Vermont House Representatives Pass Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Working Group Bill

The bill would enable a task force to study the effectiveness of psychedelic therapies and how to regulate them in the state.

The Vermont House of Representatives voted in favor of S.114 on May 8, which would create a working group to study the pros and cons of allowing psychedelic-assisted therapy, as well as determine what regulations would entail.

S.114 was first read in the Senate on March 1, and passed on March 27. It was read in the House two days later, but a majority of action in the House has taken place over the past week in May. Due to a variety of changes made between Senate and House versions of the bill, another vote is necessary in order to pass the bill on to Gov. Phil Scott. If passed, the first meeting by the working group would take effect starting on July 1, 2024, with the first meeting to be held before July 15, with a report to be presented by Nov. 15. After that, the working group will conclude its role and cease to exist by Jan. 1, 2025.

The working group’s role would be to “review the latest research and evidence of the public health benefits and risks of clinical psychedelic assisted treatments” and “examine the laws and programs of other states that have authorized the use of psychedelics by health care providers in a therapeutic setting,” while also seeking testimony from Johns Hopkins’ Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research.

One of the more recent hearings included a change that tasks the Vermont Psychological Association to work with the Vermont Department of Health “for purposes of scheduling and staffing meetings and developing and submitting the report.”

When Sen. Martine Larocque Gulick first introduced the bill, it included language to legalize possession and consumption of psilocybin. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee removed that portion to primarily target the working group.

At the floor hearing on May 8, Rep. Tristan Roberts shared his personal experiences with psychedelic-assisted therapy. “I now recognize that my night terrors were my body’s way of asking me to face my fears,” said Roberts. “Psychedelic-assisted therapy gave me the tools to do that that I hadn’t found in 40 years of looking.”

He also spoke of the positive results of therapy and its benefits. “I sleep much better now. Depression and anxiety are more often symptoms that move through me; they are not me,” Roberts said. “I felt for the first time in memory that I could appreciate and add to the beauty in life. Psychedelic medicine helped me uncover again my true nature.”

In a hearing at the beginning of May, Rep. Anne Donahue voiced concerns about the safety of psychedelics as medicine. “I have lived the life of somebody who has been told, ‘Oh, this is safe, this is safe, this is safe.’ You know, ‘We in psychiatry and mental health know what we’re doing is safe. This is safe, this is safe, this is safe,’ and having my life practically destroyed,” Donahue said. “I see the new ads on TV about, ‘Oh, your distracted mother, calm her down with this drug!’ That’s a drug that’s prohibited in nursing homes, because it’s used to keep their behaviors in line. And it causes early, premature death. But, you know, give it to mom because she needs to be calmed down!”

Donahue did admit that if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is actively investigating psychedelic-assisted therapy, then Vermont should be “following [the FDA’s] lead” rather than acting too quickly. The FDA also recently recommended that cannabis be rescheduled from a Schedule I substance to Schedule III earlier this year in January.

Evidence is building in high-profile research in favor of psychedelic-assisted therapies. In September 2023, MAPS published its research on its Phase 3 Trial on MDMA-assisted therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “It’s the first innovation in PTSD treatment in more than two decades. And it’s significant because I think it will also open up other innovation,” said MAPS Public Benefit Corporation (MAPS PBC) CEO Amy Emerson.

Last December, MAPS PBC submitted an application for approval to study MDMA-assisted therapy for those who suffer from PTSD. “The filing of our NDA is the culmination of more than 30 years of clinical research, advocacy, collaboration and dedication to bring a potential new option to adults living with PTSD, a patient group that has experienced little innovation in decades,” Emerson said. “If approved, MDMA-assisted therapy would be the first psychedelic-assisted therapy, which we hope will drive additional investment into new research in mental health.”

Recently in Vermont, concerns are mounting against a cannabis company that has had its products recalled by the Vermont Cannabis Control Board for having used myclobutanil. Board Chair James Pepper spoke to local news outlet Seven Days about the harm in using such as fungicide. “Some pesticides are OK for human consumption,” said Pepper. “This one is a very known toxic one. So there’s no excuse here. And the fact that they’ve been through this once before leaves very little room for any sort of leniency.”

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