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Wisconsin University Launches Psychedelics Center With Goal Of Increasing Diversity In Research

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Another university has announced the launch of a psychedelics research institute—and this one is taking special interest in ensuring that participants reflect the diversity of people who stand to benefit from the substances, which has been lacking in studies to date.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy on Monday announced the creation of the Transdisciplinary Center for Research in Psychoactive Substances. It’s the latest academic institution to prioritize such research as psychedelics reform continues to advance at the federal, state and local level.

Researchers will look at the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA in the treatment of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder and opioid addiction. It will also work to provide educational training for the next generation of psychedelics scientists and practitioners.

Importantly, the department stressed in a press release that the center will work to diversify the participant pool in its research, recognizing that people of color have often been underrepresented in psychedelics studies.

“There is a substantial imbalance in the numbers of Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American research participants in studies of psilocybin and other psychoactive medications,” Paul Hutson, founding center director and a UW–Madison School of Pharmacy professor, said. “The center will seek opportunities to improve the representation of minorities, elderly and marginalized groups in the forthcoming research on psychedelics.”

“Efforts to accomplish these goals align with established projects at the university that investigate the role and impact of psychedelic compounds across different cultures, including Indigenous communities,” he said.

Hutson told Marijuana Moment in an email that the reason for the lack of diversity in this kind of research is multifaceted. Historical exploitation of minorities in health-related studies and challenges associated with having the time and resources to participate within certain communities are some of the factors, he said.

“We have ideas, but not answers to these challenges,” he said. “One of our urgent goals with the new center is to establish listening sessions with members of the Black, First Nation, Hispanic and Hmong communities of Wisconsin to learn of their concerns, and to hear their suggestions.”

Researchers also identified the lack of diversity in psychedelics studies in a recent paper published in the journal Chronic Stress. For that study, survey data indicated that use of psychedelics seems to be correlated with a decrease in racial trauma symptoms for people of color. But there’s a notable deficit of clinical research on the topic, the authors said.

“From cannabis to psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and MDMA (ecstasy), psychoactive agents are the new frontier for potential new therapies and medications,” Hutson said in the press release about the new center. “I anticipate FDA approval of psilocybin and MDMA within the next five years, and the UW Transdisciplinary Center for Research in Psychoactive Substances will help meet the need for more research into these applications, as well as others, that could dramatically improve patients’ lives.”

“In light of the opioid crisis and the ever-increasing mental health needs stemming from the pandemic, the growing list of psychedelic compounds shows tremendous promise in early clinical studies in helping patients with addiction and psychiatric disorders. We plan to continue being on the forefront of this field with innovation and development of novel therapies through our research and educational programs on psychoactive agents.”

The University of Wisconsin announcement comes as other academic institutions have begun launching similarly focused research centers.

In June, for example, Harvard Law School announced the creation of a first-of-its-kind psychedelics policy center that it hopes will inform legislation and help clinicians navigate this burgeoning medical space as reform continues to spread.

The Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR) will be a three-year effort designed to “promote safety, innovation and equity in psychedelics research, commerce and therapeutics.”

In 2019, Johns Hopkins University launched the nation’s first center devoted exclusively to researching psychedelic drugs—though its focus is on the therapeutic potential of these substances, rather than delving into the policy side of the issue.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin, where the new center is opening, is one of few states that still lacks a comprehensive medical marijuana program.

A state senator recently introduced a bill to legalize marijuana, but past efforts have stalled in the legislature. Gov. Tony Evers (D) is a supporter of legalization tried to legalize recreational and medical marijuana through his proposed state budget earlier this year, but a GOP-led legislative committee stripped the cannabis language from the legislation in May. Democrats tried to add the provisions back through an amendment the next month, but Republicans blocked the move.

In any case, the new research center is one of the latest developments to come as the conversation around reforming laws on psychedelics gains steam at the local, state and federal level.

For example, nearly one year after the Ann Arbor, Michigan City Council voted to decriminalize a wide-range of psychedelics, lawmakers last week approved a resolution to officially designate September as Entheogenic Plants and Fungi Awareness Month.

Psychedelics reform is also currently advancing in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Easthampton, Massachusetts and Arcata, California.

Other Massachusetts cities that have enacted the policy change are: NorthamptonSomerville and Cambridge. And earlier this month, state lawmakers also heard testimony about a bill to create a task force charged with studying the implications of legalizing psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca.

In California, Oakland and Santa Cruz have already enacted psychedelics decriminalization.

