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Massachusetts Governor Unveils Veterans Psychedelics Research Bill

Massachusetts Governor Maura T. Healey last week filed legislation to increase benefits and modernize services for the state’s military veterans that includes a proposal to study the medical benefits of psychedelic drugs. The bill, known as an Act Honoring, Empowering and Recognizing Our Servicemembers and Veterans (HERO Act), was unveiled on November 9 by Healey and Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Veterans Services.

The Healey administration said in a statement that the legislation would positively impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of military veterans living in Massachusetts, including nearly 30,000 women and LGBTQ+ vets. At a ceremony marking the bill’s introduction, Healey said that the legislation is the first time in 20 years that a Massachusetts governor has “introduced a comprehensive and expansive legislative package dedicated to the welfare of veterans.”

“Our veterans have sacrificed so much for our country, and this transformative legislation marks an important step toward ensuring that Massachusetts supports them in return,” said Healey. “From day one, our administration has been committed to revitalizing veterans’ services in Massachusetts and ensuring that every one of these heroes receives the benefits, resources and support that they deserve.”

Among its many other provisions, the HERO Act would establish a working group to research the “health benefits of psychedelics as treatment for veterans suffering from physical or mental health disorders related to their service,” according to the governor’s office. 

The legislation has the support of representatives from several veterans service organizations, including Bill LeBeau, Adjutant for Massachusetts Veterans of Foreign Wars. 

“We’re grateful to Governor Healey and her team for recognizing the need for giving back to the heroes who have served our country, both at home and overseas,” LeBeau said in a statement. “With this bill, the Healey-Driscoll Administration demonstrates a real commitment to accomplishing outcomes for our Veterans that will be meaningful and impactful in so many ways; it also sends a signal that more needs to be done to support them.”

Other key provisions of the HERO Act include expanding access to behavioral and mental health treatment, increasing benefits for disabled veterans, improving support for employers that hire veterans, updating the definition of a veteran, expanding the scope of the Veterans Equality Review Board, initiating a pilot program for LGBTQ+ couples denied IVF reimbursement by the Veterans Health Administration, and codifying the state’s medical and dental benefits for military veterans.

“By promoting inclusivity and expanding benefits, we’re not only showing our gratitude to veterans but also addressing their evolving needs,” said Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll. “This legislative package represents a significant step forward in the care and support we provide to our veterans, particularly for women and LGBTQ+ veterans.”

Psilocybin And Mental Health

Research has shown that psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy can have a positive effect on many mental health conditions commonly experienced by the nation’s military veterans. Studies conducted by Johns Hopkins and other researchers have shown that psilocybin has the potential to be an effective treatment for several serious mental health conditions, including PTSD, major depressive disorder, anxiety and substance misuse disorders. A study published in 2020 in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Psychiatry found that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy was a quick-acting and effective treatment for a group of 24 participants with major depressive disorder. Separate research published in 2016 determined that psilocybin treatment produced substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer.

Federal agencies including the Food and Drug Administration are currently reviewing the potential for psychedelics to treat serious mental health conditions. In May 2022, the head of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration wrote to U.S. Representative Madeleine Dean, a Pennsylvania Democrat, that FDA approval of psilocybin to treat depression was likely within the next two years.

As the nation faces rising rates of substance use and mental health issues “we must explore the potential of psychedelic-assisted therapies to address this crisis,” Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, wrote to Dean.

The ongoing research has prompted several states to consider legislation to ease the prohibition on psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs, particularly for therapeutic purposes. In May, Oregon officials issued the state’s first license for a psychedelic therapy treatment center following the legalization of magic mushrooms for therapeutic use with the passage of a 2020 ballot measure. A similar initiative was approved by Colorado voters in 2022.

Healey’s proposal is not the only plan to reform laws prohibiting the use of psychedelics in Massachusetts. Supporters of a proposed ballot measure to legalize the possession and supervised use of psychedelics began collecting signatures in September. The campaign has already reportedly collected more than 75,000 signatures on petitions to bring the initiative to a vote, which could come as soon as next year.

State lawmakers have also taken legislative steps to achieve psychedelics reform. At least two bills, in the Massachusetts Senate and another in the state House of Representatives, would remove criminal penalties for some natural psychedelics. Under the bills, adults would be permitted to grow and use small amounts of certain psychedelics, including psilocybin mushrooms.

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