As a House committee takes steps to broadly improve patient access to healthcare, one congressman is taking the opportunity to call for a conversation about the therapeutic role of psychedelics like psilocybin, which he says have “real potential” as alternative mental health therapies with “less impact” than traditional pharmaceuticals.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) spoke about the therapeutic potential of psychedelics on Wednesday during a House Ways & Means Committee markup of several bills related to worker and family health support that aren’t directly related to drug policy reform.
The congressman, who has long championed marijuana legalization and become one of the most outspoken members on Capitol Hill advocating for psychedelics reform, said he’s “encouraged with the spirit with which we’re moving forward being able to integrate a variety of areas for reform” as the panel works to address issues like outpatient care.
“We’re overwhelmed, in community after community, with the stresses that we’ve seen,” particularly amid the coronavirus pandemic, Blumenauer said, adding that “we need to continue moving forward.”
He suggested that psychedelics policy should be part of the larger conversation about health care improvements, noting his interest in giving terminally ill patients access to investigative drugs like psilocybin, for example.
“Oregon is involved in an experiment with therapeutic psilocybin that is indicating that there’s some real potential to be able to deal with addiction, to deal with some of the end-of-life care in ways that have less impact than some other traditional therapies that I think have a lot to commend them,” the congressman said, referencing his state’s historic 2020 vote to legalize psilocybin healing centers.
While those facilities haven’t opened yet—and officials in a number of Oregon localities have moved to put measures opting out of allowing the services in their jurisdictions on the November ballot—the state’s vote has contributed to the burgeoning conversation about psychedelics policy in Congress.
“I appreciate our colleagues being interested in the elements [of improving health care] here to try and broaden flexibility now, and committed to the future, but I think that this is an area that the committee is going to have to spend a lot of time on going forward,” the congressman said.
At the beginning of this year, Blumenauer led a bipartisan letter requesting that DEA allow terminally ill patients to use psilocybin as an investigational treatment without the fear of federal prosecution under federal “Right to Try” (RTT) law.
Bipartisan and bicameral congressional lawmakers then filed companion bills in July to clarify that RTT statute enacted under the Trump administration is meant to give those seriously ill patients access to Schedule I drugs, including marijuana and psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA.
Meanwhile, congressional appropriations leaders have included language in recent spending legislation that urges federal agencies to continue supporting research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
In July, the House voted in favor of two psychedelics-related amendments to a defense bill, including one that would require a study to investigate psilocybin and MDMA as alternatives to opioids for military service members and another that would authorize the defense secretary to provide grants for studies into several psychedelics for active duty service members with PTSD.
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But while advocates are encouraged by these incremental developments amid the national psychedelics decriminalization movement, some lawmakers feel that Congress isn’t keeping pace with the public and the science.
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) told Marijuana Moment earlier this month that he’s done his research and believes that natural plants and fungi like psilocybin can be a therapeutic “game changer,” but he said that it’s “embarrassing” how slow other federal lawmakers have been to evolve on the issue.
Federal health officials have taken note of the increased adult use of certain entheogenic substances. As National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow put it earlier this year, the “train has left the station” on psychedelics.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently said that it is actively “exploring” the possibility of creating a task force to investigate the therapeutic of certain psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA in anticipation of federal approval of the substances for prescription use.
That came in response to letters from bipartisan congressional lawmakers, state legislators and military veterans, who implored the HHS secretary to to consider establishing an “interagency taskforce on the proper use and deployment of psychedelic medicine and therapy.”
As the psychedelics conversation picks up in Congress, local and state lawmakers from across the political spectrum have showed significant interest in the issue in recent years.
Last week, for example, the Hazel Park, Michigan City Council approved a resolution designating September as a month of awareness of the therapeutic potential of psychedelics—making it the second city to take the symbolic additional step after locally decriminalizing natural plants and fungi.
Also this month, Atlanta lawmakers met to discuss a proposed resolution in support of locally decriminalizing psychedelics, hearing testimony on the therapeutic benefits of entheogenic substances and discussing a plan to further consider the reform in a work session.
The hearing happened just weeks after a Georgia House committee met at the state level to separately talk about the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin to treat serious mental health conditions that commonly afflict military veterans.
Lawmakers in Missouri recently met to discuss possible solutions to the military veterans’ mental health and suicide crisis, with several people testifying about the possible therapeutic potential of psychedelics for the at-risk population.
And this month, local San Francisco lawmakers unanimously approved a measure calling for the decriminalization of psychedelics like ibogaine and ayahuasca—locally, in the state and federally.
That resolution pointed out that the “state legislature has already started the conversation around the decriminalization of personal possession of small amounts of seven psychedelic substances,” in the form of a bill from California Sen. Scott Wiener (D) that passed the Senate and several Assembly committees before being significantly scaled back in a final panel and ultimately pulled by the sponsor.
Local psychedelics decriminalization has been enacted in several major cities in recent years, including Oakland, Santa Cruz and Seattle. A slew of Massachusetts cities have taken similar steps. Voters in the nation’s capital of Washington, D.C. also decriminalized.
This November, Colorado voters will get the chance to make history once again, with an initiative to legalize psychedelics possession for adults and create psilocybin “healing centers” in the state.
A top Canadian health official who heads up the country’s efforts to combat addiction recently visited Colorado, Oregon and Washington State last week to learn about their experiences implementing drug policy reform like broad decriminalization and harm reduction—meeting with the governor of Oregon and psychedelics activists, among others, on a week-long tour.
Image courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.