Psychedelic Therapy: Otherworldly Potential

As strange as it sounds, it might take going out of our minds to feel more comfortable in our own. As the importance of mental health gains more attention within the scientific community and mainstream culture, innovative therapies have been designed and tested. Among these are a variety of psychedelics that have been shown to reduce issues such as depression and substance abuse. Drugs such as LSD or so-called magic mushrooms have been shown in clinical trials to provide lasting relief from depression and PTSD [4]. Moreover, psilocybin, the active hallucinogenic agent in magic mushrooms, was shown by researchers at Johns Hopkins to ease severe anxiety in cancer patients and even enabled life-long smokers to overcome their addiction and quit smoking [1]. While the precise interactions of these psychedelics and the brain are still being uncovered, the amazing potential of psychedelic therapies to combat extreme mental illnesses is inspiring and could even shape the future of healthcare and therapy.


The success of psychedelic therapy has been greatly impaired by legal classification surrounding its administration. In the 1970s, psychedelics including psilocybin were categorized as a schedule I controlled substance, given to drugs with “no currently accepted medical use and high potential for abuse” [3]. This decision heavily restricted research efforts to better understand how psychedelics could be used in medical settings. Any study of psychedelics had to be closely monitored. The studies were expensive, and the accessibility to psychedelics was limited.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, many researchers oppose this strict classification of psychedelics; despite what the schedule I classification claims, psilocybin has a very low risk of addiction or dependence and is generally non-toxic [3]. To many, the risks associated with psychedelics do not match the description of a schedule I classification, and the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics incentivize many concerned organizations to change this classification.


However, the limited research that was allowed provided support for the use of psychedelic therapies, which has sparked change in national perceptions of psychedelics. In 2006, a study of psilocybin by researchers at Johns Hopkins demonstrated the safety and positive effects of the drug, which opened the door for psychedelic research worldwide [2]. In the past few decades, Johns Hopkins has led global efforts to better understand psilocybin and even recommended that the psychedelic be reclassified as a schedule IV drug to facilitate its role as a therapeutic option for mental illnesses [5].


With gaining traction for psychedelic therapy, a new study that appears to have replicated the antidepressive effects of psilocybin without the hallucinations could pave the way for the accessibility of this treatment. By closely replicating the chemical structure of compounds such as LSD and psilocybin, researcher Dr. Shen Wang of the Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry and Cell Biology was able to create a non-hallucinogenic analog of the psychedelics. When injected into mice, the compounds were shown to work against depressive behavior in the mice, without eliciting hallucinations [4].


If this non-hallucinogenic analog could be transferred to human patients, the consequences could be revolutionary. Currently, psychedelic treatments must be closely monitored by healthcare staff due to the hallucinations, which drives up costs and lowers the accessibility of this treatment. Without hallucinations, psychedelic therapy could become the status quo, redefining the way we treat mental health illnesses.


References


1. Ercolano, A. (2022). Johns Hopkins Center for psychedelic and Consciousness Research. Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/psychiatry/research/psychedelicsresearch.html


2. Griffiths, R. R., Richards, W. A., McCann, U., & Jesse, R. (2006). Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance. Psychopharmacology, 187(3), 268-283. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-006-0457-5


3. Marks, M., & Cohen, I. G. (2021). Psychedelic therapy: A roadmap for wider acceptance and Utilization. Nature News. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-021-01530-3


4. Service, R. F. (2022). No hallucinations? LSD relatives appear to treat depression in mice, without obvious side effects. Retrieved from https://www.science.org/content/article/no-hallucinations-lsd-relativesappear-treat-depression-mice-without-obvious-side


5. Reclassification recommendations for drug in 'Magic mushrooms'. Johns Hopkins Medicine Newsroom. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/newsroom/newsreleases/reclassification-recommendations-for-drug-in-magic-mushrooms

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