Will the magic of psychedelics transform psychiatry?
Written by Mattha Busby,
Psychedelics have come a long way since their hallucinogenic hippy heyday. Research shows that they could alleviate PTSD, depression and addiction. So will we all soon be treated with magic mushrooms and MDMA?
Imagine a medicine that could help people process disturbing memories, sparking behavioural changes rather than merely burying and suppressing symptoms and trauma. For the millions suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, such remedies for their daily struggles could be on the horizon. Psychiatry is rapidly heading towards a new frontier – and it’s all thanks to psychedelics.
In an advanced phase trial published in Nature in May, patients in the US, Israel and Canada who received doses of the psychedelic stimulant MDMA, alongside care from a therapist, were more than twice as likely than the placebo group to no longer have PTSD, for which there is currently no effective medicinal treatment, months later. The researchers concluded that the findings, which reflected those of six earlier-stage trials, cemented the treatment as a startlingly successful potential breakthrough therapy. There are now hopes that MDMA therapy could receive approval for certain treatments from US regulators by 2023, or perhaps even earlier – with psilocybin, the active ingredient of magic mushrooms, not far behind in the process. (A small study at Johns Hopkins University, published last year, suggested it could be four times more effective than traditional antidepressants.)