The Center for Law, Brain & Behavior puts the most accurate and actionable neuroscience in the hands of judges, lawyers, policymakers and journalists—people who shape the standards and practices of our legal system and affect its impact on people’s lives. We work to make the legal system more effective and more just for all those affected by the law.

Mental Health Moonshot: Unlocking Federal Funds for Psychedelics Research

 April 12, 2021, 12:00 PM

The U.S. needs a mental health moonshot.  

Inspired by the Apollo moon landing, moonshots are ambitious projects with monumental goals. The U.S. has a history of funding moonshots with federal tax dollars, and the Human Genome Project is one recent example. More recently, in 2016, President Obama and Vice President Biden announced the national Cancer Moonshot to dramatically improve the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. That year, Congress allocated $1.8 billion to fund the project.   

The U.S. needs an equally ambitious moonshot to address worsening mental health and substance use crises, leading causes of death exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are significant barriers to researching a promising new class of drugs for treating mood, anxiety, and substance use disorders: psychedelic compounds, such as psilocybin and MDMA, which are tightly controlled by the Drug Enforcement Administration. In 2019, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez introduced a bipartisan bill to ease restrictions, which was rejected by the House of Representatives.

This panel discussed the need for an ambitious federally-funded mental health moonshot built around psychedelics and analyzed the obstacles to achieving it.   


  • Introduction: Carmel Shachar, Executive Director, The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School
  • Mason Marks, Assistant Professor of Law, Gonzaga University; Fellow in Ethics of Technological and Biomedical Innovation, Edmond J. Safra and Petrie-Flom Centers, Harvard University
  • Dr. Jerrold F. Rosenbaum, Advisory Board Member, Center for Law, Brain & Behavior (CLBB); Psychiatrist-in-Chief Emeritus and Director, Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders; and Director, Center for Neuroscience of Psychedelics, Massachusetts General Hospital 
  • Melissa Lavasani, Founder and Executive Director, Plant Medicine Coalition
  • Franklin King IV, MD, Psychiatrist, Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders; and Director, Training and Education, Center for Neuroscience of Psychedelics, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Moderator: Elyssa Spitzer, JD, Senior Fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience, CLBB and the Petrie-Flom Center 

View the fully captioned event video

This event is part of the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience, a collaboration between the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.