As we enter the first month of the third year of the pandemic while in the kickoff years of the third decade of the 21st century I begin my second article of 2022 taking stock of who in the psychedelic world has already claimed their piece of history.
My gaze travels north to our Canadian neighbors, who rang in the new year with an amendment that is a reversal of a 2013 Health Canada policy that prevented “a letter of authorization for a new drug that is or that contains a restricted drug.” Effective January 5, 2022 Health Canada’s Special Access Program (SAP) will allow physicians to “request patient access to illegal psychoactive substances, like MDMA and psilocybin, for psychedelic-assisted therapy”.
“Decisions will be made on a case by case basis, and be reserved for life-threatening conditions or serious treatment resistant conditions where other therapies failed, are unsuitable, or not available in Canada”.
This is an important step because it shows the Canadian government is taking seriously the potential of psychedelic medicines and therapies to treat mental health issues.
“Payton Nyquvest, founder and CEO of psychedelic-focused mental healthcare company Numinus Wellness, commended Health Canada’s decision for “righting a historical wrong based on stigma,” and believes this is just a first step for broader drug reform.”
But is this enough in the minds of Canadian healthcare providers? And will the applications for these patients be approved? There is precedent in the way of studies.
There is evidence from a groundbreaking study that included Compass Pathways and Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute that “a single dose of psilocybin, combined with psychological support, generated a rapid response and significant reduction in depressive symptoms that lasted up to 12 weeks”.
It seems the folks at Field Trip Health feel that the help wagon can move a little faster, although they are happy about the progress.
“We still have a huge amount of work to do because these medicines could really, really revolutionize the entire mental health-care field,” said Dr. Michael Verbora, who works as a medical director at the Field Trip Health therapy center in Toronto.”
“I don’t want to get too far ahead of where the science is … but I do really, really believe that if people have a process to start their own healing, it can lead to a much better world for most people.”
“Ronan Levy, co-founder of Field Trip Health,said most applications except the most severe will probably be rejected. He said he hopes Health Canada’s criteria for approval of psychedelics expand in the future.”
Therein lies the problem. The rejection. One step forward and then the rejection.
Payton Nyquvest had this to say, “While we believe this is only the beginning of greater change to come, it signifies an important step towards creating expanded safe access to treatment and care in the mental health sector through psychedelic medicine,” Nyquvest said in a press release before the holidays last month. “I am proud of our team who have had a longstanding role in advocating for this reform.”
We can only hope. However Health Canada has said “the proposed regulatory amendments do not signal any intent towards the decriminalization or legalization of restricted drugs, and they are not intended to create large-scale access to restricted drugs.”
Turning our attention back to this side of the border it seems like, of all things, the state that has stripped women of their reproductive rights, is leading the way on psychedelic research. Go figure. In June of 2021 Texas Governor Greg Abbott allowed House Bill 1802, without his signature, “that requires the state to study the risks and benefits of psilocybin, MDMA, and ketamine for veterans, and conduct a clinical trial using psilocybin to treat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)”. Under separate legislation he signed a bill “expanding the state’s medical cannabis program”.
Fast forward to December 2021 and Texas took the psychedelic reins when researchers at the “Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin launched the Center for Psychedelic Research and Therapy — the first center of its kind in Texas” dedicated to the research of drugs such as psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, MDMA, and ibogaine.
“The center’s initial focus will be on military veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), adults experiencing prolonged grief disorder or depression, and those who have experienced childhood trauma.”
Texas is home to the “second largest population of military vets in the country, with 250,000 living just in Central Texas alone”. Veterans are more likely to suffer from PTSD and “difficult mental health problems” because of their military service.
The center will apply a clinical approach to the use of psychedelics. The drugs will be used alongside clinical treatment from a trained provider.
“Recent studies have demonstrated considerable promise for these drugs when incorporated with clinical support, and this work has the potential to transform how we treat conditions like depression and PTSD, and to identify synergies between these and other well-established therapies to achieve long-term benefits for those seeking treatment,” says center co-lead Charles B. Nemeroff, professor and chair of Dell Med’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and holder of the Matthew P. Nemeroff Endowed Chair.”
The center’s areas of focus will be: develop and test novel therapies, optimize delivery of treatments, understand biological and psychological mechanisms, serve the mental health needs of Austin and central Texas, promote community education and train mental health practitioners.
The program was made possible by HB 1802 sponsored by Texas House Representative Alex Dominguez (D-37) . The bill called on the Texas Health and Human Services Commission “to collaborate with one university hospital and one Veterans Affairs hospital in conducting its own research while also doing a review of past studies on the medical benefits of the drug.” According to Representative Dominguez the bipartisan bill is an effort to make sure veterans get the care they need.
“This is a monumental bill, for a number of reasons, but more importantly because it shows that the state of Texas is committed to our veterans, especially those veterans that suffer from treatment-resistant PTSD,” said Rep. Dominguez.”
“Psychedelic medicine has the potential to completely change society’s approach to mental health treatment, and research is the first step to realizing that transformation,” said Dominguez, who sponsored the bill, in a statement at the time. “It’s said that, ‘As goes Texas, so goes the nation.’ While states across the country consider how best to address the mental health crisis facing our nation, I hope they once again look to Texas for leadership.”
Of all things, the biggest surprise is who got behind the bill in the first place: Rick Perry. The same former Texas Governor Rick Perry, Trump ally and Trump cabinet secretary Rick Perry, staunch conservative and anti-drug Rick Perry but he went to bat last spring 2021 and threw his support behind HB1802.
In an interview Tuesday with the Texas Tribune, the former state governor admitted that he’s “historically been a very anti-drug person” but that he believes psychedelic drugs, provided in medical doses, can be effective in treating depression and PTSD.
Someone drank the Kool-aid. Just kidding. But it should happen with more politicians.
Perry went as far as saying the bill “may be one of the most hopeful pieces of legislation” Texas lawmakers consider this year. Indeed. Don’t get me started on that other one.
Perry was not the only person advocating to get HB1802 passed. Former U.S. Navy Seal Marcus Capone found success with psychedelic therapy but like a number of other veterans he had to cross the border into Mexico to get the treatment he so needed.
“I can say unequivocally that psychedelic assisted therapy changed my life forever,” said Former U.S. Navy Seal Marcus Capone.”
“We had spent five years exhausting every avenue of healing offered by military medicine, the VA and Western health care,” said Amber Capone. “I attribute this lifeline to saving Marcus’s life, our marriage and our family.”
Capone and his wife testified in support of HB1082 in April 2021. He also created the non-profit VETS which “provides resources, research, and advocacy for U.S. military veterans seeking treatment with psychedelic-assisted therapies”.
There are those who say the Texas bill does not go far enough and that Texas should follow the lead of Oregon who has begun to create the framework for psilocybin assisted therapy and facilitator training.
“I’m delighted Texas has funded this bill but there is the piece of me that wants to just scream and pull my hair out because people are dying every single day,” says Texas study lead Lynnette Averill, an associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine. “We lose someone in the U.S. to suicide every 11 minutes. Psychedelic medicine and assisted therapies aren’t going to be a golden cure but there is a mounting body of literature that says these are safe, effective, rapid acting and have so much potential to do so much good.”
Speaking of Oregon.
Finally, we gaze north again, northwest to the state of Washington where two lawmakers introduced SB5660 on January 5, 2022. The bill known as the Washington Psilocybin Wellness and Opportunity Act “includes many innovative features including a Social Opportunity Program to help address harms caused by the war on drugs, a provision to support small businesses, and accommodations for people with certain medical conditions to receive the psychedelic substance at home.”
Mason Marks, the lead for The Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR) at the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, helped draft the legislation. In a blog post on January 5 Marks wrote:
“Under supported adult use, psilocybin services are made available to people 21 and older for nearly any purpose – the Act specifies that clients need not have a medical condition to participate, and psilocybin services in Washington will not constitute medical diagnoses or treatment. Psilocybin is known to enhance feelings of connectedness, and some clients may seek psilocybin services to feel more connected with nature or see their interpersonal relationships in a new light. Others may wish to enhance overall wellness, have a religious experience, or boost creativity.”
If the act passes the Washington Department of Health will be authorized to “issue licenses to psilocybin manufacturing facilities, testing labs, service centers, and facilitators. It will also create the Washington Psilocybin Advisory Board to advise the Department on creating rules for the Act’s implementation”. This model is very much like the Oregon model for Measure 109.
All in all it’s a promising start for psychedelics and January is not over yet.
Author: Sherri Margolin (Dark Matters)