Psychedelic drugs – a new era in psychiatry?

David Nutt, DM

This article covers the renaissance of classical psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin and LSD plus 3,4-methylene dioxymethamphetamine (MDMA—ecstasy) in psychiatric research. These drugs were used quite extensively before they became prohibited. This ban had little impact on recreational use, but effectively stopped research and clinical treatments, which up to that point had looked very promising in several areas of psychiatry. In the past decade a number of groups have been working to re-evaluate the utility of these substances in medicine. So far highly promising preliminary data have been produced with psilocybin in anxiety, depression, smoking, alcoholism, and with MDMA for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcoholism. These findings have led to the European Medicines Agency approving psilocybin for a phase 3 study in treatment-resistant depression and the Food and Drug Administration for PTSD with MDMA. Both trials should read out in 2020, and if the results are positive we are likely to see these medicines approved for clinical practice soon afterwards.

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