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During a Wednesday Senate budget hearing, Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) expressed positive remarks about the therapeutic potential of psychedelics such as psilocybin and MDMA.
“I think as we’ve learned more about how the brain works we began to realize that these are potential tools for research purposes and might be clinically beneficial,” Collins said.
The NIH is the country’s main health agency responsible for public health research. As its director, Collins stands as the highest ranking health officer in the federal government.
Psychedelics: Collins said there has been a resurgence of interest in psychedelic drugs, which for a while “were sort of considered not an area that researchers legitimately ought to go after.”
He went on to explain that psilocybin has been tested in three randomized, controlled trials for depression, showing signs of potential interest.
“That could be quite exciting, because we all are looking for new approaches to that.”
Collins added that MDMA and LSD are also under research and acknowledged that psilocybin is the psychedelic molecule that has garnered the most attention of late.
He told the committee hearing that he has been in conversations with the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Mental Health “about whether it’s a good moment to consider having perhaps a workshop to say, ‘OK, what have we learned so far and what more might we want to do as far as designing the next generation of clinical trials to see where these provide benefits - going beyond depression to such things as PTSD?”
These agencies, he estimates, will “want to have a hard look” at these treatments over the course of the next year.
Medical Cannabis: The NIH director also referred to progress being made in access to medical marijuana for federal research.
“We’re making some progress. You may know that in the past, researchers who wanted to do clinical studies on marijuana had all kinds of limitations," Collins said, adding that for the past five decades there had been only one source of marijuana for federal research purposes.
“That of course is an issue because it’s a limited opportunity for access.”
Collins said that the DEA had recently granted permission to expand the number of research marijuana providers.
However, Collins said, the best solution is to remove cannabis from its classification as a Schedule I drug.
“What we really need is to moderate the schedule 1 limitation,” Collins said, proposing the creation of a “Schedule 1R” category that would create a different pathway for researchers.
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