People with serious depression or post-traumatic stress disorder would be permitted to use natural psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin under a bill recently unveiled in the Missouri state legislature. The measure, HB 2850, was introduced in the Missouri House last month by Representative Tony Lovasco.
Under HB 2850, people with treatment-resistant depression, PTSD or a terminal illness would be able to use psychedelic drugs obtained from plants or fungi. The measure would cover the substances dimethyltryptamine, ibogaine, mescaline (except peyote), psilocybin, and psilocyn, according to a summary of the legislation. The bill permits patients to acquire natural psychedelic drugs and use them in a health care facility, their residence, or a primary caregiver’s home.
Elaine Brewer, the founder of the Humble Warrior Wellness Center, says that the bill would give people struggling with mental illness a new option for care. As a military wife, she said that she faced extreme depression and anxiety over her husband’s safety, who served in Afghanistan.
“I was constantly anxious that my family would be the next one to have that knock on the door,” Brewer told the Riverfront Times.
After therapy, yoga, meditation, pharmaceuticals, and other treatment options failed to provide relief, Brewer took a wellness retreat in Mexico, where she tried psilocybin and MDMA for the first time. The effects, she said, were immediate.
“It was like 10 years of therapy in two days,” said Brewer.
But legislators are skeptical of the legislation. At a legislative hearing, many noted that psilocybin is a Schedule 1 federally controlled substance.
“To me, that’s just absurd,” Lovasco said. “When you’re looking at stuff that is clearly demonstrated not to be dangerous, there’s no reason not to let people give it a shot.”
Others said that they thought more research is needed before the therapeutic use of psychedelics is approved.
“As a psychiatrist, I have grave concerns,” said Representative Lisa Thomas. “There are not enough studies, and even many of the studies that have been done in their conclusions acknowledge there’s not enough research, and we don’t know how these interact with other medications.”
Psychedelics Research Continues
The research into psychedelic drugs, however, continues to grow. This week, a team of researchers affiliated with the University of California San Francisco and Imperial College in London published a study that reveals a possible mechanism by which psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin can treat depression and other psychiatric conditions characterized by patterns of fixed thinking.
“The effect seen with psilocybin is consistent across two studies, related to people getting better, and was not seen with a conventional antidepressant,” Robin Carhart-Harris, the study’s lead author, said in a statement from UCSF. “In previous studies we had seen a similar effect in the brain when people were scanned whilst on a psychedelic, but here we’re seeing it weeks after treatment for depression, which suggests a ‘carry over’ of the acute drug action.”
David Nutt, head of the Imperial Centre for Psychedelic Research, noted that psilocybin could provide a new avenue of treatment for patients who have not made progress with other drugs.
“For the first time we find that psilocybin works differently from conventional antidepressants—making the brain more flexible and fluid, and less entrenched in the negative thinking patterns associated with depression,” said Nutt. “This supports our initial predictions and confirms psilocybin could be a real alternative approach to depression treatments.”
Ginger Nicol, a practicing psychiatrist and a researcher at Washington University, told Missouri lawmakers that the ongoing research could dramatically change therapy for serious mental illness.
“If the results of the smaller studies that have been done carry through in our larger studies, then it will probably be a revolution in mental health and psychiatric pharmacology,” Nichols said.
As it is written, HB 2850 would only benefit those with treatment-resistant depression or PTSD and those with terminal illnesses, although patients could petition the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to add more conditions.
“The idea here is that you’ve got to start somewhere,” Lovasco responded. “We’re simply saying, ‘Look, if we did decriminalize it in certain quantities in certain conditions in certain circumstances, that opens the door to not only furthering this conversation, but hopefully getting some of that data that a lot of people are looking for.’”
The legislation has been referred to the House Committee on Health and Mental, which held two hearings on HB 2850. However, the bill is not currently on the House calendar for further action.
“I don’t think it’s super likely to be signed into law this year as it’s a very new issue for Missouri,” said Lovasco. “We definitely gotta start the conversation and work towards something we can get consensus on.”