From clean energy to voting rights, as California goes, so goes the nation. Californians have long prided themselves on being at the leading edge of innovation and inclusion. And with California lawmakers voting to decriminalize psychedelics this month, we are entering another new chapter of this storied history, subject to Governor Newsom’s veto-power. This time, pushing boundaries for treatment and care for those suffering in our communities—our California veterans, first responders, service members, and our neighbors struggling with PTSD, depression, and addiction.
To me, this is huge.
Research shows that these soon-to-be decriminalized substances—like psilocybin and psilocin, the compounds in “magic mushrooms,” and mescaline and dimethyltryptamine (DMT)—are not addictive. In fact, they show tremendous promise in treating many of the most potent conditions at the core of this country’s growing mental health crisis, especially for those who’ve come back from serving on our nation’s frontlines with invisible wounds. Nature Medicine found that MDMA paired with counseling treatments brought relief to those suffering with PTSD, and the New England Journal of Medicine highlighted the potential of psilocybin therapy for treating severe depression.
In Washington D.C., as Co-Chair of the Congressional Psychedelics Advancing Therapies (PATH) Caucus, I see this is a monumental step forward for the movement for breakthrough therapies that are safe, accessible, and affordable for those who need them. I’m breaking D.C.’s partisan gridlock and working across party lines to find ways to alleviate the national mental health crisis through psychedelic science and research—and building bipartisan bridges to do it.
With this tremendous progress must come safety standards—not to reduce accessibility, but to ensure consumer safety. And the federal government needs to catch up.
To date, there is no regulatory framework at the federal level to ensure that these substances can be administered in a safe clinical setting to protect patient safety and increase efficacy. While clinical trials have been conducted at leading universities and a growing body of evidence supports the use of psychedelics in medical settings and treatments, the federal government has not yet stepped up to set safety standards.
Research is crucial—not just to understand these substances and their effects, but to ensure patients are protected. Psychedelics, like psilocybin and MDMA, have an extremely low chance of lethal overdose or addiction, but that doesn’t mean they are entirely without risk. Consumed unsupervised, overprescribed, or without clinical guidance, psilocybin and other psychedelics could trigger psychotic or manic episodes. What’s more, some are known to raise blood pressure and heart rate. That means those with known or undiagnosed heart conditions like uncontrolled high blood pressure, heart disease or arrhythmias could severely damage their cardiovascular systems without proper supervision.
While statistically unlikely, understanding the limits of these kinds of treatments, and the populations that will benefit most from them, is key to making meaningful progress—in California, and here in the halls of Congress.
Fortunately, the PATH Caucus is already making strides.
Just last month, my PATH Caucus Co-Chair and I introduced an amendment to federal funding legislation to push the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to carry out “large-scale studies” into drugs like psilocybin and MDMA—which the FDA has designated as “breakthrough therapies”. And it passed.
I believe that our nation’s veterans are the gateway to normalizing the use of these therapies, by catalyzing the federal government to do its part to research the effects of these compounds on those most vulnerable in our society. That’s why progress like this—opening the door to a new wave of treatment for chronic physical and mental illness, for veterans and others—is so crucial.
We must continue to encourage our colleagues, across the political spectrum, to be a part of the next generation of breakthrough therapies—the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1960s.
The federal government needs to get on board—to ensure we avoid preventable tragedies, and before it gets left behind.
Rep. Lou Correa is serving his fourth term in Congress, proudly representing California’s 46th district. He is bipartisan Co-Chairs of the Congressional Psychedelics Advancing Therapies (PATH) Caucus for the 118th Congress, where he works to address ways to alleviate the national mental health crisis through psychedelic science and research.
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