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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

Robert Barrow, CEO of MindMed, has touted the potential in company press releases, pointing to one recent research paper from a partner in the MM-120 study.

MindMed, he wrote, is working with the University Hospital of Basel, Switzerland, which is the world’s top research center for LSD in medical applications. Earlier this month, the University Hospital of Basel published a paper with results from its own study on how well LSD curbs anxiety.

“This paper further reinforces the positive preliminary evidence for LSD in patients who suffer from anxiety disorders,” Barrow said. “Acute administration of LSD produced long-lasting and notable reductions of anxiety and co-morbid depression symptoms for up to 16 weeks. These results are encouraging.”

It’s unclear how long the second phase of the trial will last. Once there is enough data across all participating sites, MindMed will approve a specific dose of MM-120 to be studied in phase three. The third and final phase will test a larger pool of patients with only the approved dose. It will be the last step before MindMed can submit the drug to the Food and Drug Administration for approval and possible future prescription usage. The company estimates the entire process will be complete by November of next year, but that could be subject to change if the phases drag on longer than expected.

But despite the promising research, LSD still arguably gets the worst rap out of all the psychedelics. The drug has a tarnished reputation for being associated with counterculture, anti-war protests and “bad trips.” It’s powerful even in small amounts and, when taken in too high a dose or in an unstructured environment, can cause extreme stress or unsafe conditions for the user.

The stigma attached to LSD is why Lichter teaches his students a phrase coined by Humphrey Osmond, a British psychiatrist who coined the word psychedelic.

 

“‘To fathom hell or go angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelic’ is the phrase Osmond came up with,” Lichter said. “There’s a risk of going into a hellish place with this compound or a potential to go into an angelic place. We