The war against drugs stopped medical research on psychedelics for decades but now it’s back as an alternative for treating depression
The war against drugs stopped medical research on psychedelics for decades but now it’s back as an alternative for treating depression.
Psilocybin is a naturally produced psychedelic substance that is produced by over 200 species of mushrooms. According to the Drug and Alcohol Foundation, the effects after consumption include euphoria, perceptual changes, such as visual and auditory hallucinations, dilation of pupils, and increased body temperature. But when experiencing a bad trip, the person might feel stomach discomfort, vomiting, fast and irregular heartbeat, anxiety, paranoia, and unpleasant hallucinations. Some people consume the usually called magic mushrooms recreationally, but this article will focus on their medical usage.
Back in 1950, Harvard scientists were investigating the possibility of using psychedelics as a medical treatment for depression. The project was created by Timothy Leary after experimenting with mushrooms during a trip to Mexico. Writer Aldous Huxley, mostly known for his book Brave New World, became an advisor after his experience with mescaline and LSD, other types of psychedelics. Later, he distanced himself from the project after suspicions of Leary’s methodology as he was indiscriminately promoting drug usage.
Even when other scientists were investigating the matter, the association of hallucinogens with hippies and the bad reputation created by Leary -who would later become a counter-culture icon- led to the total prohibition of psychedelics experiments in 1970 with the signing of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act by President Richard Nixon.
Decades happened before the research could restart, as the Heffter Research Institute was created to understand how psilocybin could be used to treat mental illnesses. With over 40 researchers, they have developed protocols and clinical studies to see the positive effects on the treatment of anorexia, smoking, major depressive disease, Alzheimer's disease, and other conditions. Now they have a 900.000 grant to fund a postdoctoral fellowship with scientists from Johns Hopkins, Yale University, and New York University. This is important as their goal is to not depend on anecdotal observations to prove the successful results from this kind of therapy, but to use an evidence-based approach to obtain complex data to get official approval as a medical treatment.
This would be a groundbreaking discovery during a time when mental illnesses are being more diagnosticated every day. According to the World Health Organization, the covid-19 pandemic triggered a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. This is considered the tip of the iceberg, as the consequences on mental health are not completely clear yet. Between grief, burnout, and the trauma caused by long periods of quarantine, there is a risk of even higher numbers to be reported. Having possible treatments for depression is important to prepare the world for a mental health crisis.
Understanding hallucinating drugs as medicine can be difficult after years of seeing them as dangerous and counterproductive. The treatment has to be followed closely by professionals, considering the risks associated with any consumption, including prescription medicine. Addiction is a serious problem, even legally sold drugs, like analgesics. Because of that, it is positive to see universities focused on understanding the long-term effects and the correct usage to prevent overuse.