Pubdate: Wed, 09 Sep 2015
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2015 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Carly Weeks
Page: L5


Canadian experts want policy-makers to rethink perception of these
medications to let research advance, but others urge caution

Psychedelic drugs, including LSD and MDMA, could help some patients
struggling with addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder and
anxiety, according to a new analysis that urges Canadian policy-
makers to reconsider their perception of those drugs.

The analysis, published Tuesday in the Canadian Medical Association
Journal, says several small studies show psychedelics may be effective
at treating certain patients, but that "popular misconceptions" about
the risks of the drugs are hampering research efforts. The authors
argue that any novel treatment that may ease the symptoms of PTSD,
addiction or anxiety should be explored, especially considering the
limitations of available treatments.

"We're hoping to reduce the kind of stigma, for lack of a better word,
around this area of scientific investigation," said Dr. Evan Wood, a
professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia, medical
director for addiction services at Vancouver Coastal Health and one of
the study authors. "I think there has to be some acknowledgment that
the traditional approach that's been taken in mental health hasn't
really been effective."

Psychedelics can alter mood, thoughts and change the way people feel,
see, hear or taste. Some of the drugs, such as lysergic acid
diethylamide ( LSD), psilocybin and mescaline can cause psychosis and/
or hallucinations.

In the 1950s and 60s, researchers experimented with the possible
therapeutic benefits of psychedelic drugs. Some studies showed the
drugs could help people dealing with alcohol dependence, for instance.
But the CMAJ paper notes that a series of ethical problems - such as
researchers encouraging people to use psychedelics in non-clinical
settings and some patients being given the drugs without their consent
- - led to restrictions on the study of psychedelics that are only now
beginning to lift.

Now there is growing, renewed interest in the potential for these
drugs to treat some types of mental illness. A small 2014 Swiss study,
for instance, found that people with terminal illness treated with a
combination of LSD and psychotherapy had lower rates of anxiety. A U.
S. study involving a small group of patients also found that 3,4-
methylenedioxy-methamphetamine ( MDMA), more commonly known as
ecstasy, can greatly reduce symptoms of PTSD.

"We need a bit of a rethink," Wood said.

But experts also caution against getting ahead of the research. Much
remains unknown about howpsychedelics affect the brain and how well
they actually work at treating disease. In July, Dr. Jeffrey
Lieberman, chairman of psychiatry at the Columbia University Medical
Center in New York, wrote on the Medscape website that excitement over
psychedelic drugs needs to be tempered with a realistic assessment of
how research can be done safely.

The drugs "need to be studied, and we need to determine for what
purposes they should be used and what risks and benefits are
associated with these treatments," he wrote.

Media attention is increasing the public's awareness of the fact
psychedelics may help with addiction, stress and PTSD, he wrote, which
means the research community should scrutinize and study these drugs
to determine how, and if, they work.

"We need to know how to react to a growing body of opinion, which
calls for treatments that are not necessarily ready for prime time,"
Lieberman wrote.

Dr. Stephen Kish, a senior scientist at Toronto's Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health, said there are still many important unanswered
questions about the role of psychedelics in the treatment of disease.
Kish studies the use of ecstasy in the treatment of PTSD. The drug
appears to increase a person's sociability, which could help patients
bond with their therapists. At the same time, he wonders about the
implications of using drugs such as LSD, which is known to cause
hallucinations and, in some cases, psychosis. "It's all very early,"
Kish said. When it comes to how well these drugs may work, "the answer
is, we don't know yet," he said.

He highlighted the fact that people should avoid self-medicating with
psychedelic drugs. The forms available on the street are unlikely to
be pure and could lead to serious health problems or even death.
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MAP posted-by: Matt