Texas House Approves Medical Research on Psychedelics

"To me, this may be one of the most hopeful pieces of legislation that the members of the Legislature have the opportunity to consider this session. Research shows that psychedelics seem to restart the brain."

The Texas State Capitol Building in Austin, TX Source: Shutterstock

Most psychedelics have been illegal in the United States since the 1960s. But in the November 2020 election, Oregon became the very first state to legalize magic mushrooms. Washington, D.C. decriminalized the active ingredient in shrooms, psilocybin. Denver, Oakland, and Santa Cruz, California have, too. A bill moving through the state Assembly in New York hopes to do the same. But the state of Texas could beat New York to it.

A bill moving through the Texas House of Representatives would allow research into the benefits of using certain psychedelics to treat mental health and wellness issues. It was approved in the House Public Health Committee, with an amendment limiting the scope of the study.

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Democratic State Representative Alex Dominguez is the one pushing the bill. The bill is entitled, “An act relating to a study evaluating the use of alternative therapies for treating certain mental health and other medical conditions.” 

House Bill 1802

House Bill 1802 directs the Texas Medical Board to study the effects of MDMA, psilocybin, and ketamine for the treatment of depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, chronic pain, and migraines. It would also compare the efficacy of those alternative therapies with treatments that are already used for those same conditions.

Instead, that list of concerns will be limited solely to PTSD, specifically in military veterans. In a news conference, Rep. Dominguez told listeners, “We dishonor [veterans] by having them leave the country yet again to find treatment.” Right now, because Oregon’s legal program for psilocybin hasn’t started up yet, people have to travel outside the United States to get treatment using that product.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, has lent his support to the bill. He’s been traveling across the state making clear Rep. Dominguez’s bill has bipartisan support.

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“To me, this may be one of the most hopeful pieces of legislation that the members of the Legislature have the opportunity to consider this session,” Perry told the Texas Tribune. “Research shows that psychedelics seem to restart the brain.”

After an article came out about that team joining forces, Representative Dominguez quote-tweeted the article, saying, ” When we come together to focus on what unites us instead of what divides us, we can truly represent Texans and lead by example for the rest of the nation.”

Perry says he still opposes the use of drugs for recreational use. However, he says he has seen overwhelming evidence that psychedelic drugs can and have offered relief to former service members.

“All of that properly done in the right type of clinical setting will save a multitude of lives,” the former presidential candidate said. “I’m convinced of it. I have seen it enough of these young men.”

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If the bill passes, it says that the study should have finished that study and prepared a report by December 1st of 2022.

The Potential Impact of the Bill

The bill is more significant than simply a one-time study. It serves to open the doors for further research that would guide lawmakers’ decision-making in further legislation that could decriminalize or even promote its use.

Right now, the FDA has approved Prozac and Zoloft for the treatment of PTSD, but veterans often complain that they’re left feeling unlike themselves and still subject to mood swings. As of 2018, one in eight Americans use antidepressants; but a third of those patients either already have or build up resistance to those drugs. As a result, many people self-medicate, which can lead to many problems of its own.

The use of psychedelics to help with mental battles has been gaining traction for some time in the Lonestar State. A company called Field Trip Health even has a new therapeutic facility in Houston. The company started in Toronto, it says, treating people – not patients.

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“Field Trip takes a personalized approach to mental wellness, the company explains. “We blend legal psychedelic-enhanced therapy, mindfulness, and self-care with a series of sessions with trained psychotherapists. All in an environment designed to foster a feeling of safety, comfort, and to promote healing.”

For now, in its Houston office, that legal psychedelic is ketamine. The anesthetic was once used mainly on battlefields; now it’s used largely in people who’ve left the battlefield. That is, it helps to treat depression and suicidal thoughts.

Before the drugs were outlawed, psychedelic therapy was being studied thoroughly. The National Institutes of Health funded over 130 studies looking into the active chemicals’ benefits and found the effects were significant and enduring, even with small doses. The side effects were minor, too, and usually fleeting – particularly in comparison with antidepressants. Whereas the psychedelics only induced side effects like nausea and vomiting, headaches, and slight fear or perception of illusions, antidepressant pills can lead to major changes in blood pressure and heart rate, have withdrawal symptoms, and can even increase thoughts of suicide.

Other countries are still pressing ahead with similar research; the United Kingdom is looking into using DMT as a possible treatment to go with psychotherapy.

Drug Laws in Texas

Meanwhile, recreational marijuana remains illegal in Texas. There was a push to decriminalize the product, but that failed. The House of Representatives did recently approve a bill that reduces penalties for simple possession of marijuana concentrates, however.

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Right now, if a person in Texas is caught with up to two ounces of marijuana, they can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor and be thrown in jail for up to 180 days and slammed with a $2,000 fine. Under House Bill 441, possession of 1 ounce of less of marijuana would instead be a Class C misdemeanor, which cannot be accompanied by jail time.

That’s only the latest push. Of ten other bills in the Texas state legislature attempting to address criminal penalties for recreational cannabis use and possession, only one other made it out of committee: House Bill 99. That would make it so that marijuana possession is only punishable by a fine, and would make sure driver’s licenses wouldn’t be suspended in association with a conviction for possession.

A Republican lawmaker in Iowa is also looking into decriminalizing psilocybin. 

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