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Missouri House backs bill requiring state research on psychedelics to treat depression and PTSD

A group of school children enter the Missouri Capitol early Friday, May 13, 2022, before the House begins the final legislative session.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
This bill requires the Department of Health and Senior Services to collaborate on the study with a Missouri university hospital, as well as a hospital or medical center operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Missouri.

The suicide rate among veterans in Missouri is nearly double the state rate and one of the highest in the country.

In hopes of helping veterans and other Missourians facing mental health issues, the Missouri House advanced a bill Wednesday that would require the state to conduct a study on using psilocybin, also known as “magic mushrooms,” to treat depression, substance use or as part end-of-life care.

Several lawmakers said they were “passionate” about seeing the study go forward during Wednesday’s debate. Among them was Rep. Aaron McMullen, R-Independence, a veteran who served in a combat unit in Afghanistan.

“Substance abuse and suicide are escalating in the veterans community,” McCullen said, quoting a letter from the Grunt Style Foundation that serves veterans. “While psilocybin is not a panacea for every issue, it represents a first true scientifically-validated hope that we have to address this crisis.”

The House overwhelmingly approved the measure, sponsored by Rep. Dan Houx, R-Warrensburg, on Wednesday. The bill still needs a final vote in the House before it heads to the Senate.

In early March, the bill passed out of the House Veterans Committee unanimously — though many of the members said the measure was outside of their “comfort zones.”

“If you would have told me five years ago that I’d be chairing a committee and hearing a bill where we’re going to be talking about psychedelics for veterans, I would have told you, ‘You’re crazy,’” said committee chairman Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, during the committee hearing.

On Wednesday, Griffith again encouraged people to look at the “extensive” research coming out of the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research.

“I’ve done hours and hours of research from Johns Hopkins,” he said. “The data that comes out of these studies that they’ve done is remarkable.”

This bill requires the Department of Health and Senior Services to provide grants totaling $2 million for the research, subject to lawmakers approving the appropriation. The state would collaborate on the study with a Missouri university hospital or medical center operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Missouri. The focus of the treatment is on patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance use disorders, or for those who require end-of-life care.

Federal agencies are exploring when and how psychoactive substances can help treatment of mental health and substance use disorders. In June, the chief of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration wrote to U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean that FDA approval of psilocybin to treat depression was likely within the next two years.

Faced with high rates of substance use and mental health issues “we must explore the potential of psychedelic-assisted therapies to address this crisis,” Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, wrote to Dean.

More than 1,000 people take their own lives in Missouri every year, putting the state about 25% above the national average for suicides.

Rep. Tony Lovasco, R-O’Fallon, who sponsored a similar bill, said the state’s high suicide rate — and the elevated rate among veterans — makes it a life-and-death issue.

Two years or longer for FDA approval is a long time to wait, he previously told the Independent.

“The folks that are coming back from war, that are in desperate need of care, a lot of them aren’t going to be around in three years,” Lovasco said. “We’ve got, what 20-something veterans per day committing suicide? That’s a tremendous amount of loss while we wait for the government to do some paperwork.”

This story was originally published by the Missouri Independent, part of States Newsroom.

Rebecca Rivas is a multimedia reporter who covers Missouri's cannabis industry for the Missouri Independent.