A Senate committee has approved a spending bill report that contains sections encouraging the expansion of federally supported research into marijuana and psychedelics, while also expressing concerns about barriers to studies that result from the substances’ ongoing Schedule I designations. The panel further noted that scientists face “limited access to sources” of cannabis, suggesting that they should be able to study the actual products consumers are purchasing from state-legal dispensaries.
The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the legislation—which covers Fiscal Year 2024 funding for Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies—and its attached report language last Thursday, advancing it to the floor.
In addition to the research-focused drug policy sections of the report, there’s also language in the underlying bill that prohibits the use of federal funds “for any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance included in schedule I” under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), unless there’s “significant medical evidence of a therapeutic advantage.”
Here’s a rundown of the marijuana and psychedelics provisions of the LaborH bill and report:
The committee is urging expanded research into psychedelics, and advised that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) should collaborate with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop public-private partnerships to facilitate such research.
“Psychedelic Research.—The Committee recognizes the increased interest and need to study psychedelics, including MDMA, ketamine, and psilocybin, and their potential therapeutic effects. The Committee encourages NIH to expand its current research agenda across its Institutes and Centers, potentially by forming a cross-Institute research group, and to encourage psychedelic research at the NIH Clinical Center. The Committee also encourages NIH to work with FDA in developing and supporting public-private collaborations to advance all forms of psychedelic research for therapeutic purposes.”
At the same time, senators conveyed that they are “concerned” that state and federal cannabis policies are being reformed without sufficient research about the risks and benefits. To that end, the committee is encouraging NIH to expand studies into marijuana.
“Cannabis Research.—The Committee is concerned that marijuana policies on the Federal level and in the States (medical marijuana, recreational use, etc.) are being changed without the benefit of scientific research to help guide those decisions. The Committee recognizes the increased interest and need to study cannabis and its constituent cannabinoids. The Committee encourages NIH to expand its current research agenda across its Institutes and Centers, including additional research on higher potency THC, alternative cannabis formulations and extracts, and additional minor cannabinoids. The Committee also encourages NIH to expand research on the potential medical uses of cannabis, such as for chronic pain, appetite stimulation, immune diseases, cancer, metabolic and digestive disorders, epilepsy, glaucoma, MS, sleep disorders, and a variety of mental health conditions such as anxiety and PTSD. The Committee encourages NIH to continue to take an integrated approach to cannabis research across its Institutes and Centers. Finally, the Committee encourages NIH to continue supporting a full range of research on the health effects of marijuana and its components, including research to understand how marijuana policies affect public health.”
As in past sessions, the report again discusses barriers to research for Schedule I drugs, especially those that are the subject of significant interest like marijuana and psychedelics. The committee also expressed appreciation to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for completing a report that outlines study obstacles posed by the scheduling complications.
Notably, lawmakers are specifically highlighting the inability of researchers to examine cannabis products from dispensaries that operate under state laws.
“Barriers to Research.—The Committee is concerned that restrictions associated with Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act effectively limits the amount and type of research that can be conducted on certain Schedule I drugs, especially opioids, psychedelics, marijuana or its component chemicals, and new synthetic drugs and analogs. At a time when we need as much information as possible about these drugs and antidotes for their harmful effects, we should be addressing regulatory and other barriers to conducting this research. The Committee appreciates NIDA’s completion of a report on the barriers to research that result from the classification of drugs and compounds as Schedule I substances including the challenges researchers face as a result of limited access to sources of marijuana, including dispensary products.”
Recently, NIDA Director Nora Volkow also again raised her own concerns about Schedule I research barriers for psychedelics in an opinion piece that was published by the American Medical Association.
The newly approves Senate spending bill itself features a section that restricts the use of federal funding for activities that promote the legalization of Schedule I drugs, with an exception for substances with demonstrable therapeutic benefits. Arguably marijuana and certain psychedelics could fit that description.
“SEC. 509. (a) None of the funds made available in this Act may be used for any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance included in schedule I of the schedules of controlled substances established under section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act except for normal and recognized executive-congressional communications.
(b) The limitation in subsection (a) shall not apply when there is significant medical evidence of a therapeutic advantage to the use of such drug or other substance or that federally sponsored clinical trials are being conducted to determine therapeutic advantage.”
The Senate is currently on a month-long recess, so lawmakers will need to return to the appropriations legislation when they reconvene in September.
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The Senate Appropriations Committee also recently voted to let Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors issue medical cannabis recommendations and approved a report for the VA spending legislation that includes language calling on the department to facilitate medical marijuana access for veterans and explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
House and Senate appropriators have also approved large-scale annual spending bills that once again include language to protect state medical cannabis programs, as well as a controversial rider to block Washington, D.C. from implementing a system of regulated marijuana sales.
Meanwhile, Democratic senators sought to pass a series of marijuana reform amendments through its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
One successfully adopted provision would bar intelligence agencies like the CIA and NSA from denying security clearances to applicants solely due to their past marijuana use.
Another proposal, led by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), would have allowed veterans to use medical cannabis in states and territories where its legal, mirroring a standalone bill that the senator introduced in April, but it was not brought up for consideration.
Last month, the full House approved amendments to a large-scale spending bill that would allow VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis to military veterans and promote research into substances like psilocybin and MDMA.
A report attached to the spending legislation by the House Appropriations Committee also includes a section noting that “VA has clarified that nothing in VA statutes or regulations specifically prohibits a veteran whose income is derived from state-legalized cannabis activities from obtaining a certificate of eligibility for VA home loan benefits.”
The recent House votes to approve the amendments represents one of the first examples of progress on cannabis and psychedelics reform in the GOP-controlled body. There were some concerns that all modest proposals on the issue might be held up in the Rules Committee, as the panel recently blocked more than a dozen other drug policy reform amendments that were proposed as part of the NDAA.