A group of psychedelics activists has formed a political action committee aimed at lobbying Congress to support research into the therapeutic use of compounds including psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine. The new group, dubbed the Psychedelic Medicine PAC, also plans to encourage lawmakers to ease restrictions on the powerful drugs, which have shown promise as potential treatments for mental health conditions including depression, anxiety and addiction.
“With the growing evidence of therapeutic benefits from psychedelics, we believe it is time for the American people to take action into their own hands by electing leaders that support policies that expand access to these life-changing treatments,” Melissa Lavasani, the president and co-founder of the political action committee, said in a statement.
The Psychedelic Medicine PAC points to the adoption of psilocybin legalization measures by voters in Oregon and Colorado as evidence that such reform is warranted at the federal level. The group’s leaders acknowledge, however, that lingering misconceptions about psychedelics present challenges to progress on the issue.
“We have to convince a historically stubborn audience around psychedelics that it’s not the 1960s,” said Ryan Rodgers, co-founder and executive director of Psychedelic Medicine PAC.
“People aren’t going to stare into the sun for their eyes to blow out. People aren’t going to jump off a building,” he added. “This is about healing trauma. It’s not about recreation.”
Continuing research has shown that psilocybin has the potential to be an effective treatment for several serious mental health conditions, including PTSD, major depressive disorder, anxiety and substance misuse disorders. A study published in 2020 in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Psychiatry found that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy was a quick-acting and effective treatment for a group of 24 participants with major depressive disorder. And separate research published in 2016 determined that psilocybin treatment produced substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer.
Lavasani has personally experienced the benefits of psychedelics after using the promising drugs to treat post-partum depression and chronic pain. She led a 2020 campaign to decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi in Washington, D.C. that was passed with the approval of 76% of the district’s voters. The same year, voters in Oregon voted in favor of a ballot initiative to legalize the therapeutic use of psilocybin, the primary psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms.
The leadership of the new PAC believes that before psychedelics can be legalized at the federal level, time must be spent educating members of Congress and the executive branch about the therapeutic potential of the compounds. Last year, the Biden administration announced it was considering forming a task force to study psychedelics in anticipation of possible upcoming approval of psychedelic-assisted therapy by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“A research approach and a science-drive approach is really the path of least resistance,” Lavasani said. “It’s going to take a little longer — it’s a very slow approach and it’s very methodical what we’re trying to do — but it’s a way to ensure people feel comfortable buying into this issue.”
The Psychedelic Medicine PAC also seeks to form relationships with politicians on both sides of the aisle, noting that cannabis policy reform activists have had some success by forging consensus. But some policies pressed by many cannabis advocates, such as social equity and restorative justice provisions, have failed to gain the support of many lawmakers in the Republican party.
“We want to ensure that what we’re advocating for doesn’t create an opposition to the issue within the halls of Congress,” Lavasani said. “We’ve seen how some of the strategies employed by the cannabis reform movement have been really divisive and that’s really delayed some of the progress. That’s a real lesson learned.”
One of the lessons learned by psychedelics policy reform activists is not to advocate for decriminalization and legalization until lawmakers have a better understanding of the therapeutic potential of the drugs.
“If their goal is to reschedule or decriminalize, they’re going to have an extremely hard time,” advised Dustin Robinson, founder of Iter Investments, a psychedelics venture capital firm. “But if their goal is to create more policies around what’s happening with psychedelics in the therapeutic space, the federal government appears very open to that.”
In November 2022, two House lawmakers launched the Congressional Psychedelics Advancing Clinical Treatments (PACT) Caucus to advocate for research into psychedelic drugs. Additionally, a bipartisan bill from Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and New Jersey Democrat Sen. Cory Booker would create a pathway for psychedelics including psilocybin to be reclassified as Schedule II drugs instead of the more restrictive Schedule I they are currently listed under. But activists caution that the legalization of psychedelics will not happen overnight.
“We’re in the hype phase now,” said Ryan Munevar, campaign director of Decriminalize California, a group advocating for the decriminalization and legalization of entheogenic plants and fungi in the state. “Everything in politics should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s not a system designed to move quickly.”