With Long-Sought Federal Approvals, Psychedelic Research Is Finally Rolling

Motherboard showcases the recent wave of success for government-approved research into the medical benefits of Schedule I substances such as LSD and marijuana. To illustrate the momentum, the article highlights the Department of Health and Human Services’ March 14, 2014, approval of research into the potential benefits of medical marijuana as a treatment for symptoms of PTSD in veterans and the March 4, 2014, publication of promising results from research into LSD-assisted psychotherapy to treat anxiety associated with advanced-stage illness. “Psychedelic drugs, it seems, are having a bit of a moment,” muses Brian Anderson of Motherboard.

Originally appearing here.

The Feds aren’t quite tripping over themselves to lift all the red tape tangling up scientists who’d like to procure stuff like cannabis and LSD, which are both illegal at the federal level. But we’re beginning to see more frequent signs that the US government is maybe, possibly turning the psychotropic ship of state. Psychedelic drugs, it seems, are having a bit of a moment.

Two recent study approvals illustrate this point.

The first came in a March 12 letter from the Department of Health and Human Services. The letter gave the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies the go-ahead to acquire medical pot from the US government’s only federally-approved weed lab, a farm at the University of Mississippi, for use in a study that aims to measure the effects of cannabis on post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans.

It might’ve taken 22 years, but it’s nevertheless a big win for Dr. Sue Sisley, the University of Arizona researcher behind the study, who’s gained a crucial ally in MAPS. In fact, it’s just one of two times over the last decade that the Feds have greenlit clinical trials involving medicinal marijuana, as Reason points out. And it’s only fitting that the announcement broke to the press mere minutes after we published a piece on the the 50-year-old agreement blocking cannabis from treating post-traumatic stress disorder, among other conditions.

Sisley’s study will monitor how five distinct pot potencies, of both the smoked and vaporized sort, might help treat PTSD symptoms in 50 veterans. According to estimates from the Veterans Administration, between 11 and 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans now grapple with the disorder, known for causing vivid flashbacks, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Nearly 8 million American adults are believed to suffer from PTSD.

That’s one major reason why the American Medical Association has been pressing the Feds to reclassify cannabis to something other than a Schedule 1 drug, a move that would instantly lift a lot of the barriers to research. Per the Associated Press:

The current classification prevents physicians from even prescribing it in states where medical use is permitted. Instead, they can only recommend it to patients who can then buy it through a government-approved dispensary in most states.

Despite this, Sisley’s study is about as close as it can be to starting in earnest. However, approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration is still pending. That would seal the deal, and Sisley and MAPS expect the clearance to happen soon enough. It’s worth mentioning that the DEA, for all its apparent shiftiness, is not destroying as much herb as it used to.

The second approval, equally momentous, made possible the first controlled LSD study in over four decades. The main finding of the trials, published earlier this month in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, suggest that acid spurred significant and lasting reduction in anxiety (particularly end-of-life anxiety) in a dozen subjects.

Of course, the odds are still stacked heavily against medicinal psychedelics. Heaps more research is needed, and that’ll be hard to come by so long as the National Institute on Drug Abuse holds onto its monopoly on research-grade pot and lacking serious reframing of the Controlled Substance Act. Don’t expect prescription cannabis (or LSD, psilocybin, or MDMA) anytime soon, at least not in the next five to seven years, as MAPS founder Rick Doblin recently told Motherboard.

But now, more than ever, the thought of prescription psychedelics might be something to actually keep tabs on.