Psychedelics combat the mental health crisis

There has been significant discussion regarding the therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin, MDMA and LSD. Psychedelic-assisted therapy can have positive effects on people suffering from addiction disorders, depression, anxiety and PTSD. 

Given the mental health crisis and opioid epidemic in the U.S., psychedelic-assisted therapy can be used as a treatment to combat these issues. However, it is important the method is implemented correctly as there are two potential obstacles with psychedelic-assisted therapy: the negative portrayal of psychedelics in the U.S. and accessibility to the treatment.

Psychedelic research in the U.S. began primarily with the study of LSD. The substance was first synthesized in Switzerland in 1938. LSD was marketed as a tool to aid psychiatrists in better understanding the perspectives of psychotic patients. In the early 1950s, research on LSD therapies became more common. 

At the same time, the CIA was using LSD in their sponsored project, MK-ULTRA. The program focused on developing a real life truth serum. Following several scandals and lack of success with the drug, interest in this project slowed.

Throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, unethical research and recreational use of psychedelic drugs became more common. Due to the criminalization of psychedelic drugs and numerous regulations on the manufacture and research of drugs, by the ‘70s, psychedelic research came to a halt. 

Over the next few decades, attitudes toward the use of psychedelics were shaped by President Richard Nixon’s War On Drugs campaign — depicting the use of psychedelics as extremely dangerous.

Challenging these long standing beliefs on psychedelics could prove to be very challenging. Additionally, politicians could use the stigma surrounding psychedelics to gain votes and further perpetuate false narratives.

Research on psychedelics restarted in the ‘90s and over the previous three decades has been progressing slowly but surely.

Ketamine, a dissociative anesthetic, can induce a psychedelic-like experience. It is the closest drug to a psychedelic being used in therapeutic treatment. Ketamine has fast acting antidepressant qualities and can be prescribed by doctors. The downsides to this treatment primarily come with the financial cost and lack of regulation in the industry. 

Psychedelics are in the process of approval for therapeutic uses in the U.S. One of the organizations leading the way on this is the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a nonprofit which has been funding and facilitating therapeutic research since 1986. 

MAPS has been conducting trials for MDMA-assisted therapy to treat PTSD since 1992.  These trials use the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) five phase process for substance research. 

MAPS is undertaking Phase 2 trials for MDMA-assisted therapies to treat conditions like substance use disorder and eating disorders. Phase 2 consists of preclinical tests to prove that a substance is safe for humans. Other Phase 2 trials are evaluating MDMA use in couples therapy and group therapy for veterans. Phase 2 is constantly in motion, testing different drugs to treat different conditions. In Phase 3 of the MAPS study, MDMA is tested on humans to determine how it will affect their bodies.

The results for the first trial of MDMA-assisted therapy were published in 2021, revealing reduced PTSD symptoms in those who took the drug over the course of the study. In the long term, these positive effects are sustained for at least a year after the 18 week treatment. Currently MAPS is working on a second trial and plans to file for a new drug application to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to use MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD.

MDMA is on track to be the first legal drug for psychedelic assisted therapy. Additional research on various psychedelics is currently being conducted. 

Although there are numerous benefits to psychedelic therapy, there are factors that should be considered when implementing these treatments.This psychological renaissance could be halted by companies’ greed — increasing costs and leaving certain demographics out of this treatment.

Companies are eager for the chance to patent the chemical compounds in psychedelics and the therapy technique itself. 

Regulators should proceed with caution when deciding on the future of this new industry. Otherwise, lack of access to these therapies could perpetuate the current inaccessibility to mental health services. 

Additionally, to ensure the success of psychedelic treatment, there needs to be special training for therapists and physicians to conduct these sessions. Avoiding abuse of patients’ vulnerability needs special consideration because of how influential these treatments are on the human brain. It is essential that the treatments are not cost restrictive and are accessible to the people who need them most. 

The next decade could be one of massive growth for psychedelics’ role in mental health treatment and it is important to ensure the best possible outcome for these new therapies.

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