Psychedelics were once stigmatized as evil drug. But just like cannabis, modern research is showing that psychedelics have significant health benefits. They may be a promising treatment for some mental health disorders.
Study Finds Psychedelics Have Significant Health Benefits
The results of the study finding psychedelics have significant health benefits were revealed at a hearing before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on May 4, 2023. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow was asked by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) about the status of the research.
Volkow acknowledged that “psychedelic research effectively was halted for many years” due to stigmatization and criminalization, but notes that things have changed.
“As the evidence is starting to emerge that shows significant potential in terms of therapeutics for certain conditions like severe depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, and also preliminary research showing benefits for the treatment of addiction, we’re engaging the scientific community to try to understand how psychedelic drugs can be potentially utilized for the treatment- how they affect that brain, and also how to deploy them in ways that are going to be safe and effective,” Volkow stated.
“This is an area of great interest and both (the National Institute of Mental Health) and NIDA are partnering in trying to expand and accelerate (the research),” she went on to say.
During the hearing, which reviewed the possibility that psychedelics have significant health benefits, Volkow was asked a question by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) concerning “the relationship between marijuana use and psychiatric disorders”.
Volkow responded that the agency is “very concerned” about the ongoing use of cannabis with high THC content. “We need to understand what may be the consequences or not of the use of cannabis,” she said.
Past Interest in Psychedelics Has Significant Health Benefits
Schatz and Volkow have both asserted an interest in doing more research on how psychedelics have significant health benefits paying particular attention to drugs like MDMA and psilocybin.
Last year Schatz partnered with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) encouraging federal officials to provide an update on psychedelic-related research. They argued that federal prohibition has gotten in the way of studies.
NIMH and NIDA responded to the Senators acknowledging that federal prohibition makes it difficult for studies to move forward as researchers need to jump through hoops to obtain regulatory approval. Volkow stated that she hesitates to study psychedelics because regulations make it so inconvenient.
When speaking to Marijuana Moment in 2021, the director discussed the need to prioritize studies on psychedelics. People are using them more often after hearing about their mental health benefits. The research will help them safely use the drugs.
The renewed research and reform efforts caused Congress to take an interest in the possibility that psychedelics have significant health benefits. As a result, bipartisan and bicameral congressional lawmakers filed an updated version of a bill to guide the rescheduling of psychedelic drugs to promote research and development in March.
Booker partnered with Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) on a separate bill that would clarify “Right to Try” (RTT) laws that allowed seriously ill patients to use schedule I drug like psychedelics and marijuana. The bill was not enacted by the end of the session.
Other Efforts to Promote Research to Determine if Psychedelics Have Significant Health Benefits
Other efforts to move forward with psychedelic research include the relaunching of a congressional caucus supporting research of the therapeutic potential of psychoactive substances.
State lawmakers across the country have filed psychedelics-related legislation focused on promoting research.
Oregon has taken it a step further issuing psilocybin licenses and preparing to open centers where people can undergo psychedelic treatment at regulated facilities.
Colorado has also taken a major move forward sending a bill to the governor that would set regulations for psychedelic legislation pending voter approval. The ballot initiative was recognized as historic.
Do Psychedelics Have Significant Health Benefits?
Several studies support the theory that psychedelics have significant health benefits. One study revealed that psychedelics do a better job than antidepressants in treating anxiety and depression in people with cancer.
Statistics show that 10% of cancer patients experience anxiety and 20% experience depression. Research suggests that antidepressants do not significantly decrease these mental health symptoms.
A trial of 51 cancer showed 61% of participants that received a single high dose of psilocybin experienced remission of depression. 52% experienced remission of anxiety.
Some cancer patients also experience PTSD after being diagnosed. A review of trial studies noted that psychedelics help patients process feelings of trauma.
Are Psychedelics Illegal in the United States?
Yes, psychedelics are illegal in the United States as per the Psychotropic Substances Act of 1978. However, the illegal status is only relevant on a federal level. Many states are doing their part to make the drugs more socially accepted.
- Legalized/ Decriminalized: Psychedelics were legalized in Colorado and Oregon and decriminalized in Washington, DC.
- Reform Efforts: Reform efforts have been seen in Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.
- Select Cities Decriminalized: Psychedelics have been decriminalized in select cities in Michigan, Massachusetts, and Washington.
- Fully Illegal: Psychedelics are still fully illegal in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. However, these states approve the use of ketamine in some medical situations. They also allow specific religious groups to use DMT/ ayahuasca.