There is a quiet revolution underway in the sphere of mental health. A great deal of research is in progress to determine the effectiveness of psychedelic drugs in treating mental illness and their impact on psychological health. Since the 1960s, psychedelics have been heavily stigmatised in the public arena. However, with the passage of time, more and more people are recognising the positive impact it could have in combating the mental health crisis.
Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics has launched a first of its kind research on psychedelics and the law, the Harvard Crimson reported. The three year project will seek to “promote safety, innovation, equity, and access” in both psychedelic research and treatment.
“POPLAR is the first academic initiative focused on psychedelics law and policy, positioned to be the global leader for research and education in this space,” the press release said. “Psychedelics are one of the most exciting and promising new technologies in mental health care to come along for decades, and they could represent a true paradigm shift for mental health care and neuroscience research in general,” said Mason M. Marks, senior fellow at the Petrie-Flom Center and project lead for POPLAR.
“That’s why the Petrie-Flom Center is such a great place to house the project,” he added. According to the POPLAR website, the project will focus on ethics in psychedelics research and treatment, the intersection of psychedelics and intellectual property law, federal support of psychedelics research, increased access and equity of psychedelics, and the function of psychedelics in mitigating trauma.
Research on psychedelics
Apart from that, there are multiple other institutions conducting research on Psychedelics. Such studies often pit psychedelic compounds such as Psilocybin, the active compound in ‘Magic Mushrooms’ against conventional antidepressants. In one such case, one set of subjects were given a placebo and psilocybin and the other set was given an inconsequentially small dose of psilocybin and a conventional selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant.
The results demonstrated that there was no significant difference in the antidepressant effects between the two. According to the research, the trial “did not show a significant difference in antidepressant effects between psilocybin and escitalopram in a selected group of patients. Secondary outcomes generally favored psilocybin over escitalopram, but the analyses of these outcomes lacked correction for multiple comparisons. Larger and longer trials are required to compare psilocybin with established antidepressants.”
At the Queen’s University in Canada, David Clements, Executive Director of Psychedelic Research at the university’s Faculty of Health Sciences, is leading a research to study the effectiveness of psychedelic drugs in treating serious illnesses such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and severe depression. According to a press release by the University, the team will be an “interdisciplinary space for research, innovation and knowledge translation in the field of psychedelics”.
Psilocybin is not the psychedelic compound under study. Researches are also being conducted on MDMA, popularly known as Ecstasy. The researchers observed that two-thirds of the subjects no longer reported a PTSD diagnosis after 18 weeks and three sessions. According to the trial, 88% of the subjects demonstrated a “meaningful reduction in symptoms”.
Meanwhile, the Hammersmith Medicines Research in London is conducting research on DMT (dimethyltryptamine). “Clinical research suggests that DMT will break or disrupt the neuronal pathways that underlie these negative thought processes and by doing so, may facilitate the benefits of therapy given in combination with DMT. DMT-assisted therapy targets the root cause of depression and other ‘internalising’ conditions and has the potential to provide a treatment with rapid onset and a long duration of activity following treatment,” said Small Pharma, the sponsor of the research.
LSD is also the matter of multiple research.
Skepticism remains despite growing acceptance
Numerous states in the United States of America are leading efforts to conduct research or decriminalise specific psychedelic substances such as psilocybin. On June 18, Texas Governor Greg Abbott authorised the study of psilocybin. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont signed a bill order the state department on medical sciences to report findings on the matter by January, 2022. A bill was introduced in New York that seeks to establish an institute to investigate the medicinal benefits of psychedelics. California is condering the decriminalisation of psilocybin.
Apart from that, seven cities have decriminalised psilocybin apart from Oregon, a state. But not all is hunky dory in terms of the research and plenty still harbour skepticism with regards to its positive effects. Suresh Muthukumaraswamy, a psychopharmacologist from the University of Auckland, says that the fact that subjects can easily tell whether they have been given a placebo or a psychedelic given the distinct ‘trip’ inducing effect of the latter has a definitive impact on the results.
“On the basis of the evidence that’s been collected, at this point, I don’t see any reason why you would think that these drugs and interventions are approvable with the current issues they have in terms of design,” he says asserting that the studies are probably overestimating the effects. Efforts are also currently on to remove the ‘trip’ from psychedelics.
Psychedelics have an intimate relationship with spirituality, as we have discussed here at OpIndia earlier. Ayahuasca, one of the most popular psychedelic beverages in the world, is consumed by Amazonian tribes for spiritual purposes. Despite their connections to spirituality and potential medical benefits, psychedelics remains extremely controversial to this day.