected as 2018 Journalist of the Year by Americans for Safe Access. He is a member of the National Press Club, and the deputy booking agent for the National Press Club Headliners Committee.


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