Nov 13, 2023 - Health

VA "committed" to studying psychedelics for PTSD

Illustration of a large cap mushroom inside of a pill bottle.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Department of Veterans Affairs says it's committed to studying whether psychedelics like MDMA and psilocybin are effective treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder ahead of a House hearing expected to touch on the substances.

Why it matters: It shows growing recognition that hallucinogenic drugs, when paired with psychotherapy, could potentially have mental health benefits.

  • The Tuesday hearing in the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health appears to be the first focused on psychedelic-assisted therapy for veterans' mental health, though it will address other interventions that could reduce the suicide epidemic among veterans.

What they're saying: "VA is committed to studying interventions that promote the health of the nation's veterans," VA assistant undersecretary for health Carolyn Clancy said in written testimony submitted to the committee.

  • There are several studies at VA facilities researching psychedelic-assisted therapy for mental health, and the department is closely monitoring outside research, she said.
  • "Based on our assessment of the literature to date, there is still much to learn, and much yet to be understood, about the potential benefits of psychedelic compounds. Our department is not only focused on finding the best innovative treatments and cures but doing so safely."

State of play: Two Phase 3 studies, including one published in September, appeared to show that MDMA-assisted therapy was effective in reducing PTSD symptoms.

  • The company behind the September study has predicted that approval from the Food and Drug Administration could come as early as next year. The agency last summer laid out first-ever guidance for psychedelic drug trials.
  • The VA's "primary concerns" with the two trials stem from the relatively small number of veterans participating, as well as the small number of overall participants, Clancy's statement said.
  • The use of an inactive placebo could mean participants can guess which treatment they received, potentially biasing results, she said.

What's next: Psychedelics research being conducted at VA facilities is funded by outside organizations, not the department itself. However, the VA is "closely" following growing research literature to determine if further study is warranted.

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