Australia became the first country to legalize the use of MDMA and psilocybin to treat certain mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder and treatment-resistant depression, starting July 1. While the decision to allow psychiatrists to prescribe these psychedelic drugs is a bold move, some experts fear it may be premature.
“We don’t have any data on long-term outcomes at all, so I’m very concerned, which is one of the reasons I’m doing my very large study,” said Swinburne University professor Susan Rossell in an interview. Professor Rossell is leading a $5 million clinical trial testing the potential of psilocybin in treating depression.
It is clear that the scientific community’s view of psychedelic drugs is undergoing a significant shift, shifting from pure curiosity to a more thorough exploration of their potential clinical uses.
Here are three psychedelic drugs that are currently being extensively researched and clinically tested and may one day become commonplace in the mental health care field.
1. MDMA, which could help you heal from trauma
A 2021 clinical trial testing the effectiveness of using MDMA to treat severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) found that patients receiving MDMA-assisted therapies improved compared to those receiving a placebo showed greater improvement.
As neuroscientist Jennifer Mitchell explained in an interview, “MDMA is really interesting because it’s an empathogen. It causes the release of oxytocin in the brain, which creates a sense of trust and closeness that can be really helpful in a therapeutic setting.”
The clinical study also found that MDMA was not only safe, but was well tolerated by people with co-occurring mental illnesses. The study also found no evidence that participants developed an addiction to the substance over the course of treatment, indicating that MDMA’s addictive potential may not play a role, at least with carefully controlled use.
2. Psilocybin, which might help you cope with depression
A 2020 clinical study testing the effects of psilocybin in people with major depression found that two doses of the drug combined with psychotherapy resulted in a significant reduction in depression symptoms. These improvements lasted at least four weeks after therapy.
The study also showed that in certain cases, such as when depression is untreatable with conventional medications or therapies, psilocybin can produce outcomes (e.g., relief from anxiety) that can lead to improved well-being and a better quality of life.
However, there are some notable side effects that participants in the study reported:
More research is needed to understand how psilocybin affects our neurochemistry to treat depression and other mental illnesses, but experts seem to agree on one thing: psilocybin must be used under the proper guidance and care of a trained professional.
3. Ketamine, which may help with anxiety, depression, and chronic PTSD
A 2022 review conducted on 17 articles and published in Journal of Pain Research found that ketamine significantly improved symptoms of anxiety and depression. The positive effects of the drug were both immediate and permanent. The review also found that ketamine improves the therapist-patient relationship, which is an often overlooked aspect of treatment.
Ketamine may also be useful in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, a 2014 clinical study found. This study was the first to report an active reduction in symptoms of chronic post-traumatic stress disorder due to ketamine infusion.
While research and case reports have shown significant reductions in PTSD-related symptoms and rapid antidepressant effects, long-term harmful effects of ketamine have not been ruled out by the scientific community. Still, given the promising clinical trials, ketamine is high on the list of psychedelic drugs with therapeutic potential.
With a balance of caution and optimism, the global health community is watching as Australia embarks on a transformative shift in how society views psychedelic drugs. MDMA, psilocybin, and ketamine are three such drugs that could one day become a standard part of mental health care.