A large-scale defense bill that contains provisions to fund studies into the therapeutic use of psychedelics such as psilocybin and MDMA for military service members is officially heading to President Joe Biden’s desk.
Days after bicameral negotiators announced they’d reached an agreement on the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the Senate passed it on Wednesday and the House concurred on Thursday, sending it to the president.
Advocates were encouraged to see that the final deal maintained psychedelics research provisions championed by Rep. Morgan Luttrell (R-TX) that were attached to the House version over the summer. However, House negotiators receded on a separate section to create a medical cannabis pilot program for veterans.
The adopted psychedelics section, meanwhile, would require the Department of Defense (DOD) to establish a process by which service members with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury could participate in clinical trials involving psilocybin, MDMA, ibogaine and 5-MeO-DMT. The list of covered psychedelics was also expanded to broadly include “qualified plant-based alternative therapies.”
DOD would need to facilitate that process within 180 days of enactment. It could partner with eligible federal or state government agencies, as well as academic institutions to carry out the clinical trials, with $10 million in funding.
“I was honored to see several of my amendments and priorities accepted into the final version of the bill, including clinical trials on psychedelic therapy to treat PTSD, support for TBI research, and other key provisions that will ensure a safer, stronger United States,” Luttrell said in a press release on Thursday. “This legislation will ensure America can face security challenges with lethality and readiness.”
The FY24 NDAA has officially passed in the House and Senate, strengthening our military and boosting the defense of our great country. pic.twitter.com/oJZhNWqeDJ
— Congressman Morgan Luttrell (@RepLuttrell) December 14, 2023
Under the legislation, the defense secretary would need to provide lawmakers with a report within one year of the enactment, and every subsequent year for three years, with information about trial findings and participation.
Meanwhile, the medical cannabis pilot program section that was attached to the House NDAA under an amendment from Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) was not ultimately included in the conference agreement.
The measure would have required DOD to examine the health impacts of marijuana use by veterans and service members who are U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) beneficiaries. To be eligible for the program, the VA participant would have needed to be diagnosed with PTSD, depression or anxiety, or have been prescribed pain management.
The psychedelics and medical cannabis provisions were attached in the Armed Services Committee prior to floor consideration. After that, members filed dozens of other drug policy reform amendments in the lead-up to the chamber passing its version of NDAA. The House Rules Committee, however, blocked the majority of the proposals from receiving floor consideration.
The Senate, meanwhile, had included language in its NDAA bill that would have barred intelligence agencies like the CIA and NSA from denying security clearances to applicants solely due to their past marijuana use. That was attached under a separate measure that had been amended to add the cannabis protection from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).
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While the conference report notes that the text of that underlying legislation, the Intelligence Authorization Act, was included in the now-approved NDAA, it appears silent on the cannabis provision, which was not included in the final bill.
In September, however, the House Oversight and Accountability Committee passed a standalone bipartisan bill that would prevent the denial of federal employment or security clearances based on a candidate’s past marijuana use.
Other cannabis amendments proposed to the Senate NDAA, such as one from Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) to allow medical marijuana use by veterans, did not advance.
Separately, the House also approved psychedelics research reforms from Luttrell and Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) that are similar to the NDAA sections as part of fiscal year 2024 appropriations legislation covering DOD. It remains to be seen if the largely duplicative provisions will be adopted in the final spending bill.