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This Week in Psychedelics: Hints of the future of legalized psilocybin in Oregon, new MDMA studies, and psychedelic polling
Happy Friday, and welcome back to The Microdose. Here's what happened this week in the world of psychedelics:
Hints of the future of legalized psilocybin in Oregon. When Oregon voters passed Measure 109 in November 2020, they legalized guided psilocybin sessions statewide following a two-year development period during which an advisory board and five subcommittees would work out the rules and protocols. We’re now about halfway through that window, and Vince Sliwoski, an attorney at the law firm Harris Bricken, has been keeping track of the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board’s progress on the firm’s Psychedelics Law Blog. (Another Harris Bricken attorney named Mason Marks is on the Oregon board, serving as chair of its licensing subcommittee.)
Sliwoski writes that we might see provisional rules about products, testing, and training programs as early as May 2022 before seeing a full, final set of regulations in December, at the end of the development period. He also highlights some potential hot-button issues, like the potentially high taxes on doing business, and clauses that require psychedelic facilitators to be Oregon residents.
Washington follows in Oregon’s footsteps. On January 5, seven Washington state senators introduced Senate Bill 5660, which would allow citizens over 21 to access psilocybin “for wellness and personal growth.” Like Oregon’s Measure 109, Senate Bill 5660 proposes a development period to establish licensing and regulatory protocols — this period would last 18 months, a half-year shorter than Oregon’s two-year period. As with Oregon’s Measure 109, Washington’s SB 5660, if passed, could only operate if the federal government decides not to enforce the federal ban on psilocybin.
There has never been a more exciting – or bewildering – time in the world of psychedelics. Don’t miss a beat.
New MDMA studies on the way. This week, UK-based biotechnology company Awakn announced a new partnership with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to treat alcohol use disorder with MDMA-assisted therapy. The two parties have signed a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, which means they will work together to complete clinical trials, and to commercialize MDMA-assisted therapy in Europe.
MDMA research also recently received an infusion of support in Australia. Forbes’ David E. Carpenter reports that the Australian Department of Health awarded two University of Sydney research teams grants through its Medical Research Future Fund. One grant will look into whether MDMA-assisted therapy can treat PTSD and alcohol use disorder; the other will study the use of psilocybin-assisted therapy in treating anorexia.
Psychedelic polling. Psychedelics company Delic teamed up with market researchers at The Harris Poll to gauge public sentiment around psychedelic treatment. Their online survey, conducted in December 2021, included responses from over 2000 adults in the U.S. Around half of those respondents reported experiencing depression, anxiety, or PTSD. Of those respondents, 83% say they’d be “open to pursuing alternative treatments” if those alternatives had fewer side effects than current prescription medications; two-thirds said they’d be willing to try ketamine, 62% reported being open to psilocybin, and 56% would consider using MDMA.
These polls hint at positive public sentiment about psychedelics, and could reflect Americans’ changing attitudes towards the drugs. But it’s also important to keep in mind that commercial polls don’t necessarily include controls to ensure the people they’re polling are actually representative of the greater population. For instance, those who chose to respond to the poll might have been biased towards more favorable views towards psychedelics, or may overrepresent specific demographic groups. Delic’s press release notes that the survey was not based on a probability sample — a method of randomly selected survey participants from the general population — and that the sampling error could not be calculated.
Whoa! Psychiatrists call for more rigorous research on psychedelics. In a new opinion piece published in JAMA Psychiatry titled “The Rapid Rise in Investment in Psychedelics—Cart Before the Horse,” three New York-based psychiatrists and researchers urge caution among fellow scientists as psychedelics hit the mainstream. Psychedelics companies are now valued in the billions, and with local and state decriminalization or medicalization underway, the authors write that “these regulatory changes may adversely affect the quality and rigor of biomedical research.” (They also assert that Oregon’s legalization efforts passed “despite insufficient evidence” that psilocybin is an effective mental health treatment.) As companies grow and fund their own research, the authors worry that this industry-sponsored research “could introduce bias at the earliest stages of study development, including even influencing the questions that are asked and answered in a given trial.”
Amid the excitement surrounding new psychedelic studies, a dissenting opinion paper published in one of the scientific community’s top journals represents an important and often under-represented perspective: one that advocates for a slower, more rigorous process for studying psychedelics’ benefits and risks.
VICE News released a documentary called “The Battle Over Psychedelic Therapy’s Future.”
Philadelphia Magazine reports on efforts to pass Pennsylvania House Bill 1959, which would legalize psilocybin for medicinal use.
In Scientific American, behavioral pharmacology researcher and UCSF professor of neurology Jennifer Mitchell writes about the arduous process of conducting a Phase 3 study with MDMA in collaboration with MAPS: applying for a DEA license to work with MDMA, getting study approval from the FDA, and finding a certified lab to manufacture the drug, not to mention actually running the study itself. (Mitchell is also affiliated with the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics.)
You’re all caught up! Have a great weekend, and stay tuned on Monday for 5 Questions, our weekly Q&A with a leader in the psychedelics space.
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