VA to Fund Research on Psychedelics for Treating PTSD, Depression in Veterans

This marks the first time since the 1960s that the VA has funded research on psychedelics.

On Jan. 5, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued a request for applications to study the potential benefits of psychedelic-assisted therapies for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression in military veterans.

The request for applications went out to its network of VA researchers, in collaboration with academic institutions, marking the first time since the 1960s that the department has funded research on psychedelics.

Through the research, the VA “intends to gather definitive scientific evidence on the potential efficacy and safety of psychedelic compounds such as [MDMA] and psilocybin when used in conjunction with psychotherapy to treat veterans with PTSD and depression,” the department said in a news release.

“Our nation’s veterans deserve the very best care, and VA is constantly supporting innovations to deliver that,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs 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.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs added that “research conducted on psychedelic compounds will be completed under stringent safety protocols.”

While the VA noted that psychedelic compounds are “tightly restricted under federal law,” the FDA granted breakthrough-therapy status to MDMA for treating PTSD in 2018 and psilocybin for treating depression in 2019, based on promising preliminary research results.

Working Groups Recommended VA Studies

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.

The meeting’s working groups provided advice to VA leadership, including the recommendation for VA to begin funding its own studies into these compounds, the department said.

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 conducted a limited number of small studies on psychedelics in VA facilities using non-VA funding, the department noted. The new request for applications “will permit the important next step of directly assessing effectiveness and safety of using MDMA and psilocybin-augmented psychotherapy in veterans.”

“Veterans and VA researchers have told us about the potential promise of psychedelics to treat mental health conditions for some time,” VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal said. “Now is our chance to study this potential method of treating veterans with PTSD and major depression across the country.”