To improve care for Veterans, VA to fund studies on new therapies for treating mental health conditions

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New research would determine the benefit of psychedelics for treating PTSD and depression in Veterans

WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs issued a request for applications (RFA) for proposals from its network of VA researchers (in collaboration with academic institutions) to study the use of certain psychedelic compounds in treating posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

Through this new research opportunity, VA intends to gather definitive 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,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough. “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.”

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

VA and the Biden-Harris Administration are committed to exploring all avenues that promote the health of our nation’s 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 (DEA). 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 new RFA will permit the important next step of directly assessing effectiveness and safety of using MDMA and psilocybin-augmented psychotherapy in Veterans.

Expanding research on psychedelics to address Veteran mental health is also in line with calls from Veterans Service Organizations such as the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans, as well as mental health provider groups. 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.

Psychedelic drugs are a class of substances that alter consciousness or awareness and may be organically or synthetically produced. VA does not recommend psychedelics for use as part of a self-treatment program.

If you’re a Veteran struggling with a mental health or substance-use disorder, the VA can help. Find out about available resources here.

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