How many heads of state have children that wax lyrical about the effects of consuming psychedelic toad venom and a visionary Gabonese shrub root that conjures autobiographical movies in the mind?
One. The current US president Joe Biden, whose son Hunter has spoken publicly about his use of hallucinogens bufo and ibogaine as part of efforts to overcome crack and alcohol dependency. Now, as the clinical evidence of the effectiveness of psilocybin and MDMA for mental health conditions increases, the Biden administration is planning for federal approval of the substances within two years.
It recently emerged that Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Miriam Delphin-Rittmon—writing on behalf of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra—told Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa. that “too many Americans are suffering from mental health and substance use issues, which have been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and that we must explore the potential of psychedelic-assisted therapies to address this crisis.”
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In the May letter, first reported by the Intercept, Delphin-Rittmon said that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration was considering a public-private interagency federal task force to address “the myriad of complex issues associated with the anticipated approval by the [FDA] of [MDMA] for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and psilocybin for the treatment of depression within approximately 24 months,” following proposals outlined by Dean.
“Collaboration across federal agencies with outside stakeholders will be the most effective way to ensure we are thoughtfully coordinating work on emerging substances such as MDMA and psilocybin,” Delphin-Rittmon wrote.
Rick Doblin, MAPS Founder and Executive Director, applauded the Biden administration for taking seriously the potential of psychedelic-assisted therapies to save lives. “A Federal Task Force on psychedelic-assisted therapies should take a multidisciplinary approach to ensuring that red tape, administrative delays, or insurance coverage questions don’t leave Americans suffering as they seek to access approved treatments,” he said in a statement. “For the first time, research that has been driven by philanthropists could additionally be supported by the same types of Federal grants that have funded other health care revolutions and develop patient access strategies that prioritize public benefit over profit. For decades, we have been making the case for what the Administration is now acknowledging: psychedelic-assisted therapies may become a key in addressing the most urgent mental health challenges of our time and reducing needless suffering.”
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Beau Kilmer, the director of RAND Drug Policy Research Center, said several states, led by Oregon, were already moving towards updating their psilocybin laws. “About a dozen jurisdictions have made [legislative] changes just over the past couple of years, and this is a little bit different from what we saw in cannabis,” he told USA TODAY in a follow up on the Intercept exclusive. “You had a longer timeline with cannabis, and all of a sudden with psychedelics, you’re now seeing that timeline kind of compressed. A lot of this change has already happened just within the past couple of years.”
Despite the progress, a recent law firm analysis of the development highlighted a triple-clash, which means many pharmaceutical companies are still wary of investing in psychedelic research due to the difficulties of patenting known or natural compounds, DEA restrictions on controlled substances, and the financial barriers for FDA approval.