Feds Authorize Psychedelics Testing on Service Members

Room27 / shutterstock.com
Room27 / shutterstock.com

As we approach the early parts of the 2024 presidential elections, bipartisan and bicameral congressional lawmakers have been working together more than normal. With the latest passage of a large-reaching defense bill, a House-GOP-led portion of the bill specifically carves out funding for the project. It focuses on the therapeutic effects of psilocybin and MDMA.

Put in as a portion of the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that was released on December 6th, the section for psychedelics research was pushed in by Rep. Morgan Luttrell (R-TX). Unfortunately, a pilot program to provide medical cannabis for veterans was sacrificed to get this included.

Now, it forces the Department of Defense (DOD) to establish a process for service members with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury to participate in clinical trials. While psilocybin, MDMA, ibogaine, and 5-MeO-DMT are specified, the term “qualified plant-based alternative therapies.” It provides some ambiguity that will allow for more studies and funding opportunities.

Under the terms of the NDAA, they will have 180 days to enact a plan for these studies. Given the options to partner up with eligible federal or state government agencies or academic institutions to do the clinical trials, they also have $10 million in funding.

Luttrell spoke with pride for getting this through. “I am thrilled to see my amendment to fund clinical research into emerging therapies to treat combat-related injuries included in NDAA. This is a huge win that will give us the chance to save the lives of those who have bravely served our country while moving away from problematic opioids. I’m confident support for these innovative solutions will continue to gain momentum.”

Under this legislation, the SECDEF will provide officials a report on their use within a year of its enactment and then once per year for the next three consecutive years. These reports will need to focus on the facts, with strongly specified trial findings and participation rates being required. In a twist that was unexpected by outsiders, the language of this piece seems to lean towards testing with active duty participants, with veterans being a second or third thought on the subject.

The section that was most targeted to veterans through a medical cannabis pilot program was pinned onto the House NDAA. Coming via an amendment from Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) it was scrapped from the final edition. Outlined in this amendment would have studied the health impacts of marijuana use by both veterans and service members who are U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) beneficiaries. Much like the medicinal programs in many states, the study would have only allowed for certain diagnoses being studied, with PTSD, depression or anxiety, and pain management specified.

Riding along through the Armed Services Committee before they got on the floor, much like those who serve our nation, they led the way for numerous other drug policy reform amendments in a futile effort. With the House Rules Committee blocking the majority from going through and receiving floor consideration, these bills didn’t pass, nor did they have much of a chance.

Members in the Senate had their add-ons for the NDAA, specifically barring the CIA and NSA from denying clearances solely due to past marijuana use. This came despite the House Oversight and Accountability Committee passing a standalone bill back in September that would prevent the denial of federal employment or a security clearance just for marijuana use. While some took issue with the language of the bill, they objected to any continued use of marijuana beyond the initial screening.

This kind of change with bipartisan effort is something many in the military (current or past) are proud to see. Many have seen the changes marijuana can bring for service members and are tired of watching doctors “fix” problems with addictive opioids. To get away from that addiction and to still provide the relief they need, marijuana may be the answer. Before and especially after medicinal laws have been passed, they have been enjoying its benefits, so why not study it and learn for the general population?