The use of psychedelics (LSD and psilocybin) are arguably the most recent and potentially promising advancements for treating mental health disorders that health sciences have seen in some time. However, despite the large amount of public and scientific interest in the research and clinical studies, we don’t currently have a standard of care nor a consensus as to how psychotherapy and psychedelics can be combined for maximum effectiveness.
So what’s the outlook on psychedelics as the future of mental health?
Let’s take a look at what we know so far:
What Can Psychedelics Potentially Treat?
There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the psychedelic compounds found in LSD, psilocybin, and MDMA have strong therapeutic potential for a variety of mental health conditions. This would include general anxiety disorder (GAD), major depressive disorder (MDD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more.
For example, psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in “magic mushrooms,” is currently in phase II clinical trials for MDD. This compound is a known agonist of the brain’s serotonergic 5-HT2A receptors, which are directly linked to creativity, cognitive flexibility, and an enhanced imagination. So far, the compound shows positive results in studies involving individuals with MDD, rapidly reducing their symptoms in the beginning and sustaining those results over a four-week period.
When it comes to treating anxiety disorders, such as PTSD, the “party drug” MDMA has been discovered to have a unique ability to promote acceptance and empathy in one’s self and others. In addition to elevating the brain’s oxytocin levels, MDMA also stimulates the release of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. This results in an improved mood and higher levels of sociability.
In clinical studies, brain imaging post MDMA administration shows a decreased amygdala activation which in turn reduces the “fear response.” This has enabled patients to emotionally engage in therapy without becoming overwhelmed by intense emotions or anxiety.
It should be noted that both forms of psychedelic treatments are meant to be accompanied by traditional forms of therapy as well as psychiatric medications where needed.
What Happens Next?
As of right now, MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is the closest psychedelic treatment to receiving FDA approval as it’s currently undergoing phase III clinical trials in patients with PTSD. With FDA approval, MDMA-assisted psychotherapy can be used as a treatment method in as little as two years’ time.
Psilocybin, on the other hand, is taking more time than expected to reach FA approval. The psychedelic compound was on track for approval by 2021, however, researchers have stated that more clinical trials are needed to ensure that its positive side effects will continue to last beyond one year. Another limitation lies in the federal government, as psilocybin is still a schedule I controlled substance, making it more difficult to obtain the FDA’s approval as a viable method of treatment.
However, with more long-term research yielding favorable results, we can expect psilocybin to be on its way to approval and use within the next three to five years.
It may be quite a while before psychedelic substances officially become mainstream methods of treatment for mental health disorders. Keep up to date with the latest in mental health news by visiting our blog.