July 3, 2024

Research into the use of psychedelics to address mental health issues such as PTSD has received a lot of positive notice.

Yet a proposal to allow pilot projects in California apparently isn’t ready for prime time in the Legislature.

The latest bipartisan effort to provide some form of psychedelic therapy — the fourth attempt, by one count — died in the Assembly Health Committee last week and may be done for the year.

Senate Bill 803 by state Sens. Brian Jones, R-Santee, and Josh Becker, D-Menlo Park, would allow test programs in San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Cruz counties to operate for three years in which veterans and first responders could use psilocybin, or psychedelic mushrooms, under medical supervision.

The measure was withdrawn shortly before a scheduled hearing because it lacked support from the committee chair, Assemblymember Mia Bonta, D-Oakland, and perhaps others.

“It may well be that psychedelics have the potential to provide significant mental health benefits for those experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder,” Bonta said in a statement. “However, it is also crucial to provide a medical and therapeutic pathway with robust and meaningful regulation so California can be a beacon of leadership on this form of care.

“This issue will undoubtedly remain top of mind for me as I seek to ensure all Californians can access the safest and most effective care possible.”

Jones expressed disappointment, noting that the Democratic-led Legislature last year passed much broader legislation to decriminalize psychedelics, which was vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Newsom suggested lawmakers should consider a more narrowly focused bill.

Jones had opposed that earlier legislation, but emphasized the targeted nature of his bill, which had the support of some veterans groups that have been involved with psychedelic therapy research and advocate for more.

“Unfortunately, the committee was unwilling to work out language with us in order to move the bill forward,” Jones said in a statement.

“This is an important issue for many veterans and first responders in my district. We will continue to work on this thoughtful and balanced measure that was designed to rigorously study the effectiveness of these treatments with the hope of providing much-needed relief to those patients who need it most.”

Becker took solace that the bill “raised awareness of the work-related trauma and troubling mental health issues.” But he suggested the state is slow to move on what could be life-saving treatment.

“More than 17 veterans die by suicide each week,” Becker said. “This is unacceptable. Our heroes deserve the best care possible.”

Advocates for psychedelics in therapy have said they may seek a statewide ballot measure in 2026.

A growing body of research has shown that psychedelics can help people with certain mental health problems. But there’s also concern about the negative reaction some people can have to the substances as use of psychedelics becomes more popular.

Natural psychedelics such as psilocybin and psilocin, along with their chemically concocted counterparts such as LSD, remain illegal in California and across the United States.

However, cities including Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco and Santa Cruz have voted to, essentially, decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms by de-prioritizing law enforcement and penalties for possession and use of the substances, according to KQED.

Oregon voters have approved decriminalizing small amounts of psychedelics, and separately were the first to approve the supervised use of psilocybin in a therapeutic setting. Two years later, Colorado voters also passed a ballot measure to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms and to create state-regulated centers where participants can experience the drug under supervision, according to The Associated Press.

Last year, a bill by California Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would have allowed psychedelics for mental health treatment and decriminalized small amounts for personal possession. SB 58 was approved by the Legislature, but was vetoed by Newsom. The governor underscored the potential for the therapy but objected to decriminalization before rules were set up for treatment.

“This is an exciting frontier and California will be on the front-end of leading it,” Newsom said in his October veto message. “California should immediately begin work to set up regulated treatment guidelines — replete with dosing information, therapeutic guidelines, rules to prevent against exploitation during guided treatments, and medical clearance of no underlying psychoses. . .”

“I urge the legislature to send me legislation next year that includes therapeutic guidelines.”

Wiener then teamed up on a more narrow effort with Assemblymember Marie Waldron, R-Valley Center, who has said she became interested in advancing the concept after meeting with the group Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions, which advocates for the emerging science of using naturally occurring psychedelics to treat PTSD, help prevent suicide and cope with traumatic brain injuries.

A Wiener bill co-authored by Waldron that would have allowed treatment centers failed in committee earlier this year. Becker and Jones then amended SB 803 to allow for the three counties to conduct pilot programs. Waldron also is a co-author of this bill.

Despite the legislative track record, the idea of psychedelic treatment continues to receive broad, if somewhat vague, encouragement in Sacramento.

That may be enough to send lawmakers back to the drawing board.

Outbound link: San Diego Union-Tribune