A Republican congressman who is 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.”
At a press briefing outside of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, several GOP lawmakers and military veterans discussed a newly introduced bill to 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) is leading that bipartisan legislation, 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 congressman is also renewing his call for reform through a separate must-pass defense measure.
But one of the most stunning revelations from Wednesday’s event came from Rep. Morgan Luttrell (R-TX), who discussed his struggles after returning from combat and the effects it had on his personal relationships. After researching psychedelic therapy and receiving advice from people he trusted, he said he went to another country to seek the treatment, which he described as “horrific” but profoundly impactful after all other traditional therapies had failed.
“If you find yourself in a place that you were lost, and no other modalities have worked, this could possibly be that tool,” he said. “And I can honestly stand in front of all of you and the American public and say I was reborn. This changed my life. It saved my marriage. It is one of the greatest things that ever happened to me.”
“If you find yourself where nothing else is working, this could be the way,” he said. “It allows you a reset—a clean slate.”
Crenshaw, a military veteran himself who lost an eye due to an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2012, said that he continues to push for this issue each year “because it works.”
The use of psychedelic therapy among veterans he knows “turned them away from suicide, it saved their marriage and rescued their families and pulled them out of the depths of despair,” Crenshaw said.
“I’m tired of veterans having to come up here and spill their guts themselves and tell us about their stories and their troubles,” he said. “They shouldn’t have to tell us anymore. We should just do something about it. That’s what this is about.”
— Rep. Dan Crenshaw (@RepDanCrenshaw) June 14, 2023
Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI) echoed that point, saying that ” if we’re gonna get anything done in Washington, D.C., or anywhere else for that matter, someone’s got to step up and take the lead.”
He thanked the veterans who shared their stories and Crenshaw for sponsoring the bill. He said that it “supports the overall efforts to study breakthrough therapies in psychedelic-assisted therapies.”
“We’ve got our work cut out for us. To my colleagues in the House, vote for the bill. For those of you who are on Appropriations, appropriate the money asked for this year to get the research going at the federal level,” he said. “And number three, authorize it so that we as a Congress can let the medical community do what it does best, which is research in an open way—without bias, without discrimination—and let’s begin to help in a positive way, not just talk about.”
Crenshaw’s bill, filed late last month, 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.”
I’m proud to be a cosponsor of the Douglas ‘Mike’ Day Psychedelic Therapy to Save Lives Act.
It is a pathway forward that gives us the chance to save the lives of those that so graciously served our country.
— Congressman Morgan Luttrell (@RepLuttrell) June 14, 2023
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.
The bill filing came about two months after Crenshaw 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.
Cosponsors include Reps. Lou Correa (D-CA), Nancy Mace (R-SC), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Bergman.
“Enacting reform legislation for psychedelic-assisted therapy is crucial for the veteran community as it may offer a promising treatment option for mental health disorders such as PTSD, depression, anxiety and traumatic brain injury,” Marcus Capone, founder of Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions (VETS) and CEO and co-founder of TARA Mind who spoke at Wednesday’s event, told Marijuana Moment.
“These therapies have shown significant potential in providing long-lasting relief and improving the overall well-being of veterans who have struggled with traditional treatments,” he said. “By expanding access to these therapies, we can provide hope and healing to those who have served our country.”
“The bipartisan effort required from Congress to pass this type of legislation is of utmost importance. By coming together across party lines, lawmakers can demonstrate their commitment to addressing the mental health crisis among veterans and prioritize their well-being above political differences,” he added. “Achieving bipartisan support ensures that the legislation receives the attention and resources it deserves, making it more likely to be passed and implemented effectively. It also sends a powerful message that supporting our veterans’ mental health is a shared responsibility, transcending political affiliations for the greater good of our nation’s heroes.”
A House Veterans Affairs subcommittee also recently held a closed-door meeting where members discussed the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for conditions that commonly afflict the veteran population.
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.
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 last 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.