Australia missing psychedelic drug ‘renaissance’ for mental health
Australia is missing out on a global “renaissance” of research into use of psychedelic drugs to treat mental health problems, two psychologists say.
International research projects investigating the use of psychedelics, such LSD and psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in so-called magic mushrooms, to treat addiction, anxiety and depression have gained momentum in recent years.
Dr Stephen Bright, who is vice-president of PRISM or Psychedelic Research in Science and Medicine, a not-for-profit lobby group, said there had been a “renaissance” in psychedelic science research after a decades-long global ban on the subject began to soften in the early 2000s.
However, he said Australia had been left behind and there were no trials afoot.
“We have some good treatments for some psychological conditions, but not for others,” he said.
“We need to look at the psychedelic research that’s going on overseas.”
In an article published in the Australian Psychologist journal on Monday, Dr Bright and Dr Martin Williams have urged their colleagues to start a formal psychedelic research program.
The pair hope their exploration of mental disorders for which psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy might be beneficial will encourage psychologists, policymakers, and ethics
committees to consider research into psychedelics.
“In all cases, evidence is mounting that psychedelics hold promise in enhancing psychotherapy and furthering current understandings of the brain,” the paper said.
Dr Bright said the University of California, Los Angeles, and New York University had looked at using psychedelics to help treat palliative care and addiction, while studies in Britain had focused on brain imaging.
He said research indicated the drugs could be used in psychotherapy to help treat depression, end-of-life anxiety for those in palliative care, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety among those with autism.
But Dr Bright said he had encountered “a lot of academic conservatism” in Australia towards research involving the drugs, which typically were known as illegal recreational drugs, as there was “a vested interest in maintaining the current paradigm”.
A lack of financial incentive for pharmaceutical companies meant there was little appetite to fund research, he said.
Dr Bright said many researchers were “nonchalant” or “scared to enter the space”.
“I think a lot of people are scared to stick their neck out on this one for fear of what the consequences might be.”
He believed it was unethical to prevent access to relief for people who were suffering and said researchers and policymakers would not necessarily face public backlash.
“When you’re talking about relieving suffering, the public seems to be quite compassionate towards that.
“I think the public can see the difference between the `60s, and the recreational party drug scene, and the use of these as tools in medicine in a clinically controlled environment.”
He acknowledged any research would require training and accreditation for psychotherapists to help minimise and mitigate risks for people who had “challenging experiences” during trials.