Bipartisan congressional lawmakers have introduced a bill that would create a $75 million federal grant program to support research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for certain health conditions among active duty military service members.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) filed the legislation last week. It’s titled the “Douglas ‘Mike’ Day Psychedelic Therapy to Save Lives Act of 2023,” honoring a former Navy SEAL and Silver Star recipient who died in March.
The measure, which has 11 cosponsors and has been referred to the House Armed Services Committee, would direct the defense secretary to establish the grant program, funding phase two clinical trails into psilocybin, ibogaine, MDMA and 5–MeO–DMT, with a focus on exploring treatment applications for conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
The grants could also be used to “train practitioners to provide treatment to members of the Armed Forces serving on active duty for covered conditions using covered psychedelic substances.”
The Defense Department would be appropriated $15 million each year from fiscal years 2024 to 2028 to support the grant program.
Entities that would be eligible for the grants include federal and state agencies, academic institutions and non-profit organizations.
The bill says that the clinical trials funded by the grants could take place regardless of whether the substance is controlled under federal or military statute.
Within 180 days of the enactment of the legislation—and every 180 days after that—the defense secretary would need to submit a report to Congress that includes information about the clinics that were selected for the grants, the number of service members who participated in clinical trials and any findings from the trials.
Crenshaw, a military veteran himself who lost an eye due to an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2012, has been a particularly active voice in congressional psychedelics reform conversation.
The bill filing comes about two months after he led a letter to House Appropriations subcommittee leaders, urging them to instruct federal health agencies to include active duty military service members in psychedelic studies.
The other cosponsors of the new measure include Reps. Lou Correa (D-CA), Nancy Mace (R-SC), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Jack Bergman (R-MI).
“Legislation that furthers research into psychedelic-assisted therapy is critical for both active duty service personnel and veterans alike,” Henry Berkowitz, CFO of Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions (VETS) and a retired Navy SEAL, told Marijuana Moment.
“We have seen real world evidence which supports the promise of these therapies for hundreds of veterans in our program, but more science is desperately needed,” he said. “We race against a cruel and unrelenting clock as approximately 20 veterans per day —with evidence suggesting it could twice as many—are lost to suicide on U.S. soil.”
Crenshaw successfully inserted an amendment into the House-passed version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last year that would have allowed the secretary of defense to approve grants for research into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics such as MDMA, psilocybin, ibogaine and 5–MeO–DMT for active duty military members with PTSD.
But that measure ultimately did not make it into the final package following bicameral conference. Getting approved on the House side did represent progress, however, as a similar amendment Crenshaw sponsored was blocked from receiving a floor vote by the House Rules Committee in 2021.
While the most recent amendment—along with another one from Ocasio-Cortez that was also passed by the House—was omitted from last year’s final bicameral NDAA deal with the Senate, a joint explanatory statement attached to the bill did include a directive for the military to examine the potential of “plant-based therapies” like cannabis and certain psychedelics for service members.
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Meanwhile, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recently started soliciting proposals for a series of research initiatives meant to explore how psychedelics could be used to treat drug addiction, with plans to provide $1.5 million in funding to support relevant studies.
At a Senate committee hearing earlier this month, NIDA Director Nora Volkow told members that there’s emerging evidence that psychedelics carry “significant potential” as therapeutic treatments for certain mental health conditions, and it’s a topic of “great interest” for researchers.
Last year, Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) pushed top federal officials to provide an update on research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, arguing that ongoing federal prohibition has stymied studies.
NIDA responded to the inquiry by saying that federal prohibition makes it more difficult to study the benefits of psychedelics, requiring researchers to jump through additional regulatory hoops. Volkow previously said that she personally hesitates to study Schedule I drugs because of those complications.
The director told Marijuana Moment in 2021 that researchers need to prioritize psychedelics research, as more people are likely to use them as they’re exposed to studies showing the therapeutic potential of the substances.
In March, bipartisan and bicameral congressional lawmakers filed an updated version of a bill to streamline the federal rescheduling of “breakthrough therapies” like psilocybin and MDMA in order to promote research and drug development.
Booker, along with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) also led a separate bill last year that was designed to clarify that federal “Right to Try” (RTT) laws give seriously ill patients access to Schedule I drugs, including marijuana and psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA. It was not enacted by the end of the session, however.
The introduction of the bipartisan psychedelics bill this session roughly coincided with the re-launch of a congressional caucus focused on promoting research into the therapeutic potential of entheogenic substances.
Read the full text of the new psychedelics bill below:
Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.