There might be a lack of consensus among Americans over broadly decriminalizing psychedelics, according to a new poll—but when it comes to studying substances like psilocybin and MDMA as mental health treatment options for military service members, the majority of the public is on board.
And while Congress has long been criticized for being out of step with their constituents on drug policy issues like marijuana legalization, the idea of promoting psychedelics research for the veteran community does have bipartisan momentum on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers who hold starkly different political ideologies increasingly coming together on the issue.
The new poll from YouGov shows that those lawmakers are on the right track from most Americans’ perspective.
Fifty-four percent of respondents said that they favor “allowing research into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelic substances for active-duty military members with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” That includes 60 percent of Democrats, 45 percent of Republicans and 54 percent of independents.
Only 18 percent of Americans say they oppose allowing the research to proceed.
As with cannabis reform, proposals to loosen laws around psychedelics enjoy more support from Democrats, but when it comes to exploring investigative therapies for members of the armed services, that gap narrows. And a recently House-passed defense bill reflects that trend.
Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) both sponsored psychedelics research amendments that were attached to the 2023 Fiscal Year National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which cleared the chamber earlier this month.
— YouGov America (@YouGovAmerica) July 28, 2022
The Democratic congresswoman’s measure would require the Department of Defense (DOD) to study the therapeutic potential of psilocybin and MDMA as alternatives to opioid in the treatment of PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. The proposal builds on an existing provision attached to the bill in committee to have DOD study marijuana for the same purpose.
Crenshaw, a veteran himself, championed a separate NDAA amendment to allow the secretary of defense to approve grants for research into the medical value of certain psychedelics such as MDMA, psilocybin, ibogaine and 5–MeO–DMT for active duty military members with PTSD.
Crenshaw recently told Bloomberg Law that while there might be a general perception within Congress that research-centric policy proposals like his amendment are liberal priorities, he’s working to communicate to colleagues this is sound legislating that he hopes will advance through the Senate and become law.
“We gotta figure out who can champion it up there and make sure it stays in the bill,” he said.
Also, while it was not made in order in the House Rules Committee, another GOP congressman, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), also filed an amendment to the defense bill that was virtually identical to Ocasio-Cortez’s. He told Marijuana Moment this month that he didn’t care which version advanced, as long as the reform gets enacted.
All three of those lawmakers have previously showed interest in psychedelics research, but the bipartisan support for this issue extends even further, including in the Senate.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is also a veteran, told Bloomberg that he’s “open-minded” about advancing psychedelic research legislation for members of the military. “I want to help people who are struggling,” he said.
Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT), one of a handful of Democrats who have been openly skeptical of marijuana legalization, said that when it comes to psychedelics research, he “wouldn’t rule that stuff out of hand.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have pushed federal agencies to take administrative action on the psychedelics research front.
For example, a bipartisan coalition of House member—including Reps. Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Dean Phillips (D-MN) and Michael Waltz (R-FL)—sent a letter to the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) earlier this year, urging him to consider establishing an “interagency taskforce on the proper use and deployment of psychedelic medicine and therapy.”
HHS responded to the letter in May, affirming that it is actively “exploring” the possibility of forming such a task force.
For the time being, it seems that Americans are more comfortable with the research side of psychedelics policy—but there’s still some reluctance among the public about taking additional steps to stop criminalizing people over the controlled substances altogether.
Despite the fact that numerous cities and a growing number of states have advanced broader psychedelics reform, the new YouGov survey found that less than one-third of Americans back decriminalizing psilocybin, MDMA or LSD.
NEW: While some cities have begun to decriminalize psychedelic drugs, our recent survey finds that opposition among Americans towards decriminalizing these substances remains significant.
— YouGov America (@YouGovAmerica) July 28, 2022
The poll, which involved interviews with 1,000 Americans from July 22-25, found that people with personal experience using the substances, as well as those living in the western part of the country, are more likely to embrace the policy change.
Meanwhile, another coalition of congressional lawmakers, including Blumenauer, Dean and Phillips, have also raised attention to psychedelics policy issues to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), sending a letter in January that implored the agency to allow terminally ill patients to access psilocybin as an investigational drug, pursuant to federal “Right to Try” statute enacted under the Trump administration.
DEA is now facing another lawsuit for refusing to allow a Seattle-based doctor to obtain psilocybin for his oncology patients. Plaintiffs say that the agency is unlawfully failing to abide by federal law by denying such access under the circumstances.
Bipartisan House and Senate lawmakers filed companion bills last week that seeks to clarify the intent and application of the “Right to Try” law at the center of the case. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY), along with Blumenauer and Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), are the lead 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 ongoing federal prohibition has stymied studies.
Federal health officials recently recognized that federal prohibition makes it harder to study the benefits of psychedelics, requiring researchers to jump through additional regulatory hoops.
Activists including one of the plaintiffs in the Right to Try case, Erinn Baldeschwiler, staged a demonstration outside of DEA headquarters in Virginia in May, demanding that the agency allow terminally ill patients to access psilocybin therapy.
DEA is separately being sued over repeated delays in processing requests for public records related to psychedelics and marijuana.
Following significant pushback from the research and advocacy communities, the agency recently rescinded its proposal to ban five psychedelic compounds that scientists say could hold significant therapeutic potential. DEA also cancelled a hearing it 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 represent obstacles for scientists.
Image courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.