Good High? Psychedelic Drugs May Help Patients with Mental Health Disorders

Several studies that were carried out in the 1950's show the potentials of LSD and other psychedelic drugs in treating alcoholism and psychological disorders, but when President Richard Nixon declared his war on drugs, psychedelics were given a bad name.

The Controlled Substance Act of 1970 declared that psychoactive drugs do not have medical value and pose great potentials for abuse. Laws eventually criminalized the use of these drugs and posed hurdles to researchers conducting studies to evaluate the therapeutic potentials of these substances.

The last few years, however, were marked by the so-called psychedelic renaissance with clinical studies conducted by researchers from renowned institutions showing the potentials of psychedelics for treating posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addiction, depression and anxiety.

Now, a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) on Sept. 8 suggests that some illegal drug may indeed have beneficial effects.

Psychiatric researcher Evan Wood, from the University of British Columbia, and colleagues looked at small, randomized trials on psychedelics such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and magic mushrooms, and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA).

The researchers looked at the therapeutic effects of these substances on individuals suffering from a range of mental disorders and found that the drugs show promise as treatment for these conditions.

In 2014, Swiss researchers looked at the therapeutic benefits of LSD in reducing anxiety in patients with life-threatening illnesses. A year later, they found that almost all of the 12 patients involved in the study had sustained reduction in their anxiety and no adverse reactions.

In another study, 12 late-stage cancer patients suffering from anxiety received either psilocybin, the active ingredient found in magic mushrooms, or placebo. Those who received psilocybin-assisted therapy showed improvements in mood and significant reduction in anxiety.

A study published earlier this year also showed that alcoholic individuals who received psilocybin in a controlled setting experienced reduced cravings and intake of alcohol months after the treatment.

The substance was likewise found to help people give up smoking. In a study involving 15 patients, 12 gave up cigarettes six months after undergoing a psilocybin-assisted therapy session.

The researchers acknowledge that there are risks associated with the use of these substances. Treatment with psychedelics, for instance, could trigger psychotic breaks in those who have psychosis or bipolar disorder. Thus, study participants need to be prescreened. Patients should also be closely monitored to mitigate the risks linked with administration of the drugs.

"Continued medical research and scientific inquiry into psychedelic drugs may offer new ways to treat mental illness and addiction in patients who do not benefit from currently available treatments," the researchers said.

Photo: Kristie Gianopulos | Flickr

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