In recent years, the opinion of psychedelic drugs has shifted, especially with growing research suggesting their potential as health-improving medicines. Now, in a groundbreaking decision, Australia recently announced that as of July 1st, it would legalize the use of psilocybin and MDMA – for health conditions of course.
Australia Officially Recognizes and Legalizes Psychedelics as Medicines
“There is now sufficient evidence that psilocybin and MDMA will potentially be effective in the treatment of treatment-resistant depression (TRD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), respectively, for certain patients. In particular, clinical trials have shown promise when they are used in combination with psychotherapy conducted in strictly controlled medical settings.” the Australian Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA)
According to the TGA, there is now a growing need for access to new therapies for treatment-resistant conditions such as treatment-resistant depression (TRD) and post-traumatic stress disorder. In doing their research, they recognized the health benefits associated with the use of psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA.
Psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression
A compound found in “magic mushrooms”, psilocybin is responsible for the mushroom’s hallucinogenic effects. However, in recent years, interest in the compound has been more from a medical standpoint and not a euphoric one.
- According to a small 2020 study from Johns Hopkins Medicine, researchers found that two doses of psilocybin, partnered with supportive psychotherapy, produced quick and large alleviation of depressive symptoms. Many of the participants showed improvement, and half of the study participants achieved remission through the four-week follow-up.
- A 2022 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that for at least a year, psilocybin as a treatment for major depression is quite effective.
- A separate 2022 study published in November in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a 25 mg single dose of psilocybin significantly reduced depression scores amongst participants with treatment-resistant depression. However, the study also noted that the dose was associated with adverse effects that included headache, nausea, and dizziness.
MDMA for PTSD
MDMA is a stimulant and hallucinogenic that is quite possibly the most popular “party drug” out there as it’s a prominent feature in the nightclub scene. Also known as ecstasy or molly, MDMA is now being viewed as a potential therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder.
- In 2021, a study published in Nature Medicine found that alongside therapy sessions, MDMA-assisted therapy was highly effective in individuals with severe PTSD, and the treatment was safe and well-tolerated, even in those with comorbidities.
- Findings presented at the Spring Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) found that following MDMA-assisted therapy, about two-thirds of participants with severe PTSD no longer met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. The MDMA-assisted therapy also included 8-hour therapy sessions after half a dose.
Just how legal are psychedelics in Australia?
If you live in Australia and are hoping to access some MDMA or magic mushrooms from your local Woolworths, then I have some bad news for you.
The Poisons Standard is responsible for the regulation of medicines and chemicals. According to the ruling, both psilocybin and MDMA are Schedule 8 medicines, which means that they’re controlled drugs. However, for all other uses, they are still considered Schedule 9 drugs, which means that they’re prohibited substances.
So does that mean that you can get MDMA or psilocybin if you have a prescription?
Well, you can only get a prescription from a psychiatrist with authorization from Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). These psychiatrists will also need to first get approval after they’ve demonstrated their training, robust patient selection, and evidence-based treatment protocols, as well as patient monitoring.
Experts divided on psychedelics for medicine
As groundbreaking as the decision is, not everybody is on board with the Australian government’s choice to legalize the use of psychedelics for medicinal use.
“There is initial evidence that MDMA can be beneficial in treating PTSD, but there is much we do not know,” said Professor Richard Bryant to Scimex. Professor Bryant is from the School of Psychology, University of New South Wales.
“The science is at a point where we can say it is too early to be prescribing MDMA for PTSD patients. Instead, we should be investing in research to understand how MDMA can be used in relation to proven treatments.”
Associate professor Vinay Lakra is The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists president. Speaking to The Guardian, he said that while the college “cautiously welcomed” the decision, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves and we should practice patience and caution,
“We need to take some baby steps rather than one giant leap,” he said. “So this is a baby step in the right direction and what it does is allow us to do things in an appropriately safe way for everyone … and if necessary take a step back as well.”
Dr. James Rucker, a consultant psychiatrist and senior clinical lecturer at King’s College London in the United Kingdom, also pointed out to MedicalNewsToday how the drugs are subjectively noticeable to participants in clinical trials,
“This means that the placebo response is likely to differ between groups, and this may account for some of the improvement. It is very hard to account for this. The interaction is likely to be complicated. There is promise here, but much uncertainty.”
Will other countries follow suit?
As of January 1st, the U.S. state of Oregon legalized the therapeutic adult use of psilocybin. Across the border, Canada has designated physicians who are allowed to prescribe psilocybin to help manage severe treatment-resistant depression. That said, it is still illegal to consume, sell, or attempt to grow the drug outside specific medical settings.
We highly doubt that MDMA, psilocybin, or any other psychedelics will be legalized for recreational use. However, Australia is not going to be the only country keen to take advantage of psychedelics’ medical benefits.
MAIN IMAGE CREDIT Photo by Ahmed Zayan on Unsplash
Longevity Live Disclaimer: This article does not endorse the use of any psychedelic for recreational use.
Davis, A. K., Barrett, F. S., May, D. G., Cosimano, M. P., Sepeda, N. D., Johnson, M. W., Finan, P. H., & Griffiths, R. R. (2021). Effects of Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy on Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA psychiatry, 78(5), 481–489. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.3285
Goodwin, G. M., Aaronson, S. T., Alvarez, O., Arden, P. C., et al. (2022). Single-Dose Psilocybin for a Treatment-Resistant Episode of Major Depression. The New England journal of medicine, 387(18), 1637–1648. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa2206443
Gukasyan N, Davis AK, Barrett FS, et al. (2022). Efficacy and safety of psilocybin-assisted treatment for major depressive disorder: Prospective 12-month follow-up. Journal of Psychopharmacology. 36(2):151-158. doi:10.1177/02698811211073759
Mitchell, J.M., Bogenschutz, M., Lilienstein, A. et al. (2021). MDMA-assisted therapy for severe PTSD: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase 3 study. Nat Med 27, 1025–1033. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-021-01336-3