Pubdate: Thu, 29 Oct 2015
Source: NOW Magazine (CN ON)
Copyright: 2015 NOW Communications Inc.
Author: Cara Sabatini
Page: A14


Tune in and turn on: new studies are exploring the benefits of 
psilocybin and party drugs as possible therapies for addiction, 
anxiety and depression

While pot has attracted most of the headlines on the issue of drugs 
as medicine, awareness seems to be - shall we say? - mushrooming on 
the potential healing benefits of psilocybin and similar psychoactive drugs.

Experimental research on psilocybin, the active compound responsible 
for the "magic" in magic mushrooms, suggests it has potential for 
treating alcohol and tobacco addictions, obsessive-compulsive 
disorder and end-of-life anxiety.

Current studies on addiction, anxiety and depression are also 
exploring a variety of popular party drugs as possible therapies, 
from empathogens like MDMA to psychedelics like LSD and anesthetics 
like ketamine. Yes, researchers at the University of Ottawa are 
studying Special K and its effects on depression.

While these studies may signal good news for people who are resistant 
to other forms of treatment, most trials involve only 10 to 20 
participants, which means that their clinical significance remains 
unproven until more research can corroborate their findings. That's 
easier said than done.

Psychiatric pharmacist Wende Wood explains that these small sample 
sizes and limited trials are a consequence of the fact that it's 
often more difficult and expensive to procure illegal drugs for 
research purposes than it is for recreational use.

UBC professor Mark Haden chairs the Multidisciplinary Association of 
Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which is currently conducting a study 
administering MDMA to PTSD patients during psychotherapy sessions. 
Its hypothesis is that MDMA's efficacy in treating PTSD may be due in 
part to its ability "to produce a sense of calming empowerment, not 
painful stress, as the individual reflects on the traumatic 
experience," Haden says.

He explains that the study required "four years of back-and-forth 
with Health Canada" in order to receive approval. The research is 
subject to frequent government inspections, and the MDMA used in the 
study costs $75 per dose.

Though they may have to deal with government meddling, studies on 
psychedelics appear relatively free from corporate influence for now 
because patents have expired on substances like LSD and MDMA and an 
extraction method for psilocybin.

But this is a double-edged sword since it's unclear whether companies 
would have sufficient incentive to bring these drugs to market, 
particularly if treatment does not require regular, frequent use. 
Another, albeit waning, setback to psychedelic studies is the 
perception of the drugs as agents of antisocial behaviour.

At a discussion on psychedelics as medicine at the Centre for Social 
Innovation in September, many in attendance admitted to 
self-medicating with psychedelics to treat a variety of health 
conditions, including ADHD, post-polio syndrome and opiate addiction.

"I didn't have the same impulses after taking ['shrooms]," says Phil, 
who had struggled with a heroin addiction for two years. Now a 
physical trainer with impressively chiselled biceps, Phil tells me 
he'd tried psychedelic drugs as a teenager but moved on to the harder 
stuff when opiates seemed "an immediate cure for my depression."

He says his difficult childhood as a refugee affected his mental 
health, and whenever he tried to kick the heroin habit, he would 
relapse shortly after.

As Phil "got more into the music scene," he began taking mushrooms 
recreationally and noticed a change. He says the psychedelic 
mushrooms reawakened his spirit, and his desires to use heroin or 
other drugs abated for up to three months after his trips. Phil has 
been clean for over five years now.

He also hasn't partaken of psilocybin since a party last New Year's 
Eve, where he had a "terrible trip" on a gram of 'shrooms. He 
described imagining telepathic conversations with people who were 
passed out and strung out atop various items of furniture, when he 
thought to himself, "What the fuck am I doing here?"

Phil stressed that simply taking psilocybin is not a permanent 
solution, and attributes his success in part to AA. (Founder Bill W. 
used and administered LSD.) Phil says his experiences with psilocybin 
provided important realizations, sometimes punctuated with panic and 
episodes of crying.

But he cautions that "it takes time to get clean. It's unrealistic to 
expect a magic bullet."

Haden says there has been a shift from perceiving these drugs as 
tools to "drop out of the mainstream" to more inclusive, pro-social 
applications like treating veterans' PTSD with MDMA.

In a recent Medscape article, Jeffrey Lieberman admonishes members of 
the scientific community who are excited about employing psychedelic 
substances as medical treatment.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom