This is part two of a two-part blog series by our guest author Associate Professor Fiona Hutton, teacher and researcher of Criminology at Victoria University of Wellington. We posted part 1 What’s all the fuss about psychedelics? last week
Due to the sustained efforts of a number of organisations and individuals such as the Beckley Foundation, MAPS, Prof. David Nutt and his colleagues at Drug Science, and in the US context Dr. Michael Mithoefer to name but a few, a psychedelic renaissance has been taking place over the last decade or so.
Despite the entrenched stigma of prohibition and resistance to accepting the medical use of substances like LSD and MDMA, the results of pioneering clinical trials have been too successful to ignore.
Alongside sustained activism by some of the people noted above, and the mental health ‘crisis’ in many countries, psychedelics can no longer be side-lined. There have also been some shifts in the ‘war on drugs’ with regards to psychedelics. For example, in 2020 Oregon legalized psilocybin mushrooms for use in therapy and decriminalized possession of small amounts of all drugs.
The results of clinical and other studies into the use of psychedelics for treating things like depression, trauma, PTSD and so on is nothing short of astounding with contemporary studies repeating the successes of the early counterparts.
Some of that research can be summed up as follows:
- MDMA is of therapeutic benefit in treating people with treatment resistant PTSD and autism
CW: Sexual violence, war crimes, other things that give people PTSD
- Psilocybin is helpful for treating addiction to nicotine
Read the study of psilocybin and nicotine addiction treatment
- People with treatment resistant depression were treated with a single dose of ayahuasca, and demonstrated rapid anti-depressant effects
Read Current status of psychedelic therapy in Australia and New Zealand: Are we falling behind? by Inserra on SagePub
- Psychedelic therapy when combined with psychotherapy creates psychological improvements that are sustained over time
Read Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial by Griffiths et. al. on the NCBI website
- A single dose of psilocybin coupled with psychotherapy, had dramatic improvements on anxiety and depression in those with cancer. Patients reported decreased cancer related existential distress, increased life quality and spiritual wellbeing and an improved attitude towards death – these improvements were still present 6 months after the sessions
Read Psychedelics in Psychiatry: Neuroplastic, Immunomodulatory, and Neurotransmitter Mechanisms on the Aspet site
- Sessa, Highbed & Nutt (2019) note that the first controlled clinical study into MDMA found it effective in treating treatment resistant PTSD.
Read A Review of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-Assisted Psychotherapy by Sessa, Highbed, and Nutt on the Frontiers site
- Recent research has also found that compared to conventional treatment psychedelics are more effective in treating depression, while also having few if any side effects
Read MDMA-assisted therapy for severe PTSD: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase 3 study by Mitchell, Bogenschutz, Lilienstein et al., 2021 on the Nature site
Imagine then, what our mental health treatment system may have looked like if research into psychedelics had not been stopped in its tracks.
In an ideal world over the past 5 decades instead of outlawing substances such as LSD, Psilocybin and MDMA these could have been incorporated into our health system and used to treat people with trauma related conditions.
Let’s hope that governments around the world will now stand by their ‘drugs are a health issue’ rhetoric, follow the evidence, and embrace psychedelic assisted therapy. Surely it would be too cruel to deny people access to medicines that could help them?
However, before we all go rushing off to take shitloads of psychedelics, please remember that these studies were carried out with trained professionals after stringent health checks to make sure people were suitable for this kind of therapy.
Also psychedelics are not a ‘magic bullet’ for everyone so treat them with respect. If you’re thinking of trying psychedelics to help with your mental health talk to a doctor you trust about what you have planned and why.