VA ramps up study of psychedelic to treat PTSD

VA ramps up study of psychedelic to treat PTSD

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is requesting applications for proposals from its network of VA researchers, in collaboration with academic institutions, to study the use of certain psychedelic compounds in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. 

VA intends to gather scientific evidence on the potential efficacy and safety of psychedelic compounds such as Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) and psilocybin when used in conjunction with psychotherapy to treat veterans with PTSD and depression. This is the first time since the 1960s that VA is funding research on such compounds.

“Our nation’s veterans deserve the very best care, and VA is constantly supporting innovations to deliver that,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said. “This is an important step to explore the efficacy of a potential new set of promising treatments that could improve the health and quality of life for veterans.” 

As with all other VA studies, research conducted on psychedelic compounds will be completed under stringent safety protocols. While these compounds are controlled substances, tightly restricted under federal law, research on these compounds may be conducted with appropriate regulatory approvals, including those from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Drug Enforcement Administration. The FDA granted breakthrough therapy status for MDMA for treating PTSD and psilocybin for treating depression in (2018 and 2019, respectively) based on promising preliminary research evidence. 

In September, more than 75 VA and other federal clinicians, scientists and policy makers gathered in Denver to assess the state of existing scientific evidence regarding psychedelic-assisted therapies. This meeting’s working groups provided advice to VA leadership, including the recommendation for VA to begin funding its own studies into these compounds. This guidance was based on previously published studies that have found promising results but included few or no Veterans. For example, researchers at Johns Hopkins have shown that psilocybin therapy, given with supportive therapy, can ease symptoms of depression for up to 12 months. Additionally, 86% of participants in a recent peer-reviewed study achieved a “clinically meaningful benefit” from using MDMA to treat PTSD.

VA researchers have already conducted a limited number of small studies on psychedelics in VA facilities using non-VA funding. This sets the stage for the next step of directly assessing effectiveness and safety of using MDMA and psilocybin-augmented psychotherapy for veterans. 

Expanding research on psychedelics to address veteran mental health is also in line with calls from The American Legion and other veterans service organizations. The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2024 also authorized the study of psychedelics within military populations by the Department of Defense. With this new announcement, VA will join the National Institutes of Health in supporting research that will yield insights for treating PTSD and depression.