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We’re on the cusp of another psychedelic era. But this time Washington is along for the ride

From Congress to the Biden administration, there’s enthusiasm for the drugs’ ability to treat mental illness. cherished by ancient cultures for their ability to open doors to expanded states of awareness and promote a profound sense. Dream Psilocybin Chocolate Bars For Sale,

In this Friday, May 24, 2019 photo a vendor bags psilocybin mushrooms at a cannabis marketplace in Los Angeles.

Psilocybin, the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms, is in Phase 3 trials for treatment-resistant depression. | Richard Vogel/AP Photo


08/12/2023 07:00 AM EDT

There’s a new cause in Washington that’s uniting Republicans, Democrats and Biden health officials: psychedelics as a cure for America’s mental health crisis.

Long derided as counterculture party drugs, psychedelics are gaining new resonance 56 years after psychologist Timothy Leary urged 30,000 hippies in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to “turn on, tune in and drop out.” This time, it’s not about breaking free of staid convention, as Leary urged, but healing intractable psychic wounds.

The Food and Drug Administration has already approved one psychedelic to treat depression. The nation’s top drug regulator and Congress are pushing for more study of psychedelics’ potential to treat mental illnesses that now afflict more than a quarter of Americans. Advocates still must overcome stigma associated with 1960s drug culture and concerns about side effects, but they’ve never enjoyed such strong support inside government.

“The results that are coming out are just groundbreaking — earth-shattering,” said Rep. Morgan Luttrell (R-Texas), a former Navy SEAL who credits therapy and two psychedelics, ibogaine and 5-MeO-DMT, with helping him overcome the trauma he suffered after his Black Hawk helicopter went down during a 2009 training mission. “D.C. actually is getting their head around it.”

Luttrell was reluctant at first to try ibogaine, an extract from an African root, and 5-MeO-DMT, derived from desert toads, that like other psychedelics change a user’s perception of reality. “I’m a very anti-drug guy,” he told POLITICO. But ultimately, he traveled to Mexico’s Baja California coast to use the drugs, because they’re illegal in the U.S. He said it saved his marriage.

Elected last year to represent Houston’s northern exurbs, he now wants to change the drugs’ legal status.

A military photo of Rep. Morgan Luttrell (left) and his twin brother Marcus Luttrell (right).
Rep. Morgan Luttrell (left) sits beside his twin brother Marcus Luttrell (right). | Courtesy of the Luttrell family

Federal agencies are signaling a willingness to cooperate.

The FDA, the nation’s drug regulator, has approved a version of ketamine for treatment-resistant depression.

The agency has also granted two other psychedelics — psilocybin and MDMA — breakthrough therapy status, geared at speeding up their development. In June, it offered advice for manufacturers testing psychedelic drugs in clinical trials.


In the House, Democrats including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Lou Correa of California, and Republicans led by Dan Crenshaw of Texas and Jack Bergman of Michigan have emerged as early champions. The House’s appropriations bill for the Department of Veterans Affairs includes an amendment that would require the VA to conduct a clinical study on psychedelics. The House’s version of the annual defense policy bill calls for similar research on troops.

Impediments could arise. The Drug Enforcement Administration says most psychedelics pose a high risk for abuse and have no accepted medical use.

But a spokesperson for the agency said the DEA has nonetheless approved applications from universities and companies to study the drugs.

“We definitely need some movement out of Washington if we’re really to open up the floodgates and talk about a commercial, therapeutic class rather than a hypothetical more research-based possibility,” said Jonathan Havens, a partner at law firm Saul Ewing who works with psychedelics companies.

If Washington assents, manufacturers are poised to deliver. After decades of psychedelics research and advocacy, the California-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) plans to file for regulatory approval of MDMA, commonly called ecstasy, by the end of the year. That could put the drug on track to get the FDA’s endorsement as a treatment for PTSD in 2024.

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MDMA isn’t a classic psychedelic like psilocybin or LSD, which cause hallucinations. Rather, it’s an entactogen that promotes emotional openness.

In a Phase 3 trial run by MAPS and published in Nature in 2021, 67 percent of study participants who received MDMA combined with therapy no longer met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD, compared to 32 percent in the group that received therapy and a placebo.

Psilocybin, the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms, is in Phase 3 trials for treatment-resistant depression. A study run by the biotech company COMPASS Pathways and published in the New England Journal of Medicine last year found that a third of patients with treatment-resistant depression who took the highest dose of psilocybin saw their symptoms diminish — although those results were not as long-lasting as earlier studies.


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“The data look really promising in terms of treating depression, treating PTSD, treating addictions, and also for palliative care settings,” Albert Garcia-Romeu, a psychopharmacology researcher at Johns Hopkins University who was not involved in the MAPS or COMPASS Pathway studies, said of the psychedelic research landscape.

There’s already a large body of smaller studies with encouraging results, he explained, and now bigger studies are building on them.

“MDMA with PTSD is furthest along the regulatory pipeline, so that seems to be poised to be the first out the gate, and then probably psilocybin for depression will be a couple years after that.”

Still, he added, there are caveats: The trials have not been diverse enough. The workforce to deliver psychedelic treatments is too small. And using psychedelics is not as simple as taking a pill.

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