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Miami clinic kicks off first national study of LSD, once a 'public enemy,' to treat anxiety

Natalia Galicza, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

The past decade has been fruitful for research. Promising studies on Psilocybin as a treatment for anxiety, depression and addiction have multiplied alongside research into MDMA (Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) — “club drugs” more commonly called ecstasy or molly — as a potential treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction.

LSD was also widely studied, though mostly before the 1968 ban. The National Institutes of Health funded more than a hundred grants for the drug’s study prior to its prohibition. Some of those studies also found use for the compound in quelling anxiety and addiction. Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, famously credits LSD for helping him on his road to sobriety.

Those studies and breakthroughs ran largely dry following the ban. But studies like MindMed’s are sparking renewed interest in LSD, and a broad umbrella of possible psychedelic treatments.

Joseph Lichter, a chemist who teaches a “Psychedelic Renaissance” course at Florida International University’s honors college, believes that such research could prove promising for the future of American psychiatry. The mind-altering substances have been feared or considered dangerous for decades, but are powerful non-toxic compounds that have captivated scientists and researchers since long before they were outlawed.

“We definitely need to see more science before we start putting these things into healthcare professionals’ hands to use with clients, but it’s really a good thing for us to work toward destigmatizing LSD,” Lichter said. He believes there’s no better place to kick start a psychedelic renaissance — a resurgence of research on the taboo substances — than Miami-Dade County.

“Anytime something is happening here in Miami-Dade County, I’m excited by it because we’re a big metropolis,” Lichter said. “I think the psychedelic renaissance right now is in a research-heavy period, and things like the trials at Segal are the correct steps forward.”

 

Clinics offering Ketamine, a psychoactive sedative, already exist across the county. Psilocybin has also gained medical traction; Segal Trials conducted its own trials of Psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for treatment of depression at its Miami Lakes center last summer.

“There is such a renewed interest, there is such a large unmet need in our community in that particular area,” Kakar said. “And psychedelics look like they are getting more normalized in the minds of patients and communities versus being on the fringes of recreational use.”

What sets MM-120 and other psychedelic treatments apart from more traditionally prescribed treatments for anxiety and depression is the length of effect. Rather than daily use, the drug candidate is being studied as a one-time treatment that promises — at least potentially — lasting benefits.

“Unlike current medications that have to be taken on a daily basis for a very long time and hopefully have a realized effect many weeks down the line, we believe if this medication is taken once under structured conditions, it can have a potential effect on anxiety that lasts for a very long time,” Kakar said. “So we believe it works in a very different way pharmacologically than any other drug that has to be taken on a daily basis.”

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