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Top VA Official Says Psychedelics Have “Surpassed” Marijuana In Bipartisan Acceptance In Congress



A top official with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says there’s an “unstoppable narrative” in support of advancing psychedelic medicine, with a combination of compelling personal stories of recovery and robust clinical data from studies he’s hoping to expand upon. He also said bipartisan acceptance of psychedelics has “surpassed” that of marijuana in Congress.

At a psychedelics conference organized by Horizons on Friday, VA Under Secretary for Health Shereef Elnahal also discussed his efforts to position the department to provide psychedelics-assisted therapy “the moment it’s approved” by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), adding that he’s anticipating “overwhelming demand” from veterans.

“What we need to do for our scientific community, especially within the VA, is prove the case further,” he said, pointing out that the department is actively supporting trials into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin and MDMA. “We want to expand that further and prove the case for veterans.”

Elnahal also acknowledged that some scientists feel the treatment option should be made more immediately available, and so VA has taken into account the “ethics of not doing this and how that might be an ethically problematic scenario” given the promise these substances have already been found to have in treating conditions commonly affecting military veterans.

He said that while he doesn’t have any insight into the timing of FDA’s ongoing review into MDMA-assisted therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he expects it could come later this year.

“But if it does happen, we have to be prepared,” especially given the “overwhelming demand that I predict we will get from the veteran community,” he said, adding that “there will be a proliferation of very unique and specific providers” for psychedelic medicine.

One thing that Elnahal said “surprised” him as VA started working on the issue was the “strong bipartisan support” it enjoyed in Congress, pointing to the leadership of certain conservative members such as Rep. Morgan Luttrell (R-TX) as an example.

“They want us to do this type of work, and they’ve been trying to be proactive to pass even more legislation to enable this,” he said. “The good news is, at baseline, the [Drug Enforcement Administration] has a much easier waiver process to be able to do studies on psychedelics than, for example, cannabis.”

“Cannabis has been advocated for more aggressively by the veteran community for some time, but I think psychedelic substances surpassed that in terms of acceptance and bipartisan support,” he said. “So we need to make sure that that is continued. That’s not a guarantee.”

The psychedelics conference took place about two weeks after the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee passed a bill to require VA to notify Congress if any psychedelics are added to its formulary of covered prescription drugs.

President Joe Biden also signed into law a bipartisan measure to provide funding to the Department of Defense (DOD) to conduct clinical trials into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics for active duty military members. That was enacted under the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,400 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

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In March, congressional appropriations leaders also unveiled a spending package that contains language providing $10 million to facilitate the psychedelics studies.

Meanwhile, in January, VA separately issued a request for applications to conduct in-depth research on the use of psychedelics to treat PTSD and depression.

During joint U.S. House and Senate committee meetings in March, VSOs also pressed members of Congress to more urgently pursue the potential benefits of psychedelic-assisted therapy and medical marijuana.

The requests from groups like the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Disabled American Veterans and the Wounded Warrior Project came on the heels of organizations at last year’s set of annual VSO hearings criticizing VA for “dragging their feet” on medical marijuana research.

In October, VA separately launched a new podcast about the future of veteran health care, and the first episode of the series focuses on the healing potential of psychedelics.

FDA officials also recently joined scientists at a public meeting on next steps for conducting research to develop psychedelic medicines.

DEA Judge Postpones Hearing On Proposed Psychedelics Ban Amid Constitutional Challenge To Scheduling Process

Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.

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


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