The Iowa caucuses begin next week, and the discussion on veterans’ health care is getting a little … trippy.
At a recent town hall at Muscatine Community College in Muscatine, Iowa, Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang was asked about medical marijuana for veterans. Yang, a former entrepreneur, expressed his support to not only legalize marijuana on the federal level but also make psilocybin mushrooms available for veterans.
Psychedelic mushrooms contain psilocybin, a chemical that produces hallucinations, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency.
On medical marijuana, Yang said he has talked to “hundreds of veterans” who endorse the treatment, which he asserted is “much less deadly than the opiates that many, many people are using for the same conditions.”
“I’ve talked to veterans who’ve also benefited from psilocybin mushrooms,” Yang added at the town hall. “They said it was the only thing that actually has helped combat their PTSD. I’m for legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for veterans as well.”
“Pretty much if it’s going to help a veteran, we should make it easier, not harder, for them to get access to it,” he concluded, as Marijuana Moment first reported.
Yang first voiced his support of research into “controlled substances that have been shown to hold promise for treating PTSD” for former service members back in July 2019, and he isn’t the only Democratic presidential candidate to support reforms in veterans’ medical treatment.
Senator Bernie Sanders previously called on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide medical marijuana for veterans as part of VA benefits and treatment, according to his campaign website. He is also a co-sponsor of pending legislation that would create “safe harbor” protections for veterans using, possessing or transporting medical marijuana.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, while also calling for legalization of marijuana by the federal government, has advocated legislation “to study the use of medical cannabis to treat veterans as an alternative to opioids,” according to her campaign website.
Former Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, himself a veteran who deployed to Afghanistan, unveiled a plan that “recognizes the benefits of marijuana for certain service-connected issues” and supports “medical cannabis recommendations to a veterans’ [sic] broader treatment plan.”
Buttigieg previously told the Des Moines Register that he favors the decriminalization of drugs and prefers "diversion, treatment, and re-entry programs” for substance abuse.
While Yang appears to be the first candidate to seriously consider a policy that includes psychedelic drugs like psilocybin mushrooms, former Vice President Joe Biden remains on the other end of the spectrum.
Biden, whom statistics website FiveThirtyEight predicts has a 36 percent chance of winning the most votes in Iowa, has been more moderate in his approach to drug policy reform.
His plan, according to his campaign website, calls for medical marijuana to be legalized and cannabis generally to be downgraded to a schedule II drug. This move would allow “the VA to research the use of medical cannabis to treat veteran-specific health needs.”
Currently, both psilocybin and cannabis are schedule I narcotics, “defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the DEA.
Yang’s endorsement – like those of the other candidates – is connected to treatment proposals for veterans with PTSD. Approximately 11 to 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the VA.
The 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses begin on Monday, Feb. 3.
This story has been updated to reflect that Marijuana Moment was the first news outlet to report Andrew Yang’s comments.
Dylan Gresik is a reporting intern for Military Times through Northwestern University's Journalism Residency program.