The Connecticut Public Health Committee unanimously approved a bill (House Bill 5396) that, if passed into law, would pave the way for the use of psilocybin and MDMA in the treatment of mental health issues. Psilocybin is a psychedelic compound found in “magic mushrooms,” while MDMA, also known as “molly” or ecstasy, is a synthetic, psychoactive drug that alters mood and perception.
Studies show that both substances have great potential in managing severe mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD when used in conjunction with traditional therapy in what has come to be known as psychedelic-assisted therapy.
The legislation would require the state to set up three specialized treatment sites and fund a pilot program for psychedelic-assisted therapy that would provide “qualified” patients with access to psilocybin- or MDMA-assisted therapy through the FDA’s expanded access program.
Individuals who fall under the “qualified” patients group are retired first responders, veterans, healthcare workers, and individuals from historically underserved communities with serious or life-threatening behavioral/mental health disorders and no access to effective treatments.
The committee arrived at a decision after carefully considering oral and written testimonies presented during a public hearing. The majority of the testimonies came from people with personal experience with mental health issues, who provided compelling arguments about how psychedelics have helped them address and manage their conditions more effectively than traditional medicines.
The bill represents a bold move to increase access to reliable mental health treatments in the state amid a glaring national mental health crisis that the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated. The unanimous, bipartisan decision by the committee reflects a growing consensus on the urgency to combat the mental health crisis by embracing new and innovative treatment methods.
“Most of us are aware that we had both access and quality issues with mental health before the pandemic hit us,” said Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, who also serves as the committee’s co-chair. “It took the pandemic to highlight the real gaps and shortcomings in supply and access to mental health care. It obliged us to be more open-minded and a little creative. It also led us to look with fresh eyes at alternative therapies.”
The bill is not aimed at legalizing psychedelic substances but rather to help set up a guiding framework for the state to provide access to these potentially lifesaving treatments as private and federal entities continue to invest and facilitate research and clinical trials.
Psychedelic-assisted therapy may not be a silver bullet for the ongoing mental health crisis, but they offer hope where there is currently little to be found. If enacted, this will be an important step in the right direction for mental health treatment as it will provide an alternative approach to a problem that has remained under-addressed and often overlooked for far too long. And although the FDA’s expanded access program is still inherently restrictive, the new law would pave the way for increased access.