‘Psychedelics renaissance’: new wave of research puts hallucinogenics to treat mental health | Mental health

Out of desperation Michael Raymond found himself sitting in a secluded retreat in the Peruvian Andes, sipping a cup of bitter tea.

Raymond has reached the point of break. His 16-year career as an electrical engineer in high-security situations for the Australian air force has seen him deal with experiences of near-death, crashes, fatalities and “the result of debris of man “.

Michael Raymond overlooks Machu Picchu in Peru
Michael Raymond, an Australian air force veteran, traveled to South America for psychedelic -assisted therapy

“I’m going to kill myself at some point,” he said. “I couldn’t go on.”

After being diagnosed with medical post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression, Raymond was prescribed antidepressants and underwent psychotherapy, but with no success.

Retrieves ayahuasca Tea, which contains the psychoactive compound N, N-Dimethyltr Egyptamine (DMT), and San Pedro cactus, is the last method.

After early psychiatric experiments in the 1950s and ’60s, followed by decades of ban – which sparked part of the backlash against hippy counterculture – psychedelics are experiencing a resurgence. A new wave of research is returning to hallucinogenic drugs as potential candidates to treat psychiatric conditions.

It also means more people, frustrated with drugs that don’t work, seek out illicit drugs. Experts are quick to warn of the dangers of self -treating mental health conditions with psychedelics.

But therapeutic uses for illegal substances – including MDMA, DMT and psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms – are now being explored in clinical trials.

Dr Martin Williams, executive director of Psychedelic Research in Science & Medicine, said the wave has also finally passed after decades associated with “career suicide”.

Magic mushrooms grow
Therapeutic uses for illegal substances, such as the active ingredient of magic mushrooms, have been explored in clinical trials. Photo: Westend61 GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo / Alamy Stock Photo

Williams, a fellow researcher also at Monash University, is co -leading a clinical trial at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne on psilocybin -assisted psychotherapy to treat anxiety and depression in people with serious illness.

The trial, which will run until 2023, involves 40 people with terminal conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and motor neurone disease, receiving either one, or two, 25-milligram doses. of psilocybin in conjunction with therapy.

It follows successful study in the US of medication in patients with anxiety and depression associated with life -threatening cancer. In follow-up four and a half years later, participants “highly attributed positive life changes to the experience of psilocybin-assisted therapy and rated it among the most personally meaningful and meaningful experiences in their lives”. Both testing using LSD also found beneficial effects.

For end -of -life anxiety and depression, evidence suggests standard drug treatments with antidepressants such as SSRIs – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors – are not particularly effective, Williams said.

“Psychedelics … by any mechanism, seems to represent a significant improvement over standard therapies.”

Meanwhile, another clinical trials involving psilocybin, at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, is investigating whether the compound could help treat methamphetamine addiction.

Brain chemistry

Classical psychedelic drugs – DMT, LSD, mescaline, psilocybin – work in the brain by strongly binding to specific serotonin receptors known as the 5 -HT2A receptor. Their action on these receptors is thought to result in hallucinogenic effects of drugs, as well as changes in perception and a sense of ego breakdown.

Psychedelics are also thought to dampen the ‘default mode network’, a system of interconnected brain regions that are active in unfocused, waking rest – such as daydreaming. The region is believed to be important in developing our sense of self, and can be very tough when people are experiencing anxiety and sadness.

Cultivated magic mushrooms.
Cultivated magic mushrooms. Photo: Nigel Dodds / Alamy

By calming the default network mode, psychedelic drugs seem to enable a variety of brain interactions, such as “cross-talk,” Williams says, resulting in an altered perspective and more. that is psychological flexibility.

The potential of psychedelics is something of a “paradigm shifter for traditional psychiatry”, says Prof Jerome Sarris, one of the directors of the newly established Psychae Institute in Melbourne. The research center is planning clinical trials of ayahuasca in 2022 to treat depression and alcohol use disorders.