Voters in Washington, D.C. approved a ballot measure to decriminalize psychedelics in the nation’s capital in November.

For the most part, the burgeoning psychedelics movement has been limited to decriminalization—with the exception or Oregon, where voters elected to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes during last year’s election. California activists are also pushing to place psilocybin legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot as a lawmaker works to pass a separate bill to legalize possession of a wide range of psychedelics that has already passed the state Senate and two Assembly committees.

All of these developments are some of the latest iterations of a national psychedelics reform movement that’s spread since Denver became the first city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in 2019.

The Aspen, Colorado City Council discussed the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and proposals to decriminalize such substances at a meeting in May. But members said, as it stands, enacting a reform would be more better handled at the state level while entheogens remain strictly federally controlled.

Seattle lawmakers also recently sent a letter to members of a local task force focused on the opioid overdose epidemic, imploring the group to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like ayahuasca and ibogaine in curbing addiction.

But in a setback for advocates, the U.S. House of Representatives recently voted against a proposal from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would have removed a spending bill rider that advocates say has restricted federal funds for research into Schedule I drugs, including psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA and ibogaine. However, it picked up considerably more votes this round than when the congresswoman first introduced it in 2019.

Report provisions of separate, House-passed spending legislation also touch on the need to expand cannabis and psychedelics research. The panel urged the National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) to support expanded marijuana studies, for example

It further says that federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions.

When it comes to broader drug policy reform, Oregon voters also approved an initiative in November to decriminalize possession of all drugs. This year, the Maine House of Representatives passed a drug decriminalization bill, but it later died in the Senate.

In May, lawmakers in Congress filed the first-ever legislation to federally decriminalize possession of illicit substances.

Ohio Attorney General Certifies 2022 Marijuana Legalization Ballot Petition

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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Impact Of Marijuana Legalization On Crime Reduction Is Being Underestimated, New Study Finds

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Studies have repeatedly identified an association between the legalizing marijuana and reductions in crime—but the impact of the policy change is being significantly understated because of limitations in the research methodology, a new paper co-authored by a federal official asserts.

Most studies looking at crime and cannabis rely on FBI data sourced from local police departments across the country. But reporting that data to the federal agency is entirely voluntary, leaving knowledge gaps that have underplayed the extent to which legalizing medical cannabis reduces violent and property crime.

That’s according to researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service and Appalachian State University, who published a working paper with their findings this month.

“U.S. drug policy presumes prohibition reduces crime. Recently states have enacted medical marijuana laws creating a natural experiment to test this hypothesis but is impeded by severe measurement error with available data,” the abstract states.

To account for those shortcomings, the researchers developed “a novel imputation procedure to reduce measurement error bias and estimate significant reductions in violent and property crime rates, with heterogeneous effects across and within states and types of crime, contradicting drug prohibition policy.”

“We demonstrate uncorrected measurement error or assuming homogeneous policy effects leads to underestimation of crime reduction from ending marijuana prohibition,” the authors said in the paper, which is titled, “Smoke and Fears: The Effects of Marijuana Prohibition on Crime.”

To improve upon existing research, the study authors said they used a “multiple imputation procedure for agency-level crime data to fill in the gaps in the [Uniform Crime Reporting] data that accounts for the inherent uncertainty in these imputed values in the subsequent statistical analysis.”

“Our results indicate that [medical marijuana laws] result in significant reductions in both violent and property crime rates, with larger effects in Mexican border states,” they wrote. “While these results for violent crime rates are consistent with previously reported evidence, we are the first paper to report such an effect on property crime as well. Moreover, the estimated effects of MMLs on property crime rates are substantially larger, which is not surprising given property crimes are more prevalent.”

While the study specifies that the USDA’s official’s involvement in the study “should not be construed to represent” the government’s position on the issue, it’s notable that an agency representative even participated and effectively reached the conclusion that the theory that criminalizing drugs—as the federal government has done for decades—reduces crime seems to be unfounded.

Other data has similarly challenged the notion that prohibition reduces crime.

In 2020, researchers looked at how adult-use marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado affected crime rates in neighboring states, and the resulting study determined that passage of recreational cannabis laws may have actually reduced certain major crimes in nearby jurisdictions.

The previous year, a federally funded study found that legalizing marijuana has little to no impact on rates of violent or property crime. The policy change did seem connected to a long-term decline in burglaries in one state, however.

A 2018 study from the think tank RAND said county-level data from California suggested that there was “no relationship between county laws that legally permit dispensaries and reported violent crime,” the researchers wrote. What’s more, there was a “negative and significant relationship between dispensary allowances and property crime rates,” though it’s possible that’s the product of “pre-existing trends.”

That same year, researchers at Victoria University of Wellington and Harvard University found that medical marijuana laws essentially have a null effect of crime rates, with one big exception: A nearly 20 percent reduction in violent and property crimes in California following the legalization of medical cannabis there.

DEA marijuana seizures have significantly declined as more states have moved to legalize cannabis, a new study led by a top marijuana investigator for the federal government found. And at the same time, marijuana arrests are also dropping across the country, and they dipped significantly in 2020, recent FBI data shows.

Federal marijuana trafficking cases also continued to decline in 2020 as more states have moved to legalize, an analysis from the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) that was released in June found.

Federal prosecutions of drug-related crimes overall increased in 2019, but cases involving marijuana dropped by more than a quarter, according to a report released by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts that year.

A study released by the Cato Institute in 2018 found that “state-level marijuana legalization has significantly undercut marijuana smuggling.

DEA Proposes Dramatic Increase In Marijuana And Psychedelic Production In 2022, Calling For 6,300 Percent More MDMA Alone

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DEA Proposes Dramatic Increase In Marijuana And Psychedelic Production In 2022, Calling For 6,300 Percent More MDMA Alone

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is proposing a dramatic increase in the legal production of marijuana and psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and DMT to be used in research next year.

In a notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, the agency said there’s been a “significant increase in the use of schedule I hallucinogenic controlled substances for research and clinical trial purposes,” and it wants authorized manufacturers to meet that growing demand.

DEA had already massively upped its proposed 2021 quota for cannabis and psilocybin last month, but now it’s calling for significantly larger quantities of research-grade marijuana and a broader array of psychedelics to be manufactured in 2022.

It wants to double the amount of marijuana extracts, psilocybin and psilocyn, quadruple mescaline and quintuple DMT. What especially stands out in the notice is MDMA. The agency is proposing an enormous 6,300 percent boost in the production of that drug—from just 50 grams in 2021 to 3,200 grams in the coming year—as research into its therapeutic potential continues to expand.

LSD would see a 1,150 percent increase, up to 500 grams of the potent psychedelic.

Marijuana itself would get a 60 percent boost under DEA’s proposal, up to 3.2 million grams in 2022 from the 2 million grams last year.

Here’s a visualization of the proposed quota increase from 2021 to 2022 for marijuana and cannabis extracts:

For all other THC, psilocybin, psilocyn and MDMA:

And for other psychedelic substances like LSD, mescaline and DMT:

DEA said in the Federal Register notice that it has been receiving and approving additional applications to “grow, synthesize, extract, and manufacture dosage forms containing specific schedule I hallucinogenic substances for clinical trial purposes” to achieve these ambitious quotas.

“DEA supports regulated research with schedule I controlled substances, as evidenced by increases proposed for 2022 as compared with aggregate production quotas for these substances in 2021,” the agency said, adding that it working “diligently” to process and approve marijuana manufacturers applications in particular, as there’s currently only one farm at the University of Mississippi that’s permitted to cultivate the plant for research.

“Based on the increase in research and clinical trial applications, DEA has proposed increases in 3,4- Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), 5-Methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine, Dimethyltryptamine, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), Marihuana, Marihuana Extract, Mescaline, Psilocybin, Psilocyn, and All Other Tetrahydrocannabinols to support manufacturing activities related to the increased level of research and clinical trials with these schedule I controlled substances.”

Here are the exact numbers for the proposed 2021 and 2022 quotas:

Substance 2021
2022 proposed
Marijuana 2,000,000 3,200,000
Marijuana extract 500,000 1,000,000
All other tetrahydrocannabinol 1,000 2,000
Psilocybin 1,500 3,000
Psilocyn 1,000 2,000
MDMA 50 3,200
LSD 40 500
Mescaline 25 100
DMT 50 250
5-MeO-DMT 35 550
MDA 55 200

A 30-day public comment period will be open after the notice is formally published on Monday.

It’s difficult to overstate just how significant the proposed 2022 increases are, but it’s certainly true that scientific and public interest in marijuana and psychedelics has rapidly increased, with early clinical trials signaling that such substances show significant therapeutic potential.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s previous proposed increase in drug production quota. She also said that studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics could be leading more people to experiment with substances like psilocybin.

Advocates and experts remain frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest federal drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.

A federal appeals court in August dismissed a petition to require the DEA to reevaluate cannabis’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. However, one judge did say in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the therapeutic value of marijuana.

Separately, the Washington State attorney general’s office and lawyers representing cancer patients recently urged a federal appeals panel to push for a DEA policy change to allow people in end-of-life care to access psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws.

Singer Melissa Etheridge And Activist Van Jones Promote Psychedelics Reform As Movement Grows

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Head Of Federal Marijuana Farm’s Study Says Illegal Cannabis Seizures Have ‘Decreased Dramatically’ Amid Legalization Movement

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State-level marijuana legalization has left the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) with far fewer samples of seized illicit cannabis to analyze, a study led by a top marijuana investigator for the federal government says.

That finding backs up the claim often made by legalization advocates that as more legal markets come online, consumer demand for unregulated cannabis from illicit channels will decline.

“The number of samples received over the last 5 to 6 years has decreased dramatically owing to the legalization of marijuana for either medical or recreational purposes in many U.S. states,” the study, authored by Mahmoud ElSohly, who runs the nation’s only federally authorized cannabis cultivation facility at the University of Mississippi, found.

Seizures have “precipitously declined over time, starting in the year 2011 (>2342 exhibits) to 2019 (<100 exhibits),” the study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry earlier this year, says. “This is possibly the result of the legalization of cannabis for medical or recreational use in many states that has curtailed DEA enforcement efforts.”

The dwindling seizure numbers reported in the study are only the latest indication of the unregulated market’s shrinkage as the cannabis legalization movement continues to have success in a growing number of states.

At the same time that DEA marijuana seizures are declining, marijuana arrests are also dropping across the country, and they dipped significantly in 2020, recent FBI data shows.

Federal marijuana trafficking cases also continued to decline in 2020 as more states have moved to legalize, an analysis from the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) that was released in June found.

Federal prosecutions of drug-related crimes overall increased in 2019, but cases involving marijuana dropped by more than a quarter, according to a report released by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts that year.

A study released by the Cato Institute in 2018 found that “state-level marijuana legalization has significantly undercut marijuana smuggling.

Even as the number of DEA illicit cannabis samples has gradually decreased amid the legalization movement, the more limited supply still shows that THC potency has increased over time, according to the recent study published in Biological Psychiatry.

The average THC potency in seized marijuana increased from 9.75 percent in 2009 to 14.88 percent in 2018 and then slightly decreased to 13.88 percent in 2019, the study found. The researchers also noted that there’s been a more recent shift over the past two years with cannabis containing more balanced ratios of THC to CBD, a non-intoxicating cannabinoid.

Average CBD concentrations in seized marijuana decreased from 0.4 percent in 2009 to 0.14 percent in 2017. But then the concentration of the cannabinoid “climbed to approximately 0.6 percent in 2019.”

Again, this data comes from illicit cannabis that was obtained by DEA, not marijuana that’s legally available in state markets. Researchers are currently unable to study the cannabis that consumers actually purchase in licensed dispensaries, but that could change under legislation that’s advancing in Congress.

“These results are in agreement with other potency monitoring programs in several European countries,” the study authors wrote. “There appears to be a recent trend of the inclusion of higher CBD levels containing chemovars in illicit cannabis.”

ElSohly’s cannabis cultivation facility at the University of Mississippi is currently the only place authorized by the federal government to grow marijuana for research purposes. And advocates, scientists and lawmakers have complained that research relying on the government’s cannabis is compromised because it generally contains significantly lower levels of cannabinoids compared to products available in state-legal dispensaries.

DEA is in the process of approving additional manufacturers, however, with the hope to expanding the supply of cannabis for scientists and producing studies that more accurately account for what consumers are getting from state-licensed retailers.

The agency also recently proposed a massive increase in the production of marijuana and psilocybin for research purposes, with the intent of aiding in the development of new federally approved therapeutic medications.

ElSohly, for his part, said in 2019 that he’s confused as to why consumers would want marijuana containing 15 percent or more THC when, according to him, even eight percent is too high.

Skeptics and opponents of cannabis reform have placed a large emphasis on THC potency and its rise over recent years. At one point in 2019, a key Republican Senate committee chairman suggested that he would be unwilling to advance a bill to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses unless businesses were required to cap THC at two percent.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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