Recent events in DC suggest that official Washington is waking up to the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. Advocates cite a Senate bill to ease research and access, a new congressional caucus, and much anticipated guidelines for psychedelic research from both the Veterans Administration and the National Institute for Mental Health.
Brett Waters, co-founder of Reason for Hope, took part in many of these conversations. This week he left his law firm day job to devote himself to advocacy full time. Lucid News asked Waters to help put this flurry of federal activity into perspective.
“There’s definitely a growing awareness” among Capitol Hill staffers and agency personnel, Waters said. “There’s a growing recognition that MDMA and psilocybin are being researched in clinical studies and appear on track for FDA approval. And Oregon and Colorado are happening,” he added, referring to the statewide referendums that put frameworks in place for legal psilocybin-assisted therapy.
“After what happened with marijuana, there’s an awareness that a proactive policy would be helpful, at a minimum to make it easier to do research. The patchwork legal system for cannabis is a problem in and of itself, in terms of administration resources. And cannabis is still Schedule 1, which suppresses the research, while the states go forward with their own rules anyway.”
Senators for rescheduling. This month Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the Breakthrough Therapies Act, a bill that Reason for Hope helped draft. Waters explains, “The first section came from existing language that originated from the Biden administration. It would make it easier to research and develop psychedelic medicines, or any Schedule 1 drug, by cutting through bureaucracy and paperwork. We helped draft the second section of the bill, which would create an automatic rescheduling of drugs that receive either an FDA breakthrough therapy designation or expanded access approval.” Both MDMA and psilocybin have been deemed breakthrough therapies by the FDA.
“That would enable rescheduling from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 before FDA approval,” Waters continued. “It reduces the barriers in advance of FDA approval, particularly to start phasing these medicines into more real world settings.”
Congress caucuses. As it happened, the Breakthrough Therapies Act was introduced on the same day that a bipartisan pair of Representatives announced the formation of the first congressional caucus focusing on psychedelic-assisted therapy. The congressional Psychedelics Advancing Clinical Treatments (PACT) Caucus, to be co-chaired by Reps. Jack Bergman (R-MI) and Lou Correa (D-CA), will investigate “psychedelic research to alleviate the U.S. mental health crisis.” It had been two years in the making.
The timing wasn’t planned, says Waters, “though it was a fortunate coincidence, since it brought more attention to both” announcements.
We can expect more federal activity with the forthcoming task force on psychedelic therapy to be housed within the department of Health and Human Services, which Reason for Hope has also played a role in shaping. Waters is “optimistic” that an announcement is forthcoming, following the recent elections, though the timing is not set. “We’re hopeful that it will be some sort of public private partnership with real involvement from the community, a more organized effort.”
Next. Looking ahead to the next 12 months, Waters sees potential for continued forward momentum with the new Congress, since there is bipartisan support for “removing unnecessary red tape from the absurd processes required just to do clinical research.” But he also points to the states, and suggests keeping an eye on New York, California, New Jersey, Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania – all of which have psychedelic legislation that could come to a vote next year.
Trending is a series of news analysis essays by the Lucid News editorial team that appear weekly in our newsletter. To read past newsletters, and to subscribe, click here.