Congress set for showdown over question of psychedelic treatments for veterans

Psychedelic treatment options found an unlikely vehicle to the floor of congress last week after the House of Representatives voted to look into new ways of helping to stem the problem of mental illness among our nation’s veterans. 

In the past month, a bipartisan wave of support has vaulted psychedelics into the congressional conversation, with that momentum leading to legislation in the House of Representatives. Now, with both sides of the aisle coming together to support research into how veterans could benefit from psychedelic treatments, the question of whether or not America is ready to embrace psychedelic therapy is one step closer to being codified into law. 

The big news out of Washington came in the form of a pair of amendments, from distinctly different political players, that were passed as part of the House’s version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) tacked a pair of psychedelic-friendly amendments onto the annual budget measure, and had their efforts affirmed in a voice vote. 

Ocasio-Cortez has been a vocal proponent of the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, and until this year, was unsuccessful in turning talk into legislation. In previous years, Ocasio-Cortez has offered identical legislation to the amendment that was passed, but it wasn’t until she dropped co-sponsor Matt Gaetz (R-Fla) from her efforts that she was able to pass this measure through the lower house of congress. 

In an interview with the NY Post, Ocasio-Cortez referenced promising research on the potential of psychedelic therapy, but was steadfast in her beliefs that the way our legal system treats these substances is standing in the way of progress, stating: “Right now, because of older provisions from the war on drugs, it’s preventing scientists from doing this medical research. So I’ve introduced an amendment to expand the research on these drugs.”

Instead of Gaetz playing opposite of Ocasio-Cortez this time around, it was Crenshaw, himself a Navy veteran, who offered support for psychedelics from the other side of the aisle. 

“That may come as a shock to many, and I say good, because to be frank we need new ideas because it seems we are losing the battle with veteran suicide,” he said, “and for our active duty service members, the situation is even worse, as they are precluded from even trying treatments such as psychedelics that could save their lives and bring hope to their families.”

“This form of treatment isn’t new. It’s proven and it’s tested,” Crenshaw said, later adding: “Private sector research shows that following MDMA treatments, 88 percent of veterans have a significant reduction in symptoms, and 67 percent no longer have PTSD.” 

Crenshaw’s brief remarks also touched on what he called the “face” of this legislation, referencing a former service member who had found stability in psychedelic treatment after multiple suicide attempts. Because of that service member’s experience with psychedelic therapy, “he credits his treatment with the reason why his son has a father instead of a flag,” according to Crenshaw.

While both amendments created a pathway for the research of psilocybin and MDMA, Crenshaw’s went a step further to include the potential of studying ibogaine and a substance similar to DMT known specifically as 5-MeO-DMT. Even with the two sides proposing similar legislation, neither representative has given any indication on working together toward making sure these measures are included in the final bill. 

That final bill started to take shape today, as the Senate released its initial version of the NDAA. With the house already passing its version of the bill, it is now a waiting game for the senate to follow suit before a conference committee will resolve any differences in the two pieces of legislation. 

Democratic leadership told POLITICO it expects to bring the measure to the senate floor in September. 

Without clear indication of any member of the Senate taking up the cause of psychedelic treatment for veterans, there is still a chance that both and/or either amendment could be missing from the final bill. Despite the uncertainty of his amendment’s passage, Crenshaw’s words on the house floor could be seen as a call for solidarity beyond his own chamber: A call to come together and support veterans like himself. 

“It’s my own friends, people who have served with me on the SEAL team who tell me that this cost-effective, often one-time treatment has completely changed their life…” he said. “I ask my colleagues to get outside of their comfort zone and vote for this amendment, our service members deserve it.” 


  • Patrick Radigan

    Patrick Radigan is a recovering sports journalist who had his eyes opened to the world of drug policy reform while covering a court case of a cannabis consultant found not guilty on trumped up possession charges. Since that case, he's covered legalization issues in multiple states, monitored tribal movements in the legal cannabis space and is now turning his attention to the wide spectrum of legalization and policy matters surrounding natural medicine alternatives. Patrick has written stories for newsprint, shot video for television news and got his start covering biofuels and soil science for a climate magazine. Originally from South Dakota, Pat earned a pair of journalism degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and now resides in Colorado.