The head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research (Robin Carhart-Harris) at Imperial College London has written an opinion piece for the Guardian on the use of psychedelics as a form of treatment – extract below:
For 15 years, my research has focused on how drugs such as LSD, psilocybin, DMT and MDMA work in the brain, and how they may be useful in treating disorders such as depression. Like the present pandemic, a psychedelic drug experiences can be transformative – of the individual – and of society. Both illuminate the extent to which the condition of the world we inhabit is dependent on our own behaviours. And these, in turn, are a consequence of how we feel, think and perceive…One reason for this is that a decades-long struggle to resurrect medical research in the area is beginning to bear fruit. In London, we have spearheaded work showing how psilocybin ( or “magic mushrooms”) can be used to assist psychotherapy for difficult-to-treat depression, making a significant difference when conventional antidepressants and talking therapy have not. Right now, we are crunching data from a much larger depression trial that compares psilocybin-assisted therapy with a six-week course of a conventional antidepressant drug, a “Prozac-like” selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Preliminary analyses indicate game-changing results.
One view is that a psychedelic experience is a consequence of an especially intense surge of plasticity that opens a window of opportunity for lasting therapeutic change. The same windows may open up during other extreme states, such as experiencing trauma, stress-induced breakdown, a spontaneous spiritual experience or coming close to death. The difference with psychedelic therapy, however, is that the experience is carefully prepared for, contained and mediated. If not done this way, the use of psychedelics can be dangerous…The impact of successful psychedelic therapy is often one of revelation or epiphany. People speak of witnessing “the bigger picture”, placing things in perspective, accessing deep insight about themselves and the world, releasing pent-up mental pain, feeling emotionally and physically recalibrated, clear-sighted and equanimous. This is very different from people’s descriptions of the effects of SSRIs, where a contrasting feeling of being emotionally muted is not uncommon. It would be premature to disclose the findings of our head-to-head trial prior to proper scientific review, but on top of impressive tolerability and antidepressant effects with psilocybin-assisted therapy, we are seeing remarkable changes in patient-relevant outcomes. These include increased quality of life, “flourishing” (feeling well rather than just “not depressed”), the ability to feel pleasure again and normal sexual functioning. The value of something new and different is often hard to gauge until it is placed alongside something more familiar, and our new study does this. Via theguardian.com