A bipartisan pair of federal lawmakers are rebranding and relaunching a congressional caucus to promote research into and awareness around psychedelic-assisted therapy, hoping to shine a light on the practice’s potential to treat a variety of mental health conditions.
The renamed Congressional Psychedelics Advancing Therapies (PATH) Caucus, which was described exclusively to Marijuana Moment ahead of its formal announcement in a press release on Thursday morning, aims to inform fellow lawmakers of the growing evidence from leading research institutions that therapy involving substances like psilocybin and MDMA can help effectively treat PTSD, depression and substance use disorder.
The group’s founders, Reps. Lou Correa (D-CA) and Jack Bergman (R-MI), say the caucus will also push for more federal research funding and convene bipartisan thought leaders to brief Congress on scientific evidence around psychedelics.
In a phone interview with Marijuana Moment a day before the announcement, Correa said the group’s goal is “to make sure that folks in Congress are aware of what’s going on in this area of evidence-based psychedelic science.”
“The issue before us as a society is mental health: drug addiction, alcoholism, PTSD, veterans afflicted by those invisible wounds,” said the Orange County Democrat. “We owe it to our taxpayers, to our loved ones, to our veterans to explore this very promising therapy called magic mushrooms.”
“If this therapy continues to show promise, which it does, we want to make sure it’s front and center,” he added.
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Correa and Bergman formed an initial version of the caucus last November, unveiling it shortly after Colorado voters approved a historic ballot initiative to legalize the possession of certain entheogenic substances and create psilocybin “healing centers” in the state. The first iteration of the group was called the Psychedelics Advancing Clinical Treatment (PACT) Caucus.
“We’re recalibrating ourselves” Correa said when asked about the name change. “New Congress, new name—we’re moving forward.”
The Biden Administration said last July that it was actively “exploring” the possibility of creating a task force to investigate the therapeutic of certain psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA in anticipation of federal approval of the substances for prescription use. So far, however, no such group has materialized.
Correa, though not Bergman, is also a member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, a similarly issue-oriented group of bipartisan lawmakers formed in 2017 that’s home to members as ideologically opposed as Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL). Correa said the PATH Caucus was inspired by the Cannabis Caucus’s success in building unity and bringing more attention to marijuana-related issues.
“On the cannabis side, it feels like we are making tremendous progress,” Correa said, highlighting a bipartisan bill he sponsored on the House side that would direct the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to carry out studies into the therapeutic potential of marijuana for military veterans. A companion version recently won approval from the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Late last year, the Cannabis Caucus touted several modest wins they were able to achieve last session, saying they were “optimistic” more progress would be made in 2023.
“We all have talked about marijuana being used by veterans as being a better way to treat PTSD as compared to the pills that the VA prescribes,” Correa told Marijuana Moment. “We are moving even faster when it comes to magic mushrooms.”
Correa emphasized that the PATH Caucus does not intend to promote broader legalization or decriminalization of psychedelics at the federal level, focusing instead on promoting research and education into the drugs’ applications for health conditions specifically.
“At the federal level, we’re taking baby steps—as we should,” the lawmaker said. “I am a federal official, and I’m advocating for this perspective, which is essentially psychedelic research for mental health.”
Bergman, for his part, said in a press release that “we are suffering from a mental health crisis in our nation.”
“While its impacts have been felt in every community, our Veterans and servicemembers continue to struggle at a higher rate than their civilian peers,” he said. “Unfortunately, current medical interventions have proven inadequate and too often fail to help those in the greatest need. Psychedelic assisted therapies have shown incredible promise to combat the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, medication resistant depression, and substance use disorder.”
“Our caucus will dive deeper into these emerging therapies, work with leaders to ensure they are effective and safe, and continue seeking ways to best help those who have sacrificed so much for our nation,” the GOP congressman said.
Correa similarly told Marijuana Moment that he’s heard compelling testimony from veterans with PTSD or substance use disorders who saw remarkable improvements as the result of psychedelic-assisted therapy involving psilocybin. And he’s learned that, because of federal prohibition, veterans and mental health patients sometimes travel to Mexico seeking psilocybin-assisted treatment.
Indications that psilocybin and other drugs, such as MDMA, have medical value are evidence that the government needs to reassess its decision to put psychedelics in the country’s most restricted class of controlled substances, Correa said.
Pointing to testimony from veterans and emerging research from what he called “blue-chip medical facilities” such as Harvard University and the University of California, San Francisco, Correa noted that there are early signs that incorporating psychedelics into therapy could cure as many as two-thirds of cases of PTSD and substance use disorder.
“If these numbers hold, then you’re talking about a revolutionary way of delivering health care—mental health care, treatment of mental issues—to our population,” he said, including “not only veterans, but the population as a whole.”
“Maybe we were a little bit too fast, you know, classifying these drugs as Schedule I, which meant they had no medical value whatsoever other than being an evil drug,” the federal lawmaker added. “Now we’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. Maybe that’s not the case.’”
Asked for his thoughts on a bill in his home state of California that would legalize the use and possession of small amounts of certain psychedelics by adults, Correa said he didn’t have a position because he hadn’t read the bill.
“Let me draw on my history,” he responded, recalling that in terms of cannabis, California helped lead the nation on reform, passing a state medical marijuana law in 1996. “It’s taken a number of years,” he said, “but today I can safely say that the majority of the U.S. population lives in a state where the use of cannabis is legal.”
Correa noted that he’s “been advocating for normalization of cannabis for probably a dozen years.”
The formed PATH Caucus has yet to introduce any psychedelics legislation in Congress, although Correa said that’s forthcoming.
“We’re planning on it,” he insisted, highlighting the need to put more funds toward research. “But you know, you’ve got to make sure when you strike, when you move ahead, that it’s well thought out legislation. Because the last thing you want to do is make a mistake. Then you’ve got to start all over and it causes you all kinds of issues.”
The two-person caucus is expected to add more members as the legislative session moves along. “We are trying to get more people on board, and a lot of people have expressed interest in working with us,” Correa said. The push involves not only courting fellow lawmakers but also “their staff and members of the media” to increase awareness about evidence-based psychedelic therapy.
Despite little formal action so far on psychedelics from federal lawmakers, legislators at the state and local levels have been increasingly entertaining broad policy changes that go beyond marijuana. Legislatures in states from Vermont to Missouri this session are considering drug decriminalization, harm reduction and psychedelics reform efforts this year.
And this week the Michigan city of Ferndale became the state’s fourth to decriminalize psychedelics, joining Ann Arbor, Detroit and Hazel Park. Major jurisdictions elsewhere, including Denver, Seattle and San Francisco, have taken similar measures to deprioritize laws against psychedelics possession and use
An analysis published in an American Medical Association journal last year concluded that, based on statistical modeling of policy trends, a majority of states will legalize psychedelics by 2037.
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