Biden administration ‘exploring’ psychedelics task force ahead of expected federal approval of psilocybin and MDMA

A leading federal health agency has said it is actively “exploring” the possibility of creating a task force to investigate the therapeutics of certain psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA in anticipation of federal approval of the substances for a prescription use.

Bipartisan lawmakers in Congress, state legislators and military veterans sent letters to the head of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) earlier this year, urging him to consider creating a “group of interagency work on the appropriate use and deployment of psychedelic medicine and therapy”. .”

The letters discussed the urgent need to review psychedelics amid a mental health crisis that has been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, saying HHS should work proactively to set up a task force on the issue. , especially given the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) forecast. approval of psilocybin and MDMA within the next two years.

Congressional lawmakers noted that even National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) director Nora Volkow said the “train has left the station” on psychedelics, and they wrote that “the people are going to use them whether regulators act or not.”

“Given the mental health and addictions crises exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we believe it is essential to ensure that our country’s health system has all the tools to effectively combat these crises. “, they wrote. “It is clear that psychedelic drugs represent not just a new wave of psychiatry, but a significant change in the delivery of mental health care, which does not fit neatly into our current system.”

The separate letter from state lawmakers included similar points, but from the perspective of lawmakers who have actively worked to advance psychedelic reform in their respective jurisdictions in recent years. State officials from Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas were among those who signed the cover letter.

“We understand that the Strategic Task Force would lead a public-private partnership with diverse stakeholder groups, including relevant state agencies, to resolve the myriad of complex regulatory and public policy issues necessary to ensure a framework for the safe and responsible use of psychedelic therapies. for mental health care,” the letter from state lawmakers and veterans advocates reads.

Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, a senior HHS official, sent a response to Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA), who led the Congressional letter, in May.

She wrote in her letter, first reported by The Intercept this week, that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which reports to HHS, “agrees that too many Americans suffer from mental health issues and addiction…and that we need to explore the potential of psychedelic-assisted therapies to address this crisis.

“SAMHSA also agrees that the use of psychedelic drugs will require a broad-spectrum, interdisciplinary approach from stakeholders to effectively address the complexity of issues that stakeholders believe will arise with their introduction,” the letter reads.

To that end, the agency is “exploring the prospect of establishing a federal task force to monitor and address the many complex issues associated with emerging substances,” Delphin-Rittmon wrote. She did not challenge the two-year deadline set by lawmakers and lawyers for federal approval of certain psychedelics in her letter.

Marijuana Moment contacted Delphin-Rittmon, HHS and SAMHSA for an update on how the federal task force review has developed since May, but a representative was not immediately available.

While it doesn’t appear that a working group has been created at this point, SAMHSA’s letter outlines what a prospective body might address.

“The task force can establish and oversee the functions of a public-private partnership that can focus broadly on solving many complex issues associated with psychedelic (psilocybin) and entactogen (MDMA) drugs but whose public health risks may require harm reduction, risk mitigation, and safety monitoring,” he says.

“Collaboration among federal agencies with outside stakeholders will be the most effective way to ensure that we thoughtfully coordinate work on emerging substances such as MDMA and psilocybin,” the letter concludes.

The response letter was addressed to Dean and CCed Reps Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Dean Phillips (D-MN), and Michael Waltz (R-FL), who signed the petition. initial. to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.

Another coalition of congressional lawmakers, including Blumenauer, Dean, and Phillips, also drew attention to psychedelic policy issues with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), sending a letter in January imploring the agency to clear terminally ill patients to access psilocybin on an experimental basis. drugs, in accordance with the federal “Right to Try” law enacted under the Trump administration.

The DEA is now facing another lawsuit for refusing to allow a Seattle-based doctor to obtain psilocybin for his oncology patients. The plaintiffs claim that the agency unlawfully violates federal law in denying such access in the circumstances.

Bipartisan lawmakers in the House and Senate last week introduced companion bills aimed at clarifying the intent and application of the “right to try” law at the center of the case. The senses. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY), along with Blumenauer and Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), are the main sponsors of the legislation.

In May, Booker and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) separately pushed top federal officials to provide an update on research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, arguing that the ongoing federal ban has hampered studies.

Federal health officials recently acknowledged that the federal ban makes it more difficult to study the benefits of psychedelics, forcing researchers to take additional regulatory steps.

Activists, including one of the plaintiffs in the Right to Try case, Erinn Baldeschwiler, staged a protest outside DEA headquarters in Virginia in May, demanding that the agency allow terminally ill patients access to the psilocybin therapy.

The DEA is being sued separately for repeated delays in processing public records requests related to psychedelics and marijuana.

Following significant pushback from the research and advocacy communities, the agency recently reversed its proposal to ban five psychedelic compounds that scientists believe may have significant therapeutic potential. The DEA also canceled a hearing it had previously scheduled on the proposal.

Separately, the agency has separately increased production quotas for the production of certain psychedelics like psilocybin in an effort to promote research, but its scheduling decisions have continued to present obstacles for scientists.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently approved a sweeping defense bill that includes an amendment directing the Department of Defense (DOD) to conduct a study into the medical potential of psilocybin and MDMA, as well as than marijuana, for military veterans with certain conditions. .

NIDA’s Volkow previously told Marijuana Moment that while there is a clear need for further study of controlled substances like psychedelics, the barriers imposed by their Schedule I status “could deter some scientists from conducting research.” .

Read letters from lawmakers and HHS about the creation of a federal psychedelics task force below:

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Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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