Drug Regulation for the COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis

Administrative Law Review, Vol. 72 (2020, Forthcoming)

19 Pages Posted: 26 May 2020 Last revised: 27 May 2020

See all articles by Mason Marks

Mason Marks

Gonzaga University - School of Law; Yale University - Information Society Project; Leiden University, Leiden Law School, Centre for Law and Digital Technologies

Date Written: May 21, 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic is producing widespread loss of life, unemployment, and social isolation that is triggering a mental health crisis. Experts warn there could be record levels of depression, suicide, and substance use disorders. The U.S. healthcare system is not prepared. It lacks the resources to provide prolonged psychotherapy at scale, and existing drug treatments are ineffective for up to sixty percent of people. Fortunately, there is an untapped resource in the form of the experimental drugs psilocybin and MDMA. Clinical trials suggest that they are safe and effective for treating a variety of mental health conditions. Moreover, they act quickly, and their beneficial effects are often sustained.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies psilocybin and MDMA as schedule 1 controlled substances with a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical uses. However, a growing body of research undermines the DEA’s position. This Essay surveys the scientific evidence for the therapeutic use of psilocybin and MDMA. It argues that due to the urgent need for effective mental health treatments, the DEA should re-schedule these drugs and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should issue emergency authorizations for their use. To further enhance safety, the FDA should issue Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS) requiring the drugs to be administered in controlled settings under professional supervision. The Department of Justice, which oversees the DEA, should pledge not to prosecute individuals who use psychedelics in jurisdictions, such as Denver, Oakland, and Santa Cruz, where they have been decriminalized.

Keywords: psilocybin, MDMA, COVID-19, COVID, coronavirus, mental health, pandemic, psychiatry, FDA, DEA, drug policy, decriminalization, neuroscience, drug enforcement, psychedelics, cannabis, depression, anxiety, PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, SSRI, ecstasy, magic mushrooms, suicide, war on drugs

Suggested Citation

Marks, Mason, Drug Regulation for the COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis (May 21, 2020). Administrative Law Review, Vol. 72 (2020, Forthcoming). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3607702

Mason Marks (Contact Author)

Gonzaga University - School of Law

721 N. Cincinnati Street
Spokane, WA 99220-3528
United States

Yale University - Information Society Project ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

Leiden University, Leiden Law School, Centre for Law and Digital Technologies ( email )


Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics