In a surprise decision, the US Drug Enforcement Agency just announced that it will back down on its plans to ban five novel psychedelics.
The DEA originally kicked off its plan to ban 4-OH-DiPT, 5-MeO-AMT, 5-MeO-MiPT, 5-MeO-DET, and DiPT at the start of 2022. In January, the agency posted a notice in the Federal Register stating their intent to classify all five of these relatively unexplored psychedelic tryptamines as Schedule I drugs. The notice argued that these drugs should immediately be banned because they are “being abused for their hallucinogenic properties.”
The category of Schedule I drugs is exclusively reserved for deadly, addictive drugs with no medical value. The DEA notice did not provide conclusive proof that either of these criteria had been met, though. As evidence of the drugs' supposed dangers, the feds were only able to identify a couple cases where people were briefly hospitalized after taking two of these five psychedelics, and one case where someone died after ingesting 5-MeO-AMT along with a cocktail of other drugs. And because the compounds are not yet well-researched, their potential medical value has yet to be established.
After the publication of the Federal Register notice, nearly 600 researchers and advocates submitted their feedback on the proposed Schedule I classification. Almost every single comment strongly criticized the feds' decision, arguing that the ban would make it exceptionally difficult for scientists to research the therapeutic potential of these new compounds. Attorneys for several research institutions demanded that the DEA schedule a hearing to discuss the proposed ban.
This February, an administrative judge agreed that a hearing was necessary. That hearing was scheduled for August 22nd, but just weeks before that date, the DEA suddenly announced that it would temporarily withdraw its plans to ban these psychedelics. Instead, the agency will submit a request to have the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) conduct an extensive scientific review on these compounds before it moves ahead with any plans to ban them.
“The decision to get an updated evaluation will allow important research and development to continue that could lead to lifesaving medicines and a better understanding of this drug class,” said Matt Zorn, an attorney who helped challenge the feds' decision, to Marijuana Moment. “I’m glad the Administrator and DEA took a hard look at the science and data before it.”
The HHS review does not guarantee that these drugs will stay off the Schedule I list. Health officials may also decide that these drugs should be prohibited, and even if they don't, the DEA is not required to respect their decision. But an HHS review could potentially take months or even years, and these drugs are likely to remain semi-legal until that process is complete. The federal review gives researchers more time to conduct studies that could discover if one or all of these understudied compounds might actually turn out to be powerful medicine.
The DEA's sudden about-face is indicative of a slow but sure paradigm shift. The agency has worked long and hard to stymie efforts to conduct honest clinical trials on cannabis and psychedelics since the 1960s, but their stance seems to be shifting. In the past couple years, the DEA has actually agreed to authorize additional research cannabis growers and vastly expanded the quotas of MDMA, psilocybin, and other psychedelics that it makes available to researchers.
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