Healthy trip 

• A patient undergoes psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy (above) and Mind Medicine Australia executive director Tania de Jong AM (left).

IS psychedelic-assisted therapy about to become readily available in Australia?

Clinical trials are underway in Sydney and Melbourne that use psilocybin (magic mushroom) assisted psychotherapy for end-of-life anxiety and depression and ice addiction.

While Monash University is conducting an MDMA (ecstasy) assisted therapy trial for PTSD.

Psychedelic assisted treatments involve administering medical grade psilocybin and MDMA to patients while they undergo a short court of psychotherapy, helping the brain to be more receptive to new ways of thinking and breaking down negative cycles of thought that can trigger depression, anxiety and PTSD.

Peter Hunt AM, chair of mental health charity Mind Medicine Australia, says clinical trials across the world have proved that psychedelic-assisted treatments are efficacious.

“In general, remission rates from current treatment for PTSD are less that 10 per cent whereas with MDMA assisted therapy we are seeing remission rates of between 60-80 per cent,” he says.

“The treatments are very safe and non-addictive (only two to three sessions with MDMA), only ever take place in medically controlled environments and the MDMA being used is pure pharmaceutical grade (in contrast to what is often adulterated when people buy MDMA illegally for recreational use).”

After lobbying from Mind Medicine Australia, in May the federal government approved $15million in grant funding to support psychedelic-assisted therapy trials. 

Trials require approval from the Ethics Committee and the state in which they are held, and are relatively straightforward to get, but getting permission to use the drugs outwith trials has proved difficult because they have a high classification in the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s Poisons Standard. Mind Medicine Australia is pushing for the TGA to downgrade them.

“Mind Medicine Australia has applied to the TGA to reschedule the medicines from Schedule 9 to Schedule 8 and if this happens getting state and territory approvals will become a lot easier,” Mr Hunt says.

“We should know whether we have been successful in the next couple of weeks. Psychiatrists are also successfully applying to the TGA to use these medicines as part of therapy outside of a trial under what is called Special Access Scheme – B (the same approval process is used for medicinal cannabis) and about 40 approvals have already been given.

“We are also supporting a psychiatrist, who is appealing the decision of the Victorian Government to refuse to allow him to use MDMA-assisted therapy for a patient suffering from serious PTSD outside of a trial. The case should be heard in March.”

Mr Hunt believes the availability of medicinal marijuana in recent years and the rise in the number of GPs prescribing it, has changed people’s perception of recreational and medicinal drug use: “People now understand the difference between using medicinal cannabis as medicine prescribed by a doctor and using cannabis recreationally. The experience is very different.  The same is true of medicinal psilocybin and medicinal MDMA used in clinical environments as part of therapy when compared to taking these substances recreationally.

“When used as part of therapy the patients never take the substances home and the substances are pure pharmaceutical grade.”

And WA is starting to dip its toe in the water – Perth-based company Emyria and Mind Medicine Australia are putting together an MDMA-assisted therapy trial for PTSD.

To find out more, watch the Israeli doco Trip of Compassion, showing at Luna Leederville on Monday night (December 6), which follows patients in clinical trials undergoing MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD. 

by STEPHEN POLLOCK

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