Republican Rick Perry served as governor of Texas from 2000 to 2015 and then did a stint as secretary of energy from 2017 to 2019. He describes himself as a small-government conservative. He’s not in favor of legalizing all drugs, but in the last five years he has warmed up to the idea that psychedelics could be a valuable and legitimate treatment for trauma.
Reason‘s Nick Gillespie sat down with Rick Perry in June at the Psychedelic Science 2023 conference to discuss how poorly the U.S. deals with those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and how he believes that psychedelic-assisted therapy can help.
Q: How have you changed your mind about psychedelics?
A: When I got introduced to this approximately five years ago, it was through a young man [Morgan Luttrell] who worked with me at the Department of Energy.
I was the secretary of energy and he was seeing some of his colleagues in the special operations world—this is a former Navy SEAL, who, interestingly enough, today is a United States congressman. He’s the one that started getting me comfortable with “Rick Perry” and “psychedelics” in the same sentence. His twin brother, Marcus Luttrell, lived with us at the governor’s mansion as my wife and I were learning about post-traumatic stress disorder and how poorly our government was dealing with this. And we were trying to find solutions to help heal this young man.
Q: Can psychedelics help individuals struggling with PTSD?
A: I’ve educated myself about the history of this and why psychedelics got taken away from the research world, from the citizens at large. These are medicines that were taken away for political purposes back in the early ’70s that we need to reintegrate. The potential here is stunningly positive.
I’ll give you one example: Rachel Yehuda, Ph.D., who’s working at [Veterans Affairs] in New York. She has two studies in phase three that are showing just amazing results. They have classic symptoms—anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, suicidal thoughts, one or all of those. Seventy-five percent of those individuals who are treated have zero symptoms after six months. Those are stunning numbers.
Q: Do you think people in your political tribe will be able to grasp this message about psychedelics treating trauma?
A: This is an education process and the short answer is yes, I do. Because I’m not for legalization of all drugs. We need to go a little more pedestrian here. Government has fouled this up substantially in the past. Let’s not give them a reason to mess this up, again. Let’s go thoughtfully at an appropriate pace as fast as we can.
Government needs to be limited. It needs to be restrained at almost every opportunity that you can. We haven’t been very successful with that in our country.
What I try to tell people is that this isn’t partisan at all. Let’s take our labels away on this one. This is about humankind. This is about taking care of individuals. This is about saving lives. This is about giving people their lives back.
This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity.