Can psychedelics treat mental illnesses?

first scientistPsychedelics are back in the science lab! After being banned for ~50 years research has started up again to determine if psychedelics can treat mental illness. The answer isn’t as simple as you might think.

Psychedelic drugs contain DMT and mescaline. These mind-altering substances became a drug of choice for the hippies, especially during the 1960s when many popular musicians and celebrities used the drug, as did their followers.

Before they were banned psychedelics demonstrated the ability to treat post-trauma conditions, mental health disorders, depression and other mental conditions. They were considered helpful and prescribed to treat over 1000 conditions between the 1950’s and 1970s. However, research during the 1970s indicated these substances also had deleterious results. Procedures and “cures” became increasingly controversial until research into psychedelic medicine was shut down in its entirety.

The Ability for Psychedelics to Treat Mental Illnesses

Research into psychedelics has been revived in the UK. Researchers at the Imperial College of London are about to conduct major trials. They want to prove whether these mind-altering drugs can treat mental conditions without stimulating depression.

The research protocol compares psilocybin (extracted from the magic mushroom) with a leading selective serotonin inhibitor uptake (SSIU). Psilocybin is similar to LSD. However, it does not have the adverse effects of LSD. Major trials are scheduled to last at least two years

After being shut down in the 70’s research in psychedelics was resurrected in the 1990s, but kept very low key. During the mid-2000’s research undertaken at John Hopkins’ University found that psilocybin reduced depression by 80%. This was especially the case with patients  suffering from life-threatening cancer. Psilocybin was also found to be effective helping individuals to quit smoking.

Psilocybin and Its Effects

The human brain reacts in surprisingly different ways to the drugs we take. Some of these reactions surprise even scientists, as was the case of psilocybin. Dr Cahart Harris of the UK became the first scientist in 40 years to conduct research on how psilocybin affects cognition. A paper published in The Journal showed psilocybin affecting two parts of the brain:- the amygdala and the default mode network.

The amygdala is the part of the brain that processes emotions, emotional behavior, survival instincts, memory and motivation.

The default mode network connects all the brain regions. Dr Harris and his team have not been able to fully explain how psilocybin affects the default mode network, and it is crucial that patients understand underlying effects that although not toxic, can lead to psychotic reactions.

At this time scientific research has been approved by the UK government. If studies continue to show positive results it’s likely that psilocybin will be licensed for medical use within the next five years.

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