Looks like a pretty cool title, right? And it’s true, but with a caveat. A Colorado House committee did pass a bill to legalize MDMA, but it still must clear the state’s Congress, and will only take effect when MDMA is legalized by the federal government. Even so, perhaps Colorado’s move is predictive of a trend we can expect to see among US states.
A Colorado House committee just voted through a bill to legalize MDMA, assuming the US government also does so. This is the first state to make a preemptive move like this. We’re an independent publication specializing in cannabis and psychedelics news reporting. Keep up with us by signing up for The Cannadelics Weekly Newsletter, and get yourself first in line for new product promotions and deals, as they become available.
What’s the news?
On Tuesday April 5th, a House committee in Colorado approved HB 1344 that will legalize MDMA prescriptions, but only upon the federal government legalizing the compound. Essentially, the Colorado bill says it will legalize MDMA immediately upon federal government approval. This bipartisan bill is supported by both sides, and is sponsored by two US army veterans, Representatives Patrick Neville and David Ortiz.
At the April 15th vote, the bill passed unanimously, 11-0, which shows an intense amount of support for it, but this doesn’t mean that the bill is actually law. In order to become official, it still must pass the entire House, the Senate, and then get a governor signature on it. However, if the most recent House vote tells us anything, its that this has a pretty good chance of passing through.
The vote came after legislators listened to testimony given by several people, including military veterans. Testimony was also included from Will Van Derveer, a psychiatrist who saw the firsthand effects of MDMA on trauma victims a decade ago. He eventually joined a Boulder research team, where he worked specifically with patients who suffered from treatment resistant PTSD. The positive results of this research led him to add his testimony for Bill 1344.
What would the bill do?
HB 1344 is most definitely an MDMA legalization bill, but it wouldn’t lead to the immediate legalization of the compound, nor would it be an all-encompassing legalization. It would be a medical legalization, and it would depend entirely on the US federal government legalizing the compound first. In fact, bill 1344 is essentially useless without the US federal government legalizing the compound independently. The bill says:
“if the United States food and drug administration approves a prescription medicine that contains 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), and if that medicine has been placed on a schedule of the federal “Controlled Substances Act”, other than schedule I, or has been exempted from one or more provisions of such act, then thereafter prescribing, dispensing, transporting, possessing, and using that prescription drug is legal in Colorado.”
In the end, Colorado is trying to pass a bill for something that can’t go through all the way right now, but which will put the state in a ready-to-go position should the right factors be in place. I don’t know if such a preemptive bill has been passed before, or if Colorado is the first to attempt this with House Bill 1344.
How soon could such an approval be? And how likely?
Even though MDMA is a Schedule I drug in the US, it was given ‘breakthrough therapy’ status via the US’s FDA in 2017 through the organization MAPS. MAPS is currently in phase III of trials, which are trials meant for use with treatment-resistant PTSD. Not only have trials thus far been promising in showing the ability of MDMA to help with treatment resistant PTSD, but the current trials were planned directly with the FDA by way of a Special Protocol Assessment agreement, to ensure that outcomes meet regulatory guidelines. This is a huge indication of a desire to legalize the medication by the federal government.
A ‘breakthrough therapy’ designation is given to a “…drug that treats a serious or life-threatening condition”, where “preliminary clinical evidence indicates that the drug may demonstrate substantial improvement on a clinically significant endpoint(s) over available therapies.”
This designation was given to MAPS back in 2017, so this initiative is not a new one, and the buildup for MDMA has been going on for several years on a federal level. The FDA has also given this designation to two companies studying another Schedule I substance: psilocybin. In 2018 and 2019 COMPASS Pathways and Usona Institute respectively also gained this FDA ‘backing’ for their research, signaling a major change in how psychedelics are viewed.
Phase III trials are the last phase of trials. They involve large numbers of participants, and are designed to establish general safety and efficacy levels for a drug. They come after Phase I and Phase II trials which investigate basic pharmacology, dosing, and general patient response. Assuming current trials also show a positive result, a ‘new drug application’ can be filled out and submit to the FDA, followed by an approval or denial. Considering the FDA is already putting in effort to ensure MAPS’ trial results meet regulation, it seems a legalization is not far off, and could happen within 1-2 years.
What is MDMA?
What is this MDMA compound? MDMA – 3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is a synthetically made psychoactive drug, which fits under the definition of hallucinogens, and therefore, psychedelics. It goes by the names ‘molly’, and ‘ecstasy’ as well, though these often refer to non-pure forms, while the term MDMA generally denotes a pure form. Much like other psychedelics, its serotonergic, meaning it forces the brain to release large amounts of this neurotransmitter, while also blocking its re-uptake. It’s usually found as a crystal, powder, or pressed into pills, often with the insignia of whatever organization is putting them out.
Much like other psychedelics, MDMA is known for causing hallucinations, and it seems to greatly impact the sense of general feeling. People on MDMA sure love to touch and feel things for this reason. It’s also known for making people feel good. It promotes feelings of connectedness between people and with their environment, it brings on spiritual and mystical experiences, promotes feelings of euphoria and well-being, and reduces fear and anxiety.
MDMA was created by Merck Pharmaceutical all the way back in 1912, but it wasn’t well understood until decades later. In the 1970’s, chemist Alexander Shulgin found a new way to synthesize the compound, and much like Albert Hofmann who created LSD, and therapists like Humphrey Osmond who first used it, Shulgin experimented on himself first as a test subject, along with his psychotherapist friends.
It was illegalized by the federal government in 1985 by way of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, which was signed into law the previous year, and which allowed for the immediate banning of a drug by the federal government. Incidentally, this was despite a judge ruling that MDMA should be Schedule III, and open for medical use.
How useful has MDMA been in testing for dealing with issues like PTSD? Phase III of MAPS trials are underway, and include 15 different sites in three countries (US, Canada, Israel). Trials involve patients receiving three therapy sessions with MDMA or a placebo over 12 weeks of time. This also includes three preparatory sessions, and three integration sessions, as per standard psychedelic-assisted protocol.
Phase II findings indicated that MDMA can reduce fear and defensive feelings, increase introspection and communication abilities, and help with patient empathy and compassion. In the previous trials, MDMA improved the therapeutic experience of PTSD sufferers. Phase II consisted of 107 participants, and two months after treatment, 61% of the subjects no longer identified as PTSD sufferers. One full year later, and 68% no longer officially qualified as having PTSD.
All of these participants were considered treatment-resistant, with an average amount of time of 18 years with the disorder, between participants. The term ‘treatment-resistant’ generally means that patients already tried at least two standard FDA approved medications, and received no positive response from them. Especially considering this, the results so far are very, very encouraging.
If Colorado fully passes HB 1344 to legalize MDMA upon a federal government legalization, it will be the first state to do so. Not only is this interesting since MDMA is currently Schedule I, but its also interesting because it means passing a bill which relies 100% on another legal change at a higher level. However this goes, it will be interesting to watch it pan out.
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