Psychedelic drugs might help treat mental health disorders

Psychedelic drugs might help treat mental health disorders

LSD, magic mushrooms, and ecstasy are street drugs that you wouldn’t associate with anything positive, unless your name is Dock Ellis.

According to a new article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, that could be changing.

Researchers have begun to experiment with the therapeutic effects of these substances on people with mental disorders, including depression, addictions, anxiety, and PTSD. They believe these illegal drugs can have useful medical benefits.

This isn’t the first time scientists have explored psychedelics for therapeutic purposes; it was pioneered in the 1950’s, but eventually fizzled due to contaminated drugs on the market, as well as the war on drugs during that time.

“As decades have worn on and we face continued challenges with mental health and limitations of the existing paradigm and existing treatments, it is reemerging as an area of clinical interest,” said Dr. Evan Wood in an interview with CBC.

Psilocybin, which is the main compound in magic mushrooms, is of particular interest. Researchers are looking at its potential effect on the reduction of end-of-life anxiety and the treatment of tobacco addiction. Using the compound in a recent study on tobacco addiction treatments, patients showed an 80% cure rate at six months, which blows away any current alternatives.

Ecstasy’s key ingredient MDMA is being tested as a treatment for PTSD in former soldiers and first responders.

The third psychedelic being tested, LSD, is being used to treat addictions and anxiety in general.

While initial tests are encouraging, the researchers are aware of the negative effects. One example would be the risk of triggering a psychotic break in a patient with a family history of psychosis, or if they suffer from psychosis/bipolar disorder themselves. There’ll be through pre-screening before these drugs are ever prescribed, including monitoring patients closely when the drugs are actually being administered.

magicmushroom2These drugs have always been unmentionable and frowned on, but an open mind is necessary if we’re to progress, says Wood.

“There’s hurdles that we face in terms of being able to do this type of research…it’s trying to break the taboo and be able to talk about these molecules and the need for this research and trying to encourage science funders to look at these dramatic signals that are coming out of the recently conducted research,” he explained.

Interestingly, Canada is one of a few countries where testing illegal substances isn’t prohibited thanks to some mechanisms in Health Canada. For example, the MDMA-assisted psychotherapy tested in B.C. was (had to be) approved by a no-drug-tolerance Conservative government.

The authors of the Canadian Medical Association Journal article hope the paper will generate enough interest to push policy makers to keeping an open mind on this valuable area of research.

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