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Feds Should Work With—Not Against—States That Legalize Psychedelics, Government Health Official Says

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Oregon’s move to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic use should signal to the federal government that it needs to engage with jurisdictions that pursue such reforms and aid in the development of regulatory frameworks, a federal health official says.

During a speakers series hosted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Sean Belouin, a senior science policy advisor with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), discussed “compelling” research into psychedelics and the importance of federal involvement as local policies change, regardless of the illegality of these substances under federal statute.

“Many of the safety and ethical considerations” of psychedelics reform “will rapidly become front-and-center regulatory and policy issues for states and municipalities who are either debating or passing initiatives that decriminalize and medicalize psychedelics, particularly in plant form,” he said.

“The state of Oregon has explicitly stated in their initiative, recently approved by the electorate, that psychotherapy facilitated by psilocybin mushrooms will have protection under state law,” Belouin, who is also a captain with the U.S Public Health Service, said. “Knowing this, the federal government must consider engaging states and municipalities that are actively pursuing, or who have already passed ballot initiatives, to medicalize and decriminalize psychedelics.”

Oregon voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure last year to create a first-of-its-kind program where people can be treated with psilocybin in a clinical setting. In March, Gov. Kate Brown (D) appointed an advisory board that will help facilitate the implementation of that initiative.

The recommendation for the U.S. government to actively engage with jurisdictions that are implementing psychedelics reform measures is notable coming from an official who actually represents a federal health agency.

Belouin went on to say that “dovetailing with the battery of safety and ethical considerations with psychedelics are a series of issues being raised and debated, given the rapid rise in interest by many venture capital-funded entities entering the marketplace.”

One of the main issues in that respect is the prospect of companies pursuing patents for certain psychedelic treatments, he said, noting that this trend means “the federal government, state boards and stakeholders will need to address the issue.”

“Everyone’s state regulatory agencies will need to collaborate with stakeholders on how best to eliminate disparity, thus ensuring equitable access of psychedelic therapy for all patients regardless of income status, insurance plans, no insurance or other disparity-limiting factors,” he said. “Everyone’s state regulators will need to engage medical stakeholders in conjunction with non-profit, non-medical stakeholders who may seek to be involved in providing this service.”

Another interesting component of the speech concerned ongoing clinical trials into psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA.

While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted the substances special status to expedite research into their therapeutic potential for certain conditions, Belouin said “that should not be construed that a drug will ultimately be FDA-approved for that indication.”

The official’s comments on both the therapeutic potential of psychedelics and the need for federal engagement are notable, but they also reflect something of a theme.

For example, experts who spoke at NIH’s initial psilocybin speakers series event in April told Marijuana Moment that federal drug laws are out of step with voters and undermine the research objectives of the scientific community.

Also, NIH Director Francis Collins recently touted the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA at a Senate hearing, and he also slammed ongoing federal restrictions that are inhibiting research into marijuana.

“There has been a resurgence of interest in psychedelic drugs, which for a while were sort of considered not an area that researchers legitimately ought to go after,” Collins told lawmakers. “And I think as we’ve learned more about how the brain works, we’ve begun to realize that these are potential tools for research purposes and might be clinically beneficial.”

The speakers series comes as multiple states and localities pursue psychedelics reform.

For instance, a New York lawmaker introduced a bill on Tuesday that would require the state to establish an institute to research the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

In Texas, legislators recently sent a bill to similarly require the state to study the therapeutic potential of psychedelics to their governor’s desk.

The California Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would legalize the possession of psychedelics, including LSD, DMT and ibogaine.

New York Bill Would Create State-Sponsored Psychedelics Research Institute

Image courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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