In yet another indication that lawmakers are continuing to step up their interest in psychedelics, Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, the assistant secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use, sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) in May, saying that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will be exploring the prospect of setting up a federal task force to address and oversee functions of a private-public partnership focusing on “complex issues” with psychedelics.
The letter addressed 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) specifically, since its closest to getting FDA approval (expected in the first half of 2023). But Delphin-Rittmon also said that “we must explore the potential of psychedelic-assisted therapies” (including psilocybin) to address the mental health crisis in the country.
But even more intriguing to movers and shakers in the psychedelics industry was a pair of amendments that would increase access to psychedelic treatments for veterans and active-duty service members with mental health conditions. Those amendments—from Reps. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)—were adopted by the House of Representatives on July 12, and added for consideration in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
In July 2021, a related amendment about allowing research into psychedelics, sponsored by Ocasio-Cortez, failed. She has been working on other legislation to allow more access to psychedelics research since she assumed office in Congress in 2019.
Ocasio-Cortez is on the same page with her New York colleagues. In May, two psychedelics reform bills were introduced by state legislators in New York on regulating the use of psilocybin, plus the training of facilitators and other clinical settings details.
Crenshaw appears to be more focused on mental health than the substances used to treat it. He sponsored a bill in March 2022, that reauthorizes through 2027 support for crisis care available under the Community Mental Services Block Grant program for adults with serious mental illnesses and children with serious emotional disturbances that will be administered by SAMSHA.
But the state of Texas has taken a particular interest in psychedelics for veterans, passing HB 1802 in June 2021, which provides for a collaboration of the Health and Human Services Commission with Baylor College of Medicine, to conduct a study on the efficacy of using alternative therapies, including the use of MDMA, psilocybin, and ketamine, in the treatment of veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The two new bipartisan amendments, fairly similar in wanting to allow further studies in psychedelics, are now awaiting passage in the Senate and, hopefully, eventual inclusion in the 2023 NDAA.
In a floor speech Wednesday as reported in The Intercept, Crenshaw—a Navy veteran—pleaded with members of his party to support his amendment. “Many hear the word ‘psychedelics’ and they think of acid trips from the ’60s,” he said. “What we’re talking about here is the proven use of psychedelics to treat PTSD.”
Crenshaw and Ocasio-Cortez’s amendments were approved via voice vote shortly thereafter.
The two amendments come at a critical time for veterans. In June, according to “Forbes,” the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) launched clinical trials to study the effectiveness of psychedelic drugs including MDMA and psilocybin as a treatment for military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction and other serious mental health issues.
The VA is now conducting at least five studies to gain more insight into the promising drugs. One of the first clinical trials of veterans using MDMA for PTSD was conducted in 2011.
And along with the mounting decriminalization of psychedelics efforts in more states, access to psychedelics has become a slow but steady drip-drip-drip process that is picking up steam among both state and federal lawmakers.
To get amendments like these two new ones over the finish line means working on an informed and data-heavy presentation for a lawmaker buy-in. That takes time, according to Kevin Nicholson, CEO of Ketamine Wellness Centers (KWC). “I think one of the benefits of being a little slower to the market is that the psychedelic community has taken some of the lessons learned from the cannabis industry,” Nicholson told Psychedealia. “They utilize that knowledge to make sure that they don’t put themselves in some of the same potholes or delays in certain areas that the cannabis people had. We can see where some of those barriers might be. So we can take a little different approach.”
KWC began operations as Ketamine Wellness Centers in 2015 with a single building in Phoenix, and then expanded into their first satellite office in Tucson in 2017 and set up clinics in Colorado, Washington, Minnesota. Now they have expanded to 13 clinics in nine states, and are looking to add more this year, Nicholson said.
He applauds the two amendments and was asked what he would say if asked to testify in defense of these amendments. “The biggest thing that I would bring up would be data,” he said. “We’re averaging right now anywhere between 1,000 to 1,100 ketamine infusions a month. The majority of these patients have tried and failed all other options up to and including electroconvulsive therapy. So they’re really left with no other option other than maybe trying another cocktail of traditional medications.”
He says that KWC can offer irrefutable data that shows significant improvements in patient responses, but also reductions in suicide rates. “So that data I think would be overwhelming to start with, because our success rate is north of 75 percent.”
He said that they are seeing more and more meta-analysis of smaller studies of psychedelics that are coming out on ketamine and other psychedelics. “I love the fact that there’s more interest, there’s more conversations, and we can ultimately help more people now in a mental health crisis that we’ve been experiencing over the last couple of years,” he said. “There are no better people than the men and women of our military and our first responders and all those people, that if we can reduce their rates of suicide and also all the other afflictions that they’re dealing with by using a very safe medication, it’s tremendously rewarding.”