U.S. congressional hearing on psychedelics; New veteran initiatives in MA and WI; Misleading ketamine ads; and Canadian Senate wants funding for psychedelic therapy
Plus: Kentucky committee continues ibogaine proposal discussion
Happy Friday, and welcome back to The Microdose, an independent journalism newsletter brought to you by the U.C. Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics.
U.S. congressional hearing on psychedelics
On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee on health issues held a congressional hearing on psychedelics. For two hours, the subcommittee discussed the possibility of treating veterans with PTSD using psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. “We are not advocating for legalization or casual use of these substances,” subcommittee chair Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) said in her opening remarks. In the first hour of the hearing, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs researchers Carolyn Clancy, Ilse Wiechers, and Rachel Yehuda discussed the state of research and then answered questions from subcommittee members.
Representative Jack Bergman (R-MI) pointed out barriers to veterans’ access to psychedelic-assisted therapy, including an insufficient number of therapists trained to administer it. Representative Greg Murphy (R-NC) pointed out that the drugs “are not magic bullets, and not without consequence.” Murphy mentioned the Alaska Airlines pilot charged with attempted murder after trying to shut down a plane’s engines. (The pilot told The New York Times that he suffers from depression and that during the incident he felt disoriented and trapped in a dream after taking psychedelic mushrooms two days earlier.) Murphy advocated for the need to create guardrails for inevitable abuse of the drugs. Other speakers included Johns Hopkins professor Fred Barrett, MAPS PBC chief operating officer Mike Mullettte, Reason for Hope executive director Brett Waters, and veteran Jonathan Lubecky, who has also participated in an MDMA clinical trial.
The State of Psychedelics: New initiatives to study psychedelics for veterans in MA and WI
Last week, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey introduced the HERO Act, which expands benefits and opportunities for veterans. It also includes a directive for the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Veterans’ Services to create a working group to study the potential use of MDMA-, ketamine-, and psilocybin-assisted therapy to treat mental health disorders and to make recommendations to the state in the next year.
A group of bipartisan state representatives in Wisconsin is proposing a new pilot program investigating the use of psychedelic-assisted therapy to treat veterans with PTSD. The final text of the bill is not yet publicly available, but in a copy sent to The Microdose, the draft bill outlines that the University of Wisconsin would establish the program, which will be financed through a trust fund managed by the state that will include money from state’s general fund as well as donations, gifts, grants, and bequests. The pilot program would explicitly prohibit law enforcement officers from participating in any research studies. According to Representative Clinton Anderson’s office (D), the group planned to file the new bill today.
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Study: Ketamine ads frequently mislead
U.S. regulatory authorities, including the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission, closely regulate direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs, but according to a new paper published in JAMA, marketing for ketamine therapy exists in a “gray area of advertising.” The study’s authors, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, analyzed advertisements from 17 companies promoting ketamine infusions and ketamine-assisted therapy in Maryland. They discovered that many did not fully disclose the risks of ketamine, such as the possibility of addiction or the dangers of operating machinery or driving after treatment. The majority of advertisers also failed to disclose the fact that their ketamine treatments were what’s known as “off-label” uses of the drug, which was originally approved by the FDA as an anesthetic but is now being prescribed for other conditions including depression, Lyme disease, substance use disorder, and anxiety. One ad even claimed that intravenous ketamine was an FDA-approved treatment for depression. “Our findings point to a concerning regulatory environment that may not adequately protect consumers and holds substantial potential for patient harm,” the authors conclude.
Kentucky committee continues ibogaine proposal discussion
On Tuesday, the Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission continued their discussion of a proposal to use $42 million of the state’s $842 million settlement from opioid manufacturers and distributors to advance ibogaine research. The committee’s chairman, W. Bryan Hubbard, opened the discussion by reading messages of support from the American Legion, the Cohen Foundation (created by New York Mets owners Steve and Alexandra Cohen), the Jurvetson Foundation (created by venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson), and Stanford psychiatry professor Dr. Robert Malenka, who offered his assistance in designing any clinical trials.
In their discussion, some committee members were clearly in favor; one member, who said he had personal experience with addiction and its treatment, spoke glowingly of psychedelics’ ability to spur introspection and self-awareness, which is “where we connect with the divine.” Others raised concerns about affordability, asking whether “regular people who can’t take their kids to Mexico” for ibogaine retreats would have access to treatment. “We are taking money from pharma and giving it right back to pharma,” said committee member and Kentucky state representative Danny Bentley (R). He called ibogaine “false hope,” as many people living in rural parts of the state may not have access to the drug.
At the end of the meeting, Hubbard requested that committee members keep their December schedules flexible to attend a presentation from Stanford University researcher Nolan Williams, who told the commission he’d soon be publishing a study and would finance his own travel to Kentucky to present results and answer questions. In response, Patricia Freeman, a professor at University of Kentucky’s College of Pharmacy, requested that anyone traveling to present to the committee should be transparent about who is funding their travel.
The commission began considering the proposal in May 2023, which spurred some researchers to wonder why Kentucky — a state with little recent investment in psychedelic research, and having some of the country’s most regressive drug laws — would invest so much in a lesser-known psychedelic with a complicated profile of possible adverse effects, including death. A recent investigation by The Daily Beast suggests that political donations by billionaire Jeff Yass may have played a role. The news outlet reported that a week before the commission’s ibogaine proposal was announced, billionaire Jeff Yass donated $3 million to a political action committee supporting Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s gubernatorial campaign (Cameron lost the election earlier this month to incumbent Governor Andy Beshear). Cameron appointed Hubbard, the Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission’s chair. Yass has millions of dollars in investments in psychedelics companies, including atai, Compass Pathways, and Mind Medicine. DemeRx, which is partly owned by atai, is conducting trials studying ibogaine in treating opioid addiction, and Mind Medicine is studying an ibogaine derivative.
Canadian Senate urges government to fund psychedelic therapy
In early 2022, Canada’s Senate ordered members of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security, Defence, and Veterans Affairs to examine veterans’ benefits and well-being. This week, the committee members submitted a 44-page report called “The Time Is Now,” urging a variety of national agencies, including Veterans Affairs Canada, the Department of Defence, and Health Canada to fund a psychedelics research program. Last week, senators David Richards and Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu held a press conference highlighting findings of the report. Senator Richards cited high suicide rates among those who have served in Canadian armed forces. “Our veterans sacrifice so much; they can’t afford to wait any longer,” he said.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health and National Institute on Drug Abuse have posted a call for proposals to study psychedelics’ efficacy in treating substance use disorder. According to the notice, “NIDA intends to commit $2,000,000 in FY 2025 to fund 3-5 awards”; research would not begin until December 2024.
The Atlantic asks: what if psychedelics’ hallucinations are just an unnecessary side-effect?
Transform, a UK-based drug policy non-profit, has released a guide to regulating psychedelics focused around a four-tiered model that includes decriminalization and home-growing, the creation of non-profit membership associations for community and peer support, regulated retail sales, and guided experiences through licensed practitioners.
Harvard and UC Berkeley are jointly launching a program called Psychedelics in Society and Culture to support psychedelic research in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.
Family physician and former Indiana State Department of Health commissioner Richard Feldman wrote an op-ed published in Indianapolis Business Journal and South Bend Tribune supporting the use of psilocybin to treat mental health issues. Feldman, also a member of the state general assembly’s Interim Public Health Study Committee, heard “compelling testimony regarding the therapeutic potential of psilocybin” in September.
Vox gives an overview of psychedelic risks.
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