By Emily Ledger
Experts in the medical field and members of the public are increasingly beginning to pay attention to the medicinal and therapeutic potential of psychedelic substances such as LSD, psilocybin, and DMT. In fact, research into the potential uses of psychedelics is at an all-time high as the demand for alternative treatment options increases.
A small group of psychiatrists pioneered research into the psychedelic, LSD, for the treatment of alcoholism and a number of mental health conditions in the 1950s. While the findings of this research were promising, studies were halted in the 1960s due to social and political responses to the popularity of ‘hippy’ culture which was associated with the use of psychedelics.
Psychedelics such as psilocybin – found in ‘magic’ mushrooms -, LSD and DMT have been widely prohibited throughout the world, despite early evidence that they could have significant therapeutic effects. However, voters and lawmakers are slowly beginning to call for the decriminalisation of psychedelics.
A number of cities in the US have now removed criminal penalties for the use and possession of psychedelics. Further, voters in Oregon, USA, opted to decriminalise all drugs, including psychedelics, with California also considering similar legislation.
Modern Day Psychedelic Research
Following a long period of exclusion from medical and therapeutics research, scientists are once again showing an interest in how psychedelic compounds can be used effectively for the treatment of conditions including schizophrenia, depression, and even stroke.
The Government of Canada recently revealed that it would be funding a first-of-its-kind clinical trial to assess the therapeutic potential of ketamine for Bipolar Depression. The study will assess the safety and efficacy of intravenous Ketamine in patients with Bipolar-associated depression. Currently, it is reported that around two-thirds of patients receiving conventional treatment for Bipolar Depression do not fully recover.
It is also reported that millions of Americans could soon gain access to Psychedelic Psychotherapy treatment in an attempt to tackle increased rates of depression and anxiety connected with the ongoing pandemic. The new service will provide 100 million American citizens with improved access to ketamine-assisted psychotherapy (KAP).
Another first-of-its-kind study will assess the effects of DMT therapy in a phase 1 human stroke trial. The study will aim to determine the safety, tolerability, and pharmacokinetics of intravenous DMT infusion, primarily to “identify a sub-hallucinogenic dosing regimen to support clinical studies in stroke patients”.
A preclinical study with research-grade DMT is also underway at a research site in Finland that is recognised as a world leader for preclinical stroke studies.
Pharmaceutical company Small Pharma recently launched the first phase of its clinical trial into DMT in the UK. The study will assess the potential of the psychedelic drug – which is currently categorised as a Class A substance – for mental health conditions, including depression.
Participants will be provided with DMT treatment alongside expert psychotherapy sessions to treat the sources of depression.
A recent study that was published in 2020 demonstrated the potential of psilocybin in the treatment of major depressive disorder. The study revealed that 71% of participants who used the psychedelic preparation showed a greater than 50% reduction in symptoms after four weeks of treatment. Half of the participants also entered remission.
The Future of Psychedelic Medicine
It is safe to say that medical research into psychedelics is experiencing something of a renaissance as scientists and psychiatrists once again gain access to substances that have been widely restricted for over half a century.
If this current development, seen both in legislation and the pharmaceutical and medical industries, continues, it is likely that psychedelics such as the ones discussed in this article may soon become a common treatment option for various conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).