Psychedelics and a Semi-Parallel Cannabis Universe

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As psychedelic therapies continue to develop as contemplative businesses and in research programs commencing at both the state and federal levels in the United States, we are naturally compelled to learn from similar or semi-similar developments in the cannabis business regarding what has worked and what has not worked in addressing federally prohibited substances, their potential risks, potential benefits and appropriate place in society and regulation. 

The cannabis industry unfolded over time and continues to unfold on a State-by-State basis, still prohibited and criminalized at the federal level, and commenced its journey with a legacy (illicit) marketplace, little-to-no institutional or corporate funding or business sophistication and with some spiritual, social justice, medicinal and recreational considerations. Yet, the cannabis industry still faces significant challenges for consistency, efficiency, access and economic support.

Similarly, we see that psychedelic potential uses and therapies are being considered slowly by certain localities yet generally remain Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substances Act at the federal level (prohibited) and prohibited in most States with risk of criminalization.  

However, something is different in the discussions surrounding psychedelics than the early discussions involving cannabis, perhaps in part due to cannabis forging a difficult path for challenging stigmatic viewpoints against plant medicine, exploring medicinal, recreational and spiritual aspects of plant medicine and for attempting to put in place responsible State-run programs. These programs aim to balance health, safety and business concerns with governmental and other welfare concerns. In creating an (albeit sporadic and ever-changing) cannabis industry framework, the cannabis industry has forged a path for looking at how psychedelics can be managed in a regulated society. 

Alongside a significant history of spiritual, cultural and religious uses, psychedelic potential therapeutic or related benefits are being explored utilizing science, research and development at the forefront of a potential psychedelics legal roll out. There is some support at the federal level through the DEA for clinical trials and research for controlled therapeutic uses- the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has shown some interest on the matter, although it does not have, or has not used, sufficient resources or allocations of federal funding to advance this interest among other items that may be considered more pressing in public health.

Even so, in January of 2022, NIH took an important step to host a workshop on “Psychedelics as Therapeutics: Gaps, Challenges, and Opportunities”. There is an old history of psychedelics research in the US in fields of neuropharmacology, neuropsychopharmacology and through other sciences that took place in the 1950s-1960s and then was lost to a counterculture movement of non-medical use and abuse in light of its rise in pop culture shortly thereafter or simultaneously therewith. Perhaps somewhat significantly, after the 1990s when research on psychedelics heated up again, MDMA was granted a breakthrough therapy designation as MDMA-assisted psychotherapy Investigational New Drug Application for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and in 2021 John Hopkins Medicine received the first federal grant for psychedelic treatment research in over half a century to explore the potential impacts of psilocybin on tobacco addiction (supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health under award number U01DA052174).

Much like the cannabis industry, the emerging field of psychedelics faces similar and extensive stigmas, potentially more serious religious and spiritual impacts, social justice disparate impacts and other challenges.  Thus, this field is ripe for strong leadership; leadership familiar with burgeoning industries in a legal and appropriate manner, with safety and policy considerations in mind as well as risk mitigation strategies in mind.

At Rogoway Law, we enjoy navigating challenging emerging fields, setting frameworks and thoughtful precedents to address the paths less traveled. Often these industries involve significant unknowns and “gray area” which can only become known and clarified by thought leaders, academics, researchers, legislators, practitioners and spiritual guides, each willing to forge a new path and tell a new story. We look forward to continuing the journey of exploring emerging fields with our regulated substance industries’ clients, and supporting research and development and appropriate regulated utilization of plant medicines.

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