DEA Withdraws Scheduling Process Proposal, Opens Door to Further Research of Psychedelic Compounds

Psychedelic access took a bold step forward last week thanks to a decision by the government to end its pursuit of a change in how certain compounds were scheduled. 

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced last week that it was withdrawing a proposed scheduling process that would have been a body blow to psychedelic research. Instead, the compounds, more specifically five substances known as tryptamines, will be recommended for further study before the agency recommends scheduling. 

A months-long debate over the tryptamines in question seemed poised for a hearing, before the DEA reversed course and withdrew its effort to schedule the compounds as Schedule I, which means they have no accepted medical use and have a high potential for abuse. As part of a legal dispute with Panacea Plant Sciences’, the DEA responded to a motion with a statement declaring it “moot” because of the decision to withdraw the scheduling process. 

In part, the statement read: “Upon further consideration, DEA has determined that it is appropriate to submit a new request to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for an updated scientific and medical evaluation and scheduling recommendation for these substances.”

As part of the statement, the DEA did deem the plaintiff’s motion “meritless’, however, it is hard to call the decision anything but a victory for Panacea and the greater scientific community after the agency decided to allow for more time to research and study the compounds before offering any type of scheduling recommendation.

Although this attempt to reschedule the substances has been withdrawn, there is no promise of what the DEA may decide to do in the future, despite the promise of more study by HHS. The defeated attempt came with a co-signed recommendation from HHS, and cited reasoning that “HHS has determined that consumption of these five tryptamines due to their hallucinogenic properties poses a safety hazard to the public health.”

Tryptamines are substances that most often act as hallucinogens, and that function to affect certain receptors in the body to elicit different reactions. The substances were discovered by renowned psychedelic researchers Alexander and Ann Shulgin and introduced to the world in their second book, “Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved”

This action to ban these five compounds was first suggested in January. Then, 582 comments were submitted during the public comment, before a proposed hearing in August was announced last month on the matter. With last Friday’s withdrawal of the proposed scheduling, it appears that initial backlash was enough to defeat the measure. 

Many in the comments took issue with the DEA’s attempt to criminalize the compounds, pointing to faulty logic and examples presented in the initial filing. For example, in the DEA’s reasoning over the compound 5-MeO-AMT, the agency pointed to a reported death as a result of abuse. However, that same report acknowledged that the substance was “taken in combination with alcohol and the antidepressant bupropion” and ultimately concluded that “it is unclear what role 5-MeO-AMT played in the death.”

A number of current researchers and advocacy groups also made their voice known among the comments after the initial action was proposed. In a letter written to the agency’s administrators, the Psychedelic Medicine Coalition said the attempt to criminalize psychedelic didn’t just lack logical backing–it flew in the face of current research findings and the realities of drug use in the United States. 

“The move is especially troublesome when one considers the rapidly growing body of research demonstrating that psychedelics can help reduce or eliminate addiction, depression, anxiety, and/or PTSD,” the letter said. “During a time when rates of depression, anxiety, suicide, addiction, alcoholism, and drug overdose are rapidly increasing, the federal government should be focusing on innovative ways to address these crises, rather than making research into potential treatments more inaccessible.”

Other comments on the matter varied in subject and tone, but mostly shared one common thread: Criminalization of psychedelic substances hurts patients. One comment was written by a complex PTSD patient and asked for the DEA to wait for scientific evidence before making any consideration. Others urged the agency to listen to preliminary research that showed promise for psychedelic mental health treatments. 

“Drug abuse is about the relationship between the person and the drug. An unhealthy relationship should not be a crime,” one comment said. “It should be cause for medical treatment. A drug or chemical itself is not necessarily problematic.”

“Please don’t forget that the role of the government is to help and serve the people. Prosecution of victimless crimes will not do that.”


  • 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.