The use of psychedelics to treat certain mental health disorders has now been legalized in Australia, making it the first nation in the world to do so.
Individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can now be prescribed MDMA by licensed psychiatrists, and individuals with treatment-resistant depression (TRD) can also be prescribed psilocybin mushrooms, more commonly known as magic mushrooms.
The primary usage of psilocybin and MDMA, or 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is as recreational drugs. Researchers have been examining these psychedelics for their potential advantages on mental health more and more recently.
Many academics and mental health professionals have welcomed the contentious decision as a game-changer. Others argue that the approval was rushed and shouldn't have been given as much attention.
According to experts, when a drug user has a negative experience while under the influence of drugs, there is still a chance of a bad trip, a severe psychologically damaging response to traditional hallucinogens.
The therapy is also expensive; according to Australian media, a single course may cost tens of thousands. MDMA, called ecstasy or the party drug, is a synthetic substance that induces hallucinations.
It boosts the user's energy levels, enhances their sensory perceptions, and alters their perception of time. Due to the active ingredient psilocybin, magic mushrooms are naturally grown and provide psychedelic effects.
Clinical trials are now being conducted in the United States, Canada, and Israel, despite Australia being the first nation in the world to regulate medicines as pharmaceuticals.
The new laws, which took effect in Australia on July 1, allow licensed psychiatrists to prescribe MDMA for PTSD and psilocybin for certain types of depression that have not responded to traditional forms of therapy.
Mike Musker from the University of South Australia stressed that the use of psychedelics will be closely observed and not just "take a pill and go away."
According to him, the decision was a "game-changer," in the case of MDMA, the patient would probably have three administrations spaced out over five to eight weeks. Each session would last around eight hours, and the therapist would remain at the patient's side. However, patients shouldn't hope for a quick recovery.
"I have read about stories where people have had what you call bad trips, or actually they've re-experienced their trauma, and so we've got to take great caution."- Musker
When Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) categorized MDMA and psilocybin for therapeutic uses in February, many in the medical and scientific communities were taken aback.
The TGA's determination that the clinical environment for the prescription was outside of its authority was discussed in a webinar the same month by John Skerritt, who led the organization up until April.
The agency's primary mandate is to oversee the regulation of pharmaceuticals and medical devices, much like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the European Medicines Agency. It has little bearing on establishing more general clinical guidelines.
"We purposefully avoided saying, 'Here's the clinical protocol,'" shared Skerritt during the webinar. He continued that clinical practice is not governed by them. There is a good chance that other organizations, such as clinical professional groups or others, may suggest it.
It seemed the medications were "relatively safe" when administered to individuals "with serious mental health conditions" in a "medically-controlled environment." Otherwise, both psilocybin and MDMA are prohibited in Australia.
The TGA concedes that there are uncertainties and conflicting evidence but claims that "promising signs" point to specific patients' mental health possibly improving with regulated therapeutic medication usage and that the "benefits for some patients... will outweigh the risks."
The regulatory body claims that no goods containing MDMA or psilocybin are presently approved. Despite this, the categorization allows psychiatrists to legally acquire and supply some medications that include them, although they may not have been authorized for safety.
- TGA. MDMA and psilocybin.
- Nature. Australia to prescribe MDMA and psilocybin for PTSD and depression in world first.
- Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. The Psychedelic Renaissance in Clinical Research: A Bibliometric Analysis of Three Decades of Human Studies with Psychedelics.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. Making "bad trips" good: How users of psychedelics narratively transform challenging trips into valuable experiences.
- NHS Inform. MDMA (Ecstasy).