A Utah lawmaker has introduced a bill to explore the potential of psychedelic drugs to treat serious mental health conditions including depression, anxiety and PTSD. The legislation, House Bill 167, was introduced on Tuesday by Utah state Representative Brady Brammer, who noted that the measure “doesn’t legalize anything.”
“It asks our Huntsman Mental Health Institute and other experts in the field to review the science that’s out there, the research that’s out there, and make any recommendations that they have if they feel psychedelics can be safely administered through a prescription basis and under what circumstances,” Brammer said in a television news interview.
If passed, HB 167 would direct the state’s Health and Human Services Department to create a Mental Illness Psychotherapy Drug Task Force. The group would “study and make recommendations on drugs that may assist in treating mental illness,” according to the text of the legislation. The legislation specifies the makeup of the task force, which would include mental health professionals, researchers and patients.
Although the bill does not specifically mention psychedelics or any particular drug, the task force would be authorized to “provide evidence-based recommendations on any psychotherapy drug that the task force determines may enhance psychotherapy when treating a mental illness.” The legislation would empower the task force to study the research into psychedelic drugs, which has shown the potential to treat serious mental health conditions.
“We need effective tools to treat mental illness,” Brammer said in a statement to local media. “If psychedelics can be helpful and safely administered, we need them in our toolbox.”
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Brammer’s bill is supported by groups that campaigned for Proposition 2, the 2018 ballot initiative that legalized medical marijuana in Utah. Kylee Shumway, the medical director for the Utah Patients Coalition, said that psychedelics may be able to help residents of the state who are struggling with mental illness.
“We have higher rates of depression and anxiety than a lot of other states and even for people that are looking for help, there’s not enough psychiatrists; there’s not enough mental health professionals to help them,” said Shumway. “And a lot of the medications aren’t working.”
Research into psychedelics including psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine has shown that the drugs have potential therapeutic benefits, particularly for serious mental health conditions such as depression, addiction and anxiety. Research published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry in 2020 found that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy was an effective and quick-acting treatment for a group of 24 participants with major depressive disorder. A separate study published in 2016 determined that psilocybin treatment produced substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer.
“It’s very promising,” Shumway exclaimed. “There are some huge studies that have just been finished recently on psilocybin that put it head to head against SSRIs which are antidepressants and psilocybin performed better across the board.”
“Utah has some of the finest researchers in the areas of psychiatry and neurosciences at Huntsman Mental Health Institute,” said Brammer. “This bill seeks to leverage that expertise, along with other experts grappling with mental illness, to review the research results, and if appropriate, make recommendations on how to safely administer these therapeutics under the care of qualified physicians.”
Steve Urquhart, a former Republican Utah state senator, also supports Brammer’s bill to explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs.
“Psychedelics changed my life,” he told local media. “It changed the way I see myself, the way I regard myself, and that allows me to see others and love others a lot more.”
Urquhart is the founder of The Divine Assembly, a Utah church that promotes religious and responsible use of psilocybin.
“I’ve always been a bit of an activist at heart, and I decided I wanted to form a church where people can have these freedoms to worship with psychedelics,” Urquhart said. “I tell people, don’t get too lost on psychedelics; The Divine Assembly is about connection, and psychedelics can help with that.”
Urquhart believes that state lawmakers are likely to appreciate the cautious approach HB 167 takes to explore the benefits of psychedelics and may eventually support the legislation.
“Remember, this is Utah. Of course, we’re likely to take a slower approach to something like this,” he noted. “But on things like this, when the process runs, when it works, Utah can kind of come up with some magic. I’m optimistic about this.”
Brammer introduced HB 167 in the Utah House of Representatives on January 18. The bill has been referred to the House Rules Committee for consideration.