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In the News

Psychedelic Drugs for Psychiatric Treatment?

Lara Calus

23rd February 2024

Are we about to see a renaissance in psychedelic drug use for psychiatric treatments?

After psychedelic research was shut down in the 1970s, there is now a surge in the requirement for new research that is FDA-approved to test the benefits and side effects.

With states like Oregon leading the way for unprecedented experiments in psilocybin treatment outside conventional healthcare systems, will the rest follow?

It’s not new news that psychedelic drug use for the treatment of depression and even PTSD has brought about questions and urges to decriminalise psychedelic use. The issue we face is the lack of scientific research, as most clinical trials are small and have numerous pitfalls. To show the positive effects of these psychedelic drugs we need larger clinical trials that adhere to FDA standards, particularly that test the benefits and side effects of such treatments. Psychedelic treatments are intensive and often require many hours of preparation and therapist time, sometimes multiple therapists need to be present, as well as follow-ups after treatment.

What we know so far about the benefits of psychedelics is they stimulate areas of the brain involved in thinking, working memory, and attention. Psychedelics are said to rewire certain brain networks, for example, dysfunctional circuits we often see in depressed patients who are unable to stop mind wandering. On the other hand, some argue that it is not the rewiring that is the specific ingredient here but rather the spiritual experiencing that leads to changes. Feelings of connection, empathy, and oneness with nature that is the transformative force.

The good news is the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) has just started funding studies into psychedelic compounds after the 1970s shut down of research. This is the beginning of some amazing discoveries in this second wave of psychedelic research.

For further reading, use the following references:

Bender D, Hellerstein DJ. Assessing the risk–benefit profile of classical psychedelics: a clinical review of second-wave psychedelic research. Psychopharmacology. 2022 Jan 13:1-26.

Carhart-Harris RL, Roseman L, Bolstridge M, Demetriou L, Pannekoek JN, Wall MB, Tanner M, Kaelen M, McGonigle J, Murphy K, Leech R. Psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression: fMRI-measured brain mechanisms. Scientific reports. 2017 Oct 13;7(1):1-1.

Carhart-Harris R, Giribaldi B, Watts R, Baker-Jones M, Murphy-Beiner A, Murphy R, Martell J, Blemings A, Erritzoe D, Nutt DJ. Trial of psilocybin versus escitalopram for depression. New England Journal of Medicine. 2021 Apr 15;384(15):1402-11.

Lara Calus

Lara is an experienced Psychology lecturer and part of the tutor2u Psychology team.

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