A Psychedelic Future
The class of drugs known as psychedelics—LSD, psilocybin (mushrooms), and MDMA (ecstasy)—are making a long overdue comeback.
Recent research has shown them to be more effective in the treatment of several mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, than existing drugs, with fewer side effects.
Psychedelics have an unfortunate history. Some are naturally occurring, like psilocybin, and others like LSD, are synthetic versions of plant-derived compounds.
From the 1930s through the 1950s they were viewed as having a promising future in mental health treatment.
Then, in the 1960s, psychedelics became incorrectly associated with morphine-based and narcotic drugs like heroin and cocaine. This, even though they are very much unlike those drugs in their effects on brain chemistry and addiction profile.
Psychedelics do not, for example, cause physical dependence, though potentially they could cause behavioral addiction.
Psychedelics as part of therapy with a mental health professional have been credited with triggering insight and change—a reboot of neural pathways—and thereby relief from mental health challenges with greater success than current therapies, whether talk therapy alone or in combination with existing psychotropic drugs like Zoloft or Prozac.
By the 1970s, psychedelics were designated as Schedule 1 drugs. Under federal law this means they are deemed to have no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
Defining psychedelics in this way translated into their being extremely difficult to manufacture and source for any purpose, including research.
Nevertheless, scientists conducted some research on the safety and efficacy of psychedelics.
By 2019 the FDA acknowledged psilocybin’s safety record and mental health treatment potential, designating psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy” for treating drug resistant depression and major depressive disorder.
In order to get around the federal Schedule 1 regulatory logjam, several states have begun to craft legislation to facilitate psychedelic research.
In last year’s state budget, a provision was made for the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to convene a working group to study the therapeutic potential of psilocybin.
This group found psilocybin to be a “promising treatment” and “effective when administered in highly structured settings.”
Bill Facilitates Psychedelic Research
This year, legislation to establish a pilot program to study the clinical use of psilocybin is pending before the General Assembly.
HB 5396 creates psilocybin and MDMA treatment centers in Connecticut, pending approval of the drugs by the federal FDA under its expanded access program for investigational new drugs.
The bill does not legalize psychedelics, instead establishing a Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services pilot program for treatment of qualified patients—Connecticut residents who are veterans, retired first responders, healthcare workers, or those who come from a historically underserved community and suffer from a serious mental health disorder—at “approved treatment sites.”
The bill begins to establish a regulatory infrastructure for psychedelic research as an alternative treatment option and prepare for the time when the federal government changes the schedule designation of psilocybin and MDMA.
Biopharma companies have begun to test modified versions of psychedelics that enhance the drugs’ efficacy and diminish side effects, such as reducing duration of drug activity.
HB 5396 will facilitate this type of research and position Connecticut to be a leader in the therapeutic use and development of psychedelics.
Paul Pescatello is the executive director of CBIA’s Bioscience Growth Council and chair of We Work for Health Connecticut. Follow him on Twitter @CTBio.
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