The DEA Wants to Add Five More Psychedelics to Schedule I Controlled Substances List
Drug decriminalization advocates and scientific researchers are pushing back against a new proposed rule change from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that would see five more psychedelic drugs placed in Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act.
While the DEA says that these drugs all “have a high potential for abuse,” advocates argue that the new rule could lead to more harm than good. Scientists have also raised concerns, saying that these increased restrictions could hamper their ability to effectively study other tryptamine drugs.
DEA says rule change is needed to tackle drug abuse
On January 14, the DEA published a notice of proposed rulemaking announcing its intention to name five more tryptamine drugs as Schedule I substances: 4-OH-DiPT, 5-MeO-AMT, 5-MeO-MiPT, 5-MeO-DET and DiPT.
According to the notice, the DEA’s decision was largely informed by a 2012 review from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as well as the DEA’s own recent analysis. From this they found evidence that these drugs had all been encountered by law enforcement and been allegedly abused for their hallucinogenic properties.
The HHS report determined that these drugs and their isomers could pose a safety risk based on emergency room admissions related to the abuse of 5-MeO-AMT and 5-MeO-MiPT. Additionally, it highlighted one confirmed death associated with the abuse of 5-MeO-AMT – though the report did note this case also involved alcohol and an antidepressant medication and so it is unclear what role the 5-MeO-AMT played in the person’s passing.
“Based on consideration of the scientific and medical evaluation and accompanying recommendations of HHS, and on DEA's consideration of its own eight-factor analysis, DEA finds that these facts and all relevant data constitute substantial evidence of potential for abuse of 4-OH-DiPT, 5-MeO-AMT, 5-MeO-MiPT, 5-MeO-DET, and DiPT,” the proposed rule reads.
“As such, DEA hereby proposes to schedule 4-OH-DiPT, 5-MeO-AMT, 5-MeO-MiPT, 5-MeO-DET, and DiPT as controlled substances under the CSA.”
Proposed rule met with criticism from the public
Comments on the proposed rule via the Federal Register closed on February 14. The majority of submitted responses appeared to criticize the DEA’s judgment in this case.
“Actions such as this are completely misguided and actually contribute negatively to the so called war on drugs,” one anonymous commenter wrote. “If these substances are banned they will be replaced by more and more obscure and convoluted chemicals with even more questionable safety profiles. Please stop and think about the potential ramifications of a decision like this.”
“More people have been killed by shaking vending machines, 37, yet there is no movement to ban soda machines,” another wrote.
A third commenter, who identified themself as a veteran with PTSD, argued that these drugs must be kept legal so that researchers can study them further.
“Reports of psychedelics in therapy are extremely promising for depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental health disorders like PTSD,” they wrote. “As a veteran that suffers from PTSD, who has many other friends suffering from PTSD, some of whom have committed suicide, I am hopeful that one of these compounds will one day be able to end our suffering for good.”
Scientists also concerned new rule will impact their research
In addition to simply banning manufacture and sale, the placing of these five drugs in Schedule I would explicitly forbid any scientific research using these compounds, including chemical analysis and instructional activities.
In the wake of the proposed rule’s publishing, neuroscientist and CEO of the pharma-technology company Tactogen Matt Baggott tweeted, “I’m personally annoyed to lose 5-MeO-MiPT as a comparison drug for in vitro assays.”
“Worth noting that HHS provided DEA with an analysis of these compounds in 2012 and DEA failed to act until now. This raises the question of whether this scheduling is in response to the increased interest in psychedelic medicine,” he continued.
Tryptamine drugs have attracted significant attention of late for their 5-HT2A agonism and dramatic effects on brain connectivity. It is also theorized that this class of drugs could hold real potential as a treatment for serious mental health conditions such as PTSD or treatment resistant depression (TRD). This is notable as Schedule I substances, by definition, are deemed to have no accepted medical use.
“As such it is intriguing to see the DEA document in the docket which is entitled Five Tryptamines Eight-factor Analysis DEA 082021 where one can see the 5ht2a [sic.] activity and binding levels used as reasons to make these compounds illegal,” wrote David Heldreth, Founder and CEO of Panacea Plant Sciences, in an oppositional statement to the proposed rule change.
“This same activity is precisely why these compounds do, in fact, have medical uses.”
DEA already facing backlash over existing psychedelics rules
While the DEA considers adding more psychedelic compounds to the Schedule I controlled substances list, its current scheduling rules are simultaneously facing a fresh challenge.
Earlier this month, a doctor in Seattle specializing in end-of-life care filed a formal petition with the DEA to challenge its Schedule I classification of psilocybin, the main psychoactive component of psychedelic mushrooms.
The petition asks the DEA to consider rescheduling the drug as a Schedule II substance, arguing that psilocybin presents a relatively low potential for abuse and “exceptional promise in relieving debilitating symptoms in those with intractable and otherwise untreatable illness.”
In 2021, the City of Seattle itself elected to decriminalize some naturally-occurring psychedelics, including psilocybin mushrooms. The city council explained its decision by saying that some natural psychedelics had been shown to improve “the well-being of individuals suffering from depression, severe anxiety, problematic substance use, post-traumatic stress, end-of-life anxiety, grief, and intergenerational trauma.”
The recently-filed petition argues that rescheduling alone would not make psilocybin available on prescription, but it would allow for more collaborative working between federal regulators and state governments to support research and pilot programs. Given the recent success of city- and state-level decriminalization efforts, the petition also contends that rescheduling would allow researchers to properly examine any real-world risks presented in real-time.