Congress greenlights psychedelic treatment bill for active duty service members suffering from PTSD

By Matthew Choi 

The Texas Tribune

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Tucked within Congress’ colossal annual defense bill is a priority a vocal group of Texas conservatives has long pushed: Using psychedelics to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

The U.S. House voted Thursday to pass the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which sets the spending caps and policy priorities for the Defense Department. Included in the bill was U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s Douglas Mike Day Psychedelic Therapy to Save Lives Act, legislation that will direct the Defense Department to create grants for studying psychedelic treatments for active duty service members.

The psychedelic substances include MDMA; psilocybin, found in many species of mushrooms; plant-based therapies; and others. Active-duty service members will be able to participate in the studies if they get clearance from DOD and are diagnosed with certain post-traumatic conditions. Participants will only be able to use the psychedelics in a controlled environment with a therapist.

Using psychedelics to treat PTSD is not new. The Department of Veterans Affairs already studies the use of psychedelics for treating veterans with positive results for recovery, and the federal government studied psychedelics potential in the 50s and 60s. Crenshaw’s legislation scales up studies for active duty service members and gives DOD the authority to financially partner with other agencies and academic institutions.

“We have to think outside the box,” Crenshaw said during a June news conference unveiling the bill. “We’re never going to understand the extent to which psychedelics can help our service members until we start actually doing the necessary clinical trials in a controlled environment.”

Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, has been pushing for the measure for years. The House included and passed the bill in the NDAA in 2022, but the Senate dropped the provision.

The bill is named after Douglas “Mike” Day, a Navy SEAL who died by suicide after getting severely injured by multiple bullet wounds in Iraq.

“When you think of a hero, you think of a guy like Mike,” Crenshaw said. “Yet like so many other warriors, after Mike made it back home, he began an entirely different, more insidious battle. A battle with the demons that followed him.”

U.S. Rep. Morgan Luttrell, a fellow Houston-area Republican and former Navy SEAL, included Crenshaw’s bill as an amendment to the NDAA. Luttrell is one of five Texans who sit on the House Armed Services Committee, which puts together the NDAA each year.

The measure has bipartisan support. Several Democrats, including progressives such as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ro Khanna of California, cosponsored the original psychedelics bill.

“This is an alternative. This is not the end all, be all. We would never say that. This is another tool that you can put in your proverbial toolbox to increase your quality of life,” Luttrell said during the June news conference.

In Texas, using psychedelics to treat PTSD has received support from prominent conservatives. Former Gov. Rick Perry lobbied for a bill by then-state Rep. Alex Dominguez, D-Brownsville, that would push clinical studies of psilocybin for veterans with PTSD. Perry, who was staunchly against the drugs’ recreational use, advocated for the legislation after he saw what he said were positive impacts on veterans for himself. The bill went into effect in 2021.

Over 34,000 Texans were treated for PTSD last year by Texas Veteran Commission-certified counselors, according to the commission. They included veterans, active duty service members and their families.

Representing a state with 15 active-duty military installations, Texas’ congressional delegation has a heavy presence in the crafting of the NDAA. The bill traditionally passes on a bipartisan basis. The Senate passed it with an 87-13 vote Wednesday, with both Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn supporting the NDAA. Thursday’s House vote passed with a 310-118 majority. It now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk.

But not everyone in the delegation was thrilled with this year’s NDAA. Many far-right conservatives protested the legislation because it was stripped of a number of their priorities, including bans on drag shows and access to abortion. It also contained an extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, including a section that allows targeted surveillance of foreign citizens.

Many members on the right and left flanks of the two parties opposed the section as an infringement of privacy and demanded a reform. Among the Texans, Republican Reps. Brian Babin, John Carter, Michael Cloud, Wesley Hunt, Troy Nehls, Keith Self, Randy Weber, Roger Williams and Chip Roy all voted against it. Progressive Reps. Greg Casar and Lloyd Doggett also voted no. Ocasio-Cortez and Khanna, who both cosponsored Crenshaw’s original psychedelics bill, voted against the full NDAA.

The FISA question plagued the House Republican conference in the lead-up to the NDAA vote, causing heated debate during internal meetings. Roy, R-Austin, was one of the key dissenters, claiming FISA was rife with abuse.

Roy forced a motion to adjourn the house just before the NDAA was up for a vote. The House voted down that motion 302-23 and proceeded to pass the NDAA.


This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.


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