Missouri lawmakers held a hearing on Wednesday to discuss possible solutions to the military veterans’ mental health and suicide crisis, with several people testifying about the possible therapeutic potential of psychedelics for the at-risk population.
The House Interim Committee on Veterans Mental Health and Suicide, chaired by Rep. Dave Griffith (D), heard from a medical professional and people with personal experience using entheogenic substances for therapeutic treatment. This marked the second meeting of the interim panel.
While members touched on a number of veterans-related issues, advocates were encouraged to see the psychedelics conversation advance, especially as one GOP lawmaker prepares to pre-file a revised version of a bill for the upcoming session that would allow patients with serious illnesses to access to currently banned natural medicines like psilocybin.
Rep. Tony Lovasco (R) introduced a psychedelics reform bill for the 2022 session. It was addressed during a hearing in the House Health and Mental Health Policy Committee in March, but it did not advance.
That’s despite the fact that Chairman Mike Stephens (R) said at the time that his experience as a former pharmacist gave him perspective on the dangers of many prescription drugs and that lawmakers “can’t close our eyes” to alternative medicines, even if they may be controversial.
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At Wednesday’s hearing in the interim panel, witnesses shared personal stories about their experiences with psychedelics and talked about the potential of such substances in the treatment of serious mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that commonly afflict veterans.
Rahul Kapur, a physician who runs a ketamine clinic for people with treatment-resistant depression, said that he’s spent significant time learning about the unique traumas that the veteran community faces.
“We, as fellow human beings and fellow Americans, owe our fellow countrymen and women our unqualified help to heal their mind, body and spirit—to honor their sacrifices in their family sacrifices,” he said. “We have an obligation to keep exploring and providing them with any resources we have at our disposal. And, in my opinion, psychedelics are a key resource in this fight.”
Elaine Brewer, founder of the Humble Warrior Wellness Center and the wife of a military service member, talked about the anxiety she personally experienced while her husband was on tour, recalling stories of other families who’d lost loved ones in combat. She said psychedelics revolutionized her mental health.
“Through psychedelic assisted therapy, we have been given the gift of closure—a new perspective and a positive outlook on our futures. We have been given hope,” she said. “This is single handedly—in my opinion, from what I have seen, heard and personally experienced—the most effective treatment in post-traumatic stress, depression, suicidal ideation, treating negative effects of traumatic brain injury and, yes, even treating addiction and substance abuse.”
The psychedelics bill that Lovasco plans to pre-file ahead of the next session would similarly focus on providing seriously ill patients, including those suffering from major mental illness, with access to entheogenic substances.
While many states, as well as the federal government, allow certain patients to use experimental controlled substances under what’s known as “Right to Try” statute, Missouri currently doesn’t extend that flexibility to Schedule I drugs like psilocybin. The GOP lawmaker’s forthcoming bill is expected to address that.
Separately, Rep. Michael Davis (R) has twice filed bills to give residents with serious illnesses legal access to a range of psychedelic drugs like psilocybin, ibogaine and LSD by expanding Missouri’s Right to Try law.
The interim committee, meanwhile, is expected to meet at least a couple more times before it’s required to produce a report on its findings and recommendations to the legislature.
Also in Missouri, voters will have the chance to decide on legalizing marijuana for adult use at the ballot this November—but the proposal from Legal Missouri 2022 is facing some significant resistance, including from some advocates and lawmakers who support legalization.
Missouri activists announced on Thursday that they have launched a campaign to oppose the certified marijuana initiative, calling on the governor to give lawmakers a chance to enact an alternate version of reform during an upcoming special session.
Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove (D), who chairs the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, said on Tuesday that she’s also forming her own group called the Impactful Canna Reform Coalition (ICRC) that will work to educate voters about what they view as shortcomings of the certified ballot proposal.
She argued that the initiative lacks holistic provisions to make the cannabis market equitable, unnecessarily adds penalties for certain offenses and falls short of resolving the racial disparities of cannabis criminalization—though she conceded it is likely to be approved by voters.
Lovasco, the lawmaker spearheading psychedelics reform, is also against the Legal Missouri 2022 constitutional amendment.
“The Missouri Constitution is an inappropriate place for any kind of marijuana possession or use regulation or criminal charges proposed by Amendment 3,” he said in a press release distributed on Thursday by No On Amendment 3. “Rather than settle for an ill-suited and monopolistic program shoehorned into our Constitution, the Missouri General Assembly has a unique opportunity to consider legislation that would legalize cannabis in a truly free market fashion.”
“I urge Governor Parson to expand the upcoming special session so that the legislature can properly implement these important reforms,” he said.
Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.