Many of you may be aware of Michael Pollan’s recent number one New York Times best seller How To Change Your Mind. Perhaps you have read the book, heard him interviewed on myriad podcasts, or perhaps you have seen the adopted Netflix series. If you have not, I would encourage you to give it a shot.
The book stemmed from an article Mr. Pollan wrote for the New Yorker entitled “The Trip Treatment,” where he interviewed cancer patients undergoing psychedelic therapy. He became so intrigued by what he discovered that he spent the next two years in deep research and on his own personal journey. In a typical fashion, he delivers a very balanced, approachable, and comprehensive narrative that is helping to truly change the cultural perspective of these chemical compounds.
Currently, there are hundreds of clinical trials in progress (over 400 on a quick clinicaltrials.gov search) looking to use dozens of different psychedelic compounds for therapeutic purposes. MDMA, also known as the club drug ‘ecstasy’, will likely be FDA approved next year for use in PTSD. The stage 3 clinical trial results were astounding, with over two-thirds of the treatment group no longer meeting diagnostic criteria for PTSD. Psilocybin, the active ingredient in ‘magic mushrooms’, will likely be approved within the next few years as a breakthrough treatment for depression. Last year, an article was published in the New England Journal of Medicine showing a single dose of psilocybin was as good as a traditional antidepressant in treating depression, and in many ways was superior.
It has been a long, strange trip indeed for psychedelics in this country. In the 1950s, over a thousand scientific papers were published researching the therapeutic use of these molecules. For primarily political reasons, 1970 saw the formation of the DEA and Schedule 1 classification of these drugs (high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical treatment use, lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision).
Thankfully, we have come a long way and the greater scientific and mainstream attitude surrounding these compounds has shifted. According to a recent Harris Poll, 65% of people suffering from depression, anxiety, or PTSD felt psychedelic medicine should be made available for treatment.
Right now, we have ketamine as an available alternative treatment to traditional medications and psychotherapy. By all accounts, it appears we will soon have other psychedelic medicines to offer. There may soon come a day when a provider can prescribe a tailored treatment program using a variety of these compounds, based on the specific biological, psychological, and social history of each patient.
It is an exciting time to be working in the industry. The landscape of mental healthcare delivery has been stagnant, without a significant breakthrough in 40 years. As we stand on the verge of a true revolution and develop the future of mental health treatment, I am humbled and grateful to be a part of the journey!
DR. RANDY FREDERICK, M.D.