Fishers nurse Caroline Hagedorn testified in support of a bill from Sen. Ed Charbonneau, at right, to establish a fund for psilocybin research on Feb. 13, 2024. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)
Fishers nurse Caroline Hagedorn testified in support of a bill from Sen. Ed Charbonneau, at right, to establish a fund for psilocybin research on Feb. 13, 2024. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)
For Caroline Hagedorn, a nurse in Fishers, the intrusive thoughts and compulsions from her obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) had become unbearable. Cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure response therapy and medications had done little to stem the tide and Hagedorn avoided large areas of her home and backyard due to contamination fears. 

“Driving became one of the hardest things for me. I would take twice as long driving to places due to circling back and rechecking,” Hagedorn told a House Public Health Committee on Tuesday. “This is just the tip of the iceberg of my OCD battles over the years. It has changed my career path and friendships and caused me to even question God. 

“The mental prison OCD built in my mind was getting harder and harder to navigate while raising three kids and attempting to live a normal life,” she continued.  

But an experimental psilocybin trial with Johns Hopkins was life-changing for Hagedorn and now, three months after treatment, she said “intrusive thoughts are the exception, not the norm.”

“My OCD is doing extremely well. It’s not gone but my life is mine again,” Hagedorn said. 

Hagedorn was one of a handful of Hoosiers urging the committee to consider a bill that would establish a fund for continued psilocybin research, otherwise known as “magic mushrooms.”

There is no initial state appropriation in Senate Bill 139 but it creates a special fund consisting of money received from state or federal grants and programs, gifts, donations, or transfers made to the fund.

While no research institutions are explicitly identified, bill discussion focused on Indiana University and Purdue University as two likely applicants to apply for the grant, which would be administered by the Indiana Department of Health. 

Such institutions can use the funding to establish a clinical trial to research psilocybin’s effectiveness as a treatment for: post-traumatic stress disorder (with a focus on veterans or first responders), anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, chronic pain and migraines as well as alcohol or tobacco use disorders. 

For committee members, several of whom work in health care, psilocybin’s potential was enough to advance the proposal, which passed on a 12-1 vote.

Rep. Cindy Ledbetter, R-Newburgh, prescribes antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications as a nurse practitioner and talked about the challenges of finding medications and managing side effects.

“The side effects are just — they’re miserable. And what is so wonderful about this treatment, possibly two treatments, (they’re) very minimal risk. I know there’s some risks regarding treatment anytime but you’re not faced with all of the side effects you have with taking these medications,” Ledbetter said. “I’m really excited that we’re going to be able to do this.”

How does it work?

Richard Feldman, a former state health commissioner and practicing physician, acknowledged that using a Schedule I psychedelic drug to treat mental health disorders can seem “pretty crazy” but highlighted studies with “impressive results,” including Johns Hopkins. 

“These medications are not given to a patient for home use, so it greatly reduces the potential for abuse and diversion,” Feldman said. “From my research, it’s physiologically safe — having an unattainable lethal dose — and is generally well tolerated … and it’s safer than many of our psychoactive medications.”

On Tuesday, the House Public Health Committee also advanced two other bills:

  • Senate Bill 10, which would establish funding for cities and counties launching mobile integrated health programs
  • Senate Bill 233, which would incorporate existing community mental health centers into the state’s plan to transition into a model for certified community behavioral health clinics.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration designated psilocybin as a “breakthrough therapy” for treatment-resistant depression in 2018 and for major depressive disorder in 2019. Roughly 30% of depression is treatment resistant, Feldman said, and prescribers needed new options. 

Feldman said psilocybin acts as a “brain reset,” opening up a time of brain plasticity that allows someone to open themselves up to self reflection, new ideas and new thought patterns. 

“There are two states that are moving to either legalize or decriminalize psilocybin, which I think is an incredibly bad idea,” Feldman cautioned. “But to more appropriately enable psilocybin research and treatment availability … I think this bill is a good, conservative initial step.”

The bill includes a special recognition of its potential for veterans, many of whom develop post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Navy SEAL David Berkenfield, a Hoosier active with the American Legion, has been vocal about his campaign to reduce veteran suicides after witnessing far too many fellow combatants — as well as his brother, who didn’t serve in the armed forces — die by their own hand. Roughly 17 veterans commit suicide each day, according to a 2022 report from the Veterans Administration. 

“Veterans and civilians, like my brother, desperately deserve innovative solutions when they’re struggling. PTSD and depression provide no one size fits all treatment course to overcome. Psilocybin has shown success in treating both mental health conditions, saving lives,” Berkenfield said. 

Uncertainty around consumer cost draws concerns

But while the committee roundly supported the idea of funding continued research into the potential of psilocybin, some wondered if continued exploration would drive up costs and make it unattainable for the Hoosiers who needed treatment. 

Rep. Rita Fleming, a retired OB-GYN, noted that insulin’s patent was sold for just $1 to keep prices low decades ago but pharmaceutical companies turned around and sold it at much higher prices.

“I am concerned about how we get a drug that shows such promise and then it is finally on the market (but) it becomes unaffordable,” said Fleming, D-Jeffersonville. 

Feldman acknowledged the concern, adding that psilocybin is administered in six- to eight-hour sessions, adding another prohibitively expensive cost on top of the drug itself — which is naturally occurring.

For Rep. Matt Hostettler, R-Patoka, those concerns prompted him to be the sole committee member to vote against the bill. 

“I’m really, really glad that the federal government realizes that there’s things that occur in nature that can sometimes heal us and they’re getting their foot off our necks. I wish they would find it in other areas as well,” Hostettler said. “My concern is not with the medication … it’s (that) we’re going to set aside money and then it’s going to be monetized.”

He expressed concerns about psilocybin getting government investment for research but Hoosiers still paying the costs when patents were filed and companies started charging in a way that prohibited access.

The bill now moves before the full House body for further consideration.

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