A comprehensive budget bill in state legislature will support patient access to psychedelic therapies
Connecticut lawmakers made new strides in the legalization of psilocybin and psychedelic medicine earlier this year with the passage of legislation that authorizes the establishment of psychedelic treatment centers. Passed as part of a comprehensive budget bill in May, the legislation includes provisions to launch a program to give patients access to emerging psychedelic therapies including psilocybin and MDMA.
Although the legislation does not specifically legalize psychedelics, it provides a regulatory structure that allows Connecticut to play a key role in providing access to emerging alternative therapies while research into the value of psilocybin and other psychedelics as therapies for serious mental health conditions continues.
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Multiple studies have shown that psychedelics including psilocybin, LSD, MDMA, and ketamine may have therapeutic benefits for a number of mental health conditions including severe depression, anxiety and addiction. For example, a 2020 study published in the journal JAMA showed that psilocybin used in conjunction with supportive psychotherapy produced significant reductions in depressive symptoms in patients. Another study conducted by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers published earlier this year showed that just two doses of psilocybin combined with therapy eased symptoms of major depressive disorder for up to one year.
In 2016, a study by researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center determined that a single session of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy was effective for months at reducing the severe anxiety experienced by patients with a terminal cancer diagnosis. And in 2020, a review of available research showed that psychedelic-assisted therapy has potential as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
But, there is much work to be done to make these therapies accessible to all who need them in terms of policy, care, pricing and availability. Jesse MacLachlan, a former Connecticut state representative who is now the director of state policy and advocacy at Reason for Hope, a psychedelic-assisted therapy advocacy organization, said that there are not enough therapists who have been trained in psychedelic-assisted therapy.
“This seems to be coming and it’s exciting,” said MacLachlan. “The role of the state is to help lay a policy groundwork to lay infrastructure so there are enough trained therapists for folks who need care most to receive it safely and affordably once these drugs are approved.”
The budget bill directs the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to launch a “psychedelic-assisted therapy pilot program to provide qualified patients with the funding” to receive MDMA or psilocybin therapy as part of an expanded access program from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which designated MDMA as a breakthrough therapy for the treatment of PTSD in 2017. The pilot program is slated to end “when MDMA and psilocybin have been approved to have a medical use by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), or any successor agency,” according to the text of the bill. When that happens, state laws on psychedelics will be amended to make them consistent with federal policy.
The legislation also creates a Qualified Patients for Approved Treatment Sites Fund to provide “grants to qualified applicants to provide MDMA-assisted or psilocybin assisted therapy to qualified patients under the pilot program.” The measure also provides funding for psychedelic-assisted treatment for military veterans, retired first responders and healthcare workers struggling with mental health conditions. Martin R. Steele, a retired three-star general in the U.S. Marine Corps and co-founder of Reason for Hope, said that the bill will help military veterans who are still dealing with the horrors of combat.
“For far too long, the men and women of the armed services have had to carry the mental and emotional burdens of combat without access to effective treatments. Psychedelic therapy represents a major breakthrough for veterans and civilians alike to heal and lead productive lives,” Steele said in a statement. “We have a duty, responsibility, and urgency, to help all those suffering from trauma. I commend the governor’s office and leaders in the legislature for the life-saving action they have taken through this landmark legislation.”
While Connecticut’s bill to legalize psychedelic-assisted therapy is groundbreaking, it is not the only effort by individual states to make progress on psychedelics reform. In 2020, voters in Oregon approved Ballot Measure 109, which directed the Oregon Health Authority to license and regulate the manufacturing, transportation, delivery, sale and purchase of psilocybin products and the provision of psilocybin therapeutic services. And in this month’s midterm election, voters in Colorado will decide on Proposition 122, which would legalize natural psychedelics such as psilocybin and create a regulatory plan for psychedelics to be administered in a therapeutic setting.
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