Use of psychedelics to treat PTSD, OCD, depression and chronic pain – a researcher discusses recent trials, potential risks

(The Conversation is an independent, non-profit source of news, analysis, and commentary from academic experts.)

(THE TALK) New research is exploring whether psychedelic drugs, taken under close medical supervision, can help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. SciLine interviewed Dr. Jennifer Mitchell – a professor in the Departments of Neurology and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco – to discuss what scientists have found so far about the effectiveness of these drugs in treating these conditions and how to administer them safely.

The Conversation has teamed up with SciLine to bring you highlights from the discussion, edited for brevity and clarity.
What are psychedelic drugs and how do they work?
Jennifer Mitchell: Psychedelic basically means “to manifest mind,” suggesting that the connection aids one in uncovering topics that may otherwise be deeply hidden from the conscious mind.
It is a slightly different term than hallucinogen, which is sometimes used almost interchangeably with the term psychedelic.
A hallucinogen, by definition, is something that makes you see, hear, smell something that is otherwise not there, so you can imagine that there is a lot of overlap between psychedelics and hallucinogens.
What types of psychedelic drugs are being studied by researchers for possible therapeutic use?
Jennifer Mitchell: The two most studied drugs right now are MDMA and psilocybin.

MDMA is primarily being evaluated for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder treatments, and psilocybin primarily for the treatment of drug-resistant depression and major depressive disorder.

MDMA is the furthest because there is Phase 3 data (data from late stage research) and the possibility of a new drug application being submitted to the FDA sometime later this year.

LSD is also being evaluated for a number of different indications, most notably obsessive-compulsive disorder.
And then a few strains of heavier hitters are now being tested in mostly healthy control populations, including drugs like mescaline and ayahuasca.
What have scientists discovered about whether these drugs are effective in treating health conditions such as PTSD or chronic pain?
Jennifer Mitchell: The drugs seem to be quite effective so far. However, I think a key is that they are usually administered in conjunction with some form of psychotherapy.
So it’s important to keep in mind when looking at the results of some of these recent studies that these are not drugs that are administered in isolation. You don’t take home a bottle of pills and take them twice a day like you would, say, an antidepressant. These are administered in a very special way.
What is involved in therapeutic treatment using these drugs?
Jennifer Mitchell: Usually, before taking the drug at all, subjects participate in a number of preparatory sessions so that they understand a little bit about what is going to happen on an experimental session day.
And then the subjects come into a room that looks very much like a comfortable living room, and they spend the whole day there. The drug is usually administered in the morning. For psilocybin you are looking at a six hour dosing session and for MDMA an eight hour dosing session.

You are in the company of a group of trained providers: therapists, psychedelic facilitators, psychiatrists and clinical research coordinators.

What are the potential risks of using psychedelic drugs for therapeutic purposes?
Jennifer Mitchell: One of our concerns is cardiovascular risk, which is why we are currently taking great care in some of the clinical trials to evaluate the cardiovascular burden, including heart attack risk, during and after the experiment. This evaluation includes tracking the heart rate and blood pressure of the participants.
In addition, researchers are concerned about suicidality, in part because these are treatment-resistant populations that we’re starting out with, and so there’s a concern that maybe if they’re destabilized — either by the psychedelics, or just by tapering off their other drugs to part making a psychedelic trial – that we could be at risk of suicidality.
Finally, I think the FDA was concerned about the possibility of psychedelics being addictive, which is why we contacted the study participants to make sure they are not seeking or taking drugs outside of the study of drugs.
What do we know about the safety of using psychedelics outside of the clinical context?
Jennifer Mitchell: I think we’ve all heard stories from the ’60s and ’70s of people taking psychedelics and having very bad experiences. What we now know is that the environment in which you take the psychedelics is of the utmost importance. It is not appropriate at this time to attempt to ingest some of these substances or replicate some of these protocols on your own without supervision.

Watch the full interview to learn more about psychedelic medicine.

SciLine is a free service from the nonprofit American Association for the Advancement of Science that helps journalists incorporate scientific evidence and experts into their news stories.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: 199384.

Use of psychedelics to treat PTSD, OCD, depression and chronic pain – a researcher discusses recent trials, potential risks

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