Congressional Subcommittee Hosts Hearing on Psychedelic Treatments for Veterans

Psychedelics-assisted therapy has offered promising results for treating mental health issues.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health held its first-ever oversight hearing on emerging therapies to combat PTSD, veteran suicide, and addiction.

“We are not advocating for the legalization or casual use of psychedelics,”  Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa), chairwoman of the subcommittee, said in her opening remarks. “What we are discussing is the clinically administered dosage of these substances in combination with targeted therapy sessions in a clinical setting.”

However, she also called psychedelic-assisted therapy “a groundbreaking clinical procedure that has the potential to transform the way we look at mental health care.”

Psychedelics weren’t the only controlled substances addressed during the hearing, however. The VA currently has 10 studies around cannabis at this time, according to Dr. Carolyn Clancy, an assistant undersecretary with the VA.  Two are clinical trials: one focused on PTSD and the other on reducing pain.

Clancy clarified that the agency is already undertaking research on the effectiveness and safety of psychedelic therapies, and that would continue if the FDA approved the treatments.

Committee members also raised concerns about the misuse of the drugs, including comments from Rep. Greg Murphy, M.D. (R-North Carolina) that referenced the pilot who consumed psilocybin mushrooms and three days later tried to bring down a plane because he was hallucinating. Murphy used that story to advocate for having strong guardrails in place before these therapies are introduced.

However, Law360 reported that Frederick Barrett, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Johns Hopkins University, testified that federal policy makes it more difficult to perform precisely the sort of research needed to guide policymakers in establishing clear guardrails for bringing the drugs to a broader population.

“One of the largest barriers to entry (for) some of the most qualified scientists in the world to be studying these things is highly tied up in obtaining approval for using Schedule I substances in research,” Barrett said. “The barriers for using Schedules II through V are far lower.”

Despite those challenges, Dr. Ilse Wiechers testified that many VA doctors and clinicians were already interested in the treatments and were taking it upon themselves to learn more through education and separate training.

“Ultimately,  the FDA is going to decide in terms of whether they approve this,” Clancy said.

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