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California Lawmakers Move to Unlock Research on Psychedelics and Addiction Treatment

California’s rich history of scientific inquiry and innovation could soon see a resurgence in groundbreaking research as lawmakers push to dismantle a bureaucratic bottleneck that has stymied progress in studying addiction treatment and psychedelics.

The focal point of this impasse is the Research Advisory Panel of California, established decades ago to assess studies involving cannabis, hallucinogens, and treatments for substance abuse. This panel’s mandate has rendered it a crucial gatekeeper, with researchers requiring its approval to move forward with projects exploring the potential uses of psychedelics or novel approaches to tackling addiction.

However, the panel’s operations ground to a halt amid a conundrum regarding its adherence to transparency laws. Concerns arose last year about whether its closed-door meetings violated the Bagley-Keene Act, which mandates open meetings for certain government bodies. Faced with the dilemma of jeopardizing sensitive information or exposing trade secrets, the panel ceased convening altogether, leading to a backlog of 42 new studies and 28 amendments awaiting approval as of early May.

This logjam has left researchers like Ziva Cooper, Director of the UCLA Center for Cannabis and Cannabinoids, in limbo. Despite having studies already approved by prestigious bodies such as the NIH and FDA, their progress remains stalled due to the panel’s inactivity. For Cooper and her colleagues, the inability to conduct vital research on topics ranging from cannabis use among different demographics to the potential of psychedelics in addiction treatment is not just a setback but a demoralizing obstacle.

The repercussions extend beyond individual researchers. The hiatus has sparked concerns about expiring grants, disrupted funding streams, and the potential loss of talent as researchers contemplate relocating to more research-friendly locales. The urgency of the situation prompted Assembly Bill 2841, proposed by Assemblymember Marie Waldron, which aims to reactivate research by allowing the panel to hold closed sessions to protect sensitive information.

According to an analysis prepared for a state committee, the standstill…

[…] has broad implications, costing researchers money in expired grants and contingent grants, shortened patents on new drugs, lost wages for research personnel, lost talent, and lost costs of research drugs for human use that will expire before use.

Director of Public Policy Khurshid Khoja said that “psychedelic research has ground to halt in California — including numerous VA studies…” Khoja predicts…

[…] a rapid exodus of skilled researchers from California universities and research institutions to pursue their critically important work elsewhere — not to mention capital flight by funders who’ll deploy research dollars outside the state.

While welcomed as a step in the right direction by some, AB 2841 has faced criticism from those who argue that the panel itself is redundant and stifles progress. Critics contend that the additional layer of review exacerbates delays and hampers California’s ability to address pressing issues such as the addiction crisis effectively.

Some researchers have called for the outright elimination of the panel, citing its perceived inefficiency and the unnecessary hurdles it poses to research already scrutinized by federal agencies. Others advocate for exemptions for researchers with federal approval, arguing that this would streamline the process without compromising safety or compliance.

However, defenders of the panel argue that its role is indispensable in ensuring compliance with state laws and providing an additional safeguard against potential risks to participants. They maintain that the panel’s scrutiny serves to uphold standards of safety and ethics, particularly in studies involving controlled substances.

As the debate rages on, the fate of research on addiction treatment and psychedelics hangs in the balance. Whether through reforming the existing system or scrapping it altogether, one thing remains clear: the need to untangle bureaucratic red tape and empower researchers to pursue innovative solutions to pressing public health challenges. Only then can California reclaim its position as a trailblazer in scientific discovery and therapeutic innovation.

Written by Tatyana Meshcheryakova. First published May 8, 2024.


“Bill could end holdup for California research on psychedelics and addiction treatment,” Los Angeles Times, May 7, 2024.

Image Copyright: motortionfilms.


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