Candidates who support psychedelics as a drug get a political action committee

    Buoyed by a growing body of research on the use of psychedelics to treat depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses, a new political action committee is seeking to elect leaders to support the therapeutic use of substances such as psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms), ketamine and MDMA, better known as ecstasy.

    The founders behind the newly formed Psychedelic Medicine PAC are also striving to secure federal funding for further education and research efforts at a time of increased focus on the dangerous side effects of opioids, especially fentanyl, and other traditional medicines.

    Proponents have long argued that the therapeutic use of psychedelics may be safer and more effective than prescription drugs, some of which carry the risk of dependence. It’s a movement that has grown in recent years as more clinical studies back up these claims and society grapples with increasing mental health issues exacerbated by the pandemic.

    But even true believers say more research is needed to fully understand how the same drugs popularized by hippies and ravers could be used to treat potentially life-threatening conditions.

    “We need 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 won’t stare at the sun to blow their eyes out. People won’t jump off a building,” he said. “This is about healing trauma. It’s not about recreation.”

    Melissa Lavasani, co-founder and executive director of the group, has experienced that healing firsthand after using psychedelics to treat postpartum depression and chronic pain. She led decriminalization efforts in Washington, D.C., where she pushed through an initiative that made the cultivation and possession of plant and fungal drugs the lowest priority for local law enforcement and prosecutors.

    The measure passed overwhelmingly with 76% backing it in 2020, the same year Oregon passed a ballot initiative to legalize the use of psychedelic mushrooms in therapeutic settings.

    Since then, similar initiatives have sprung up across the country. A bipartisan group of congressional leaders launched a caucus dedicated earlier this year to advancing research and awareness around psychedelic-assisted therapy. Last year, the Biden administration said it did explore the possibility of creating a task force to study psychedelics, expecting the Food and Drug Administration to approve such a therapy in the next few years.

    “A research approach and a science-based 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 make sure people are comfortable buying into this issue.”

    The group, which aims to raise $10 million in its first year, is in the early stages of fundraising and is reaching out to all levels of donors, including investors in the for-profit biotech space and Silicon Valley, Rodgers says.

    The playbook also includes getting buy-in from Democrats and Republicans alike, a strategy that worked in the early days of cannabis law reform but has so far failed to garner a groundswell of support for legalization and decriminalization.

    “We want to make sure that what we’re advocating for doesn’t create opposition to the issue in the halls of Congress,” Lavasani said. “We’ve seen some of the strategies of the cannabis reform movement become really divisive and that’s really slowed down some of the progress. That’s a real lesson we’ve learned.”

    One of those lessons, Lavasani added, is not to push for legalization or decriminalization until elected leaders have a better understanding of psychedelics and how they can be used in therapeutic settings.

    “If their goal is to reschedule or decriminalize the schedule, they’re going to have an extremely difficult time,” says Dustin Robinson, founder of Iter Investments, a psychedelics venture capital firm. “But if their goal is to make more policy around what happens with psychedelics in the therapeutic space, the federal government seems very open to that.”

    Unlike cannabis, which has a deep stigma from the so-called war on drugs, psychedelics seem more palatable to a wider audience. They are not smoked, can be taken in small doses and, when combined with therapy, have been shown to effectively treat serious mental disorders.

    “The time is right,” said Stuart Titus, chairman of the board of Hempacco, a California-based manufacturer of hemp products. “With the current economic climate, we see a very challenging environment for companies to raise money for study and research. Having the federal government pay for it would be very popular.”

    But the sudden interest in psychedelics as a drug is very similar to the early boom of the cannabis industry, which has since sputtered as cumbersome regulations slow down state programs and congressional leaders delay efforts to federally decriminalize the plant, which remains a Schedule 1 drug. meaning it has no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

    MDMA, LSD and psilocybin, which is found in magic mushrooms, are categorized by the DEA as controlled substances with no medicinal value.

    “We’re in the hype phase now,” warned Ryan Munevar, campaign manager for Decriminalize California, which is trying to decriminalize and eventually legalize psychedelic mushrooms in the state. “Everything in politics should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s not a system designed to evolve quickly.”

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