Piecing the Psychedelics Patchwork Together in the US
The Future of Psychedelics has always been a hot topic. Psychedelics are not “legal” in the US in typical terms, with federal endorsement or guidelines for quality control or sales. It’s a patchwork of laws, regulations, and FDA guidelines, creating accessible areas and enforcing bans on substances.
Changes on the state level mainly center around psilocybin. Oregon was the first state in the nation to create a legal framework through which people can access magic mushrooms. Colorado is set to follow suit, having legalized the substance in 2022. Other states are on track to potentially legalize psilocybin in the coming months, including New York and Washington.
In addition to state-level changes, the FDA has also shifted its stance on psychedelics. The regulatory agency granted “breakthrough treatment status” to certain patents of psychedelics, including psilocybin, ketamine, and MDMA. While this does not legalize these substances, it makes it significantly easier for research and clinical trials to happen.
These trials are essential for eroding the notion of psychedelics as dangerous and gaining a better understanding of their medical application. The FDA does not issue this designation often, which signals how far the public opinion on psychedelics has shifted in a few years.
This patchwork of legalization and decriminalization makes for a confusing industry status, but it is a necessary step forward. One report from Marijuana Moment predicts that most US states will have legal psychedelics by 2037. (The report specifically calls out psilocybin and MDMA.) Any work in progress looks confusing and perhaps even messy before it is finished, but you can’t complete a painting without getting started.
Ongoing Clinical Trials Impact Regulatory Bodies
The FDA has a lengthy approval process for new substances and medications, with an average of nine years spent on clinical trials before approval can be issued – and this doesn’t count the years spent in initial research and preclinical trials. Designating MDMA, psilocybin, and ketamine as breakthrough treatments allows more clinical trials and research to be funded.
Researchers are currently conducting dozens of studies, a combination of efforts by private and public companies. The results of these studies will directly impact the future of psychedelic studies, patents, and available medications. Researchers struggle for federal funding due to substance illegality, yet their studies are crucial for regulatory decision-making.
One regulatory body that these studies have unarguably swayed is the DEA. While it has not rescheduled any psychedelic substances, it did release a report on 2023 product quotas for research drugs which called for increased manufacturing of psychedelic compounds, including MDMA, psilocybin, and 5-MeO-DMT. If that isn’t indicative of a needle shift, nothing is!
It’s vital to note here that while the DEA changing the scheduling of substances would make the future of psychedelics easier, it’s not inherently necessary. Cannabis has not been transformed from a schedule one substance, and look how far the industry has come just by making progress at the state level.
States taking matters into their own hands is a significant step in pushing these industries forward. The federal government is slow to change and react to sways in public opinion, but changes in regulations happen (comparatively) faster at the state level. This is one area where the future of psychedelics will closely mirror the footsteps of the cannabis industry, moving forward throughout the states years before the federal government gets on board.
Cannabis Framework Blazing Trails for Psychedelics
Will the future of psychedelics look like the current state of the cannabis industry? Maybe. It’s unlikely that the two will progress in identical ways, but psychedelics certainly have much to thank cannabis for as the market expands.
The Cannabis Pathway
Cannabis legalization has moved forward in two main ways; through ballot initiatives, including government amendments, and pharmaceuticals. Psychedelics will do the same. Decriminalization aids research and medical communities, facilitating plant medicine access and alternative treatments. Studies confirming psychedelic benefits drive interest in decriminalization and legalization by cities and states.
Just as cannabis’ impact on mental health was undeniable during the pandemic, the impact psychedelics has on mental health is becoming more concrete (and peer-reviewed.) Back in the 1950s, when these substances were first studied, they were hailed as miracle treatments for mental health conditions. The same is true today; psychedelics and mental health are often mentioned in headlines, and research centers around conditions that modern medicine falls short of treating — like chronic pain, severe anxiety, treatment-resistant depression, and PTSD.
Mental Health and Treatment
Treatment of PTSD is another area psychedelics and cannabis have in common. PTSD is common after trauma, but modern treatments fall short. Psychedelics offer profound mental health breakthroughs. Cannabis paved the way; now psychedelics will too.
Time and evidence sway scientists, while broader acceptance emerges. NIMH guidelines lend legitimacy to psychedelic clinical trials. These guidelines also specified the studies the institute is interested in funding, including psychedelics for mental health.
Psychedelics have a profound impact on the brain, which seems to create unimaginable leaps forward for people suffering from mental health problems. The future of legal psychedelics will rely heavily on treating these substances as medicine. While cannabis has a firm divide between medical and recreational legalization, psychedelics will likely stay more on the medical side.
Studies have shown that these substances are not habit-forming, and consumers will likely not purchase or consume them with the same frequency as cannabis. Additionally, the intense effects of these substances make them less appealing for regular use at full doses. (Micro-dosing is a different story.)
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