This is just one of the few trials in the world: a Study in Brazil showed favorable results for treatment -resistant depression, while a DMT trial in the UK approved by regulators.

Sarris and Psychae Institute co-director Dr Daniel Perkins previously conducted international survey of ayahuasca drinkers. Of those who reported anxiety or depression over time, 70% and 78% respectively reported an improvement in symptoms. (Learning is observation, so cannot establish a cause.)

For Raymond, taking ayahuasca was the kind of ineffective experience – an encounter with the mystic – described by many as having consumed beer. “I got unchanged facts that came out about myself,” he said.

“I wanted to be what I thought was a man, or whatever, a man in the military … I didn’t have the tools to express feelings healthily,” he said. “Even with a psychologist I struggle to open up.”

Michael Raymond on a beach
Michael Raymond said consuming ayahuasca has seen some “unvarnished facts come out about myself”. Photo: Michael Raymond

One drug that has shown promise for treating PTSD is MDMA, when used in conjunction with therapy. In the US, a stage III clinical trial – the last hurdle to researching a drug must be cleared up before regulators consider approving it as a new drug – found it to be “extremely effective” and safe in people with severe PTSD.

The mode of action of MDMA is different from psychedelics, but it also increases serotonin in the brain. Dr Stephen Bright, a psychologist and senior lecturer at Edith Cowan University, said: “The release of that serotonin seems to open up parts of the prefrontal cortex that are associated with language, and that may be why people are talked about experiences they hadn’t had [before]. “

Bright is leading a small trial of MDMA -assisted therapy in Perth later this year – The first in Australia – that will treat four people with PTSD.

Ecstasy pills
Ecstasy pills. MDMA increases serotonin in the brain and was used in a Perth trial to treat people with PTSD. Photo: Westmacott / Alamy

Required regulations

Despite promising results to date, no psychedelics have yet gathered the required level of clinical evidence to be listed as legally prescribed drugs in the Australian Registory of Therapeutic Goods. But Dr Daniel Perkins said regulators recognize their potential benefits. “It’s a question of how they provide access, not whether they do or not.”

Perkins, who is director of the medical cannabis office at Victoria’s health department, emphasizes that psychedelics only form part of treatment. The other is psychotherapy, and any drug approval will also be conditional on treatment protocols that have been vetted in clinical trials.

In February, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) made an interim decision rejecting a proposal to reclassify MDMA and psilocybin from the illicit drug into controlled substances. It has postponed making a final decision, pending an independent report on the risks and therapeutic benefits of the drugs, which are due for release next week.

The regulator gives permission for the use of these drugs in each case through a special access scheme-but not infrequently for access that is then prevented at the state level.

Tania de Jong, founder of Mind Medicine Australia, the nonprofit that led the reclassification bid, said changing the regulations would not result in a “flood of use”, but it would be better to standardize federal approvals and state that doctors need to get.

De Jong said he regularly interacts with desperate people who have exhausted all other treatment options. “They just want an opportunity to lead a healthy, meaningful, living function,” he said. “The longer it takes for these drugs to be available in clinical environments, the more people will be find them underground. “

A Global survey of medicine around the world found that of 1,376 people who use psychedelics for self -treatment, 4.2% needed to seek emergency medical treatment – about five times higher than people who use such recreational drugs.

Psychedelic -assisted therapists are contraindicated for people at risk of drug -induced psychosis.

“I’m seeing an increasing number of people getting worse as a result of this test on their own,” Dr Stephen Bright said. He warns of the growing public interest in psychedelics, because clinical trial areas are very limited, and it could be five or 10 years before treatments become widely available in Australia.

Michael Raymond was standing in front of an air force plane
Michael Raymond in his air force days. Photo: Australian Defense / Michael Raymond

Raymond said his quality of life has improved significantly since taking ayahuasca in South America, but acknowledges that the experience is not a panacea. “I still have things to work on,” he said.

He is already studying and working to support other people who are transitioning to life from the military. “I found more gratitude just for life.”

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