What does the research say about Psychedelic Therapy?

The gold standard of clinical research is the randomised placebo-controlled trial (RCT), where participants are randomly selected to receive an active drug or placebo and results are compared to assess how likely it was the active drug was successful.

In the first RCT for MDMA assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, participants were given two psychedelic medicated sessions, intermingled with at least 10 psychotherapy sessions.

At the end of the treatment period, 83% no longer met the criteria for PTSD compared to 25% in the placebo group. Researchers conducted a 3.5 year follow up report and found most patients had sustained the meaningful changes achieved with MDMA assisted therapy.

In terms of psilocybin, the existing evidence for its potential application for depression and anxiety is fueling a plethora of research internationally, including a St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne where a team is currently investigating the impact of psilocybin in combination with therapy for depression and anxiety due to terminal illness.

Previous research shows improvements in feelings of hopelessness or demoralisation in patients with a life-threatening cancer diagnosis with psilocybin assisted psychotherapy. At a six month follow up more than 60% sustained their reductions in depression and anxiety scores with continued improvements in terms of quality of life and existential distress.

Other conditions where Psychedelic Therapy is being investigated include migraines and cluster headaches, addiction and substance abuse, anorexia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Preliminary research even suggests it could be beneficial for social anxiety in adults with autism.

Exactly how psychedelic medicines can create such changes in people’s mental state and quality of life is yet to be fully understood. In terms of MDMA and psilocybin, both interact with specific serotonin receptors in the brain resulting in characteristic sensations of empathy, euphoria, insightfulness, feelings of authenticity and in the case of psilocybin an altered state that can induce changes in visual perception.

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