The Missouri House of Representatives this week gave initial approval to a bill directing the state to conduct research on the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, the primary psychoactive component found in magic mushrooms. The measure, House Bill 1154 from Republican state Representative Dan Houx, received overwhelming support in the House on Wednesday after gaining the approval of two House committees since the proposal was introduced last month. The legislation faces one more vote in the House before it can be sent to the Missouri state Senate for consideration.
While speaking in support of the bill during debate in the House on Wednesday, state Representative Aaron McMullen, a veteran who served in a combat unit in Afghanistan, noted that the suicide rate among veterans is nearly twice as high as the state rate, making it among the highest in the nation.
“Substance abuse and suicide are escalating in the veterans community,” McCullen said, reading from a letter from the Grunt Style Foundation, a nonprofit organization that serves military veterans. “While psilocybin is not a panacea for every issue, it represents a first true scientifically-validated hope that we have to address this crisis.”
If passed by the full legislature and signed into law, the bill would require the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) to provide up to $2 million in grants, subject to appropriation by the legislature, to conduct research into psilocybin during end-of-life care and as a treatment for depression, substance misuse disorders and other serious mental health conditions. The state agency would collaborate on the research, which would be conducted by a Missouri university or by a medical center operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in the state.
The research would focus on the medical use of psilocybin to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and substance misuse disorders, or as a treatment for patients in end-of-life care. Earlier versions of the bill also included the psychedelics MDMA, also known as ecstasy, and ketamine, but those drugs were eliminated from the measure in committee.
The legislation received the unanimous support of the House Veterans Committee at a hearing held earlier this month. Representative Dave Griffith, the chair of the panel, told his colleagues that while the bill is out of his “comfort zone,” according to a report from the Missouri Independent, it nonetheless has his support.
“If you would have told me five years ago that I’d be chairing a committee and hearing a bill where we’re going to be talking about psychedelics for veterans, I would have told you, ‘You’re crazy,’” Griffith said during the committee hearing.
Before Wednesday’s vote in the House, Griffith encouraged skeptics of psychedelics policy reform to review the “extensive” research into the therapeutic potential of the drugs coming from the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research.
“I’ve done hours and hours of research from Johns Hopkins,” he said. “The data that comes out of these studies that they’ve done is remarkable.”
Studies conducted by Johns Hopkins and other researchers have shown that psilocybin has the potential to be an effective treatment for several serious mental health conditions, including PTSD, major depressive disorder, anxiety and substance misuse disorders. A study published in 2020 in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Psychiatry found that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy was a quick-acting and effective treatment for a group of 24 participants with major depressive disorder. And separate research published in 2016 determined that psilocybin treatment produced substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer.
Federal agencies including the Food and Drug Administration are currently reviewing the potential for psychedelics to treat serious mental health conditions. In June, the head of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration wrote to U.S. Representative Madeleine Dean, a Pennsylvania Democrat, that FDA approval of psilocybin to treat depression was likely within the next two years.
As the nation faces rising rates of substance use and mental health issues “we must explore the potential of psychedelic-assisted therapies to address this crisis,” Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, wrote to Dean.
A separate bill introduced by Republican state Representative Tony Lovasco in January would legalize the therapeutic use of psilocybin for people with serious mental health conditions. Under the bill, patients would be able to use psilocybin to treat severe depression, PTSD or the mental health effects of a diagnosis of a terminal illness. Psilocybin-assisted therapy would also be available to patients with other conditions for which traditional therapies have not been effective, with the approval of regulators.
Although the bill does not legalize psilocybin, it provides an affirmative defense against criminal prosecution for patients who possess up to four grams of the drug for therapeutic use. The measure also provides similar protection for mental health professionals who are administering psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.
More than 1,000 people die by suicide every year in Missouri, a rate 25% higher than the national average. And nationwide, suicide rates among veterans are also elevated.
“The folks that are coming back from war, that are in desperate need of care, a lot of them aren’t going to be around in three years,” Lovasco told the Missouri Independent earlier this year. “We’ve got, what 20-something veterans per day committing suicide? That’s a tremendous amount of loss while we wait for the government to do some paperwork.”
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