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Federal Agency Looks To Support Research On Impacts Of Psychedelics Legalization And Decriminalization In States And Cities



A top federal health agency is calling for research into the impact of evolving laws around psychedelics in cities and states across the country, including the effects of allowing regulated access to substances like psilocybin.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) issued a “notice of special interest” on Tuesday that discussed the rapid spread of the psychedelic reform movement, describing the “variety of approaches” that different jurisdictions have pursued “that include legalization, decriminalization, reduced penalties, and more.”

It pointed out that Oregon voters approved a ballot measure in 2020 that legalized psilocybin services, and Colorado later moved to legalize a wider range of psychedelics and create “healing centers” where the substances can be administered.

As these state-level policy developments continue—along with a growing number of local decriminalization measures that are being enacted in cities across the U.S.—NIDA is looking to fund research about the potential impact on consumption trends, public health and other outcomes.

Here are the examples of the types of research areas that the agency wants to explore: 

  • The relation between decriminalization or legalization of psychedelic and dissociative drugs and rates of use among different populations.
  • The relation between the use of psychedelic and dissociative drugs and public health outcomes, harms and abuse potential.
  • The impact of different regulatory frameworks (e.g., taxation, labeling, retail sales, pricing, marketing, etc.) on different health and incarceration outcomes, particularly among vulnerable populations (e.g., youth, people with substance use disorders, as well as other minority or disenfranchised groups).
  • The placement of retailers and centers to use psychedelic and dissociative drugs and the impact on the surrounding communities.
  • The similarities and differences between psychedelic and dissociative drug use and abuse potential compared to other products such as alcohol, tobacco or cannabis.
  • The prevention of psychedelic misuse (i.e., use outside the purposes outlined by the centers) or diversion of psychedelic or dissociative drugs for use by people who are not at the centers.
  • The long-term impacts of supervised psychedelic or dissociative drug use within centers on seeking and misusing other substances (e.g., alcohol, cannabis, illicit substances, unregulated psychedelic or dissociative drugs, etc.).
  • The perceptions of harm of psychedelic or dissociative drugs following policy enactments and implementation.

NIDA separately announced in May that it is 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 in May, 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.

Bipartisan congressional lawmakers also introduced a bill last month 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.

At a press briefing outside of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, several GOP lawmakers and military veterans discussed that legislation, and Rep. Morgan Luttrell (R-TX), a military veteran, says undergoing psychedelic-assisted treatment with ibogaine and 5-MeO-DMT “changed my life” and was “one of the greatest things that ever happened to me.”

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.

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Image courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.

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