The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is “very closely” following research into the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics like MDMA for military veterans, an official said at a recent congressional hearing.
At the meeting before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee late last month, Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX) asked for a status update on research into the use of psychedelics for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among veterans.
The meeting wasn’t focused on psychedelics; rather, it centered on veteran suicide prevention and innovative approaches to combat the issue. Allred said there were “pretty good results” from earlier research into how psychedelics like MDMA might help mitigate the mental health struggles of veterans, and VA’s Lisa Brenner replied that the department was aware of such studies.
“We’re also watching very, very closely—both clinicians, researchers and the [VA] Office of Research is watching very closely,” she said. “Not only that, we do have researchers that are connected to the VA that are working on some of these projects with their affiliates.”
“We are tracking very closely. There are currently some trials underway, and we’re eagerly anticipating the results from those well-designed trials,” Brenner said. “Once we are able to see the results from those well-designed trials, then we will be able to begin to think about what would be next steps in terms of any modifications necessary or what next steps within VA would be, but along with you we will continue to watch closely.”
Allred asked the VA official if there’s any additional authorization that the department would need from Congress to continue to pursue to psychedelics research for veterans.
Brenner, who serves as director of VA’s Rocky Mountain Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Center for Suicide Prevention, said it was “a complicated issue” but she would report back with additional information if needed.
A study published in the journal Nature Medicine in May that the congressman seemed to cite looked into MDMA as a therapeutic option for severe PTSD, and the study authors concluded that “MDMA-assisted therapy represents a potential breakthrough treatment that merits expedited clinical evaluation.”
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) recently attempted to insert into defense spending legislation an amendment to require the Department of Defense to conduct a clinical trial into the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics for military members with chronic pain and PTSD. But it was blocked from receiving a floor vote by the House Rules Committee.
Crenshaw, a veteran himself, also recently moderated a conversation with a top psychedelics reform advocate. The congressman said that a veteran’s account of psychedelics therapy with MDMA “sounds amazing.”
Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) also offered an amendment on marijuana research that he initially sought to attach to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It would have directed the head of VA to carry out a double-blind, randomized controlled clinical trial into the “effects of medical grade cannabis on the health outcomes of covered veterans diagnosed with chronic pain and covered veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.” But the measure was withdrawn before being considered.
Separately, a House committee said in a report attached to spending legislation earlier this year that federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions.
During joint hearings before House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees in March, three veterans service organizations submitted written testimony backing a policy change to expand access to or increase research on medical cannabis, and one argued in favor of loosening restrictions to enable veterans to utilize psychedelics in their mental health treatment.
A federal commission tasked with developing recommendations to improve mental health treatment for military veterans determined in a report early last year that Congress and the executive branch should promote research into the therapeutic potential of marijuana and psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms and MDMA.
The use of psychedelics among young adults is generally rising, a recent federal analysis found. And the head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse told Marijuana Moment that she believes the increased media attention to studies showing the medical value of such substances may be a contributing factor.
Photo courtesy of Pretty Drugthings on Unsplash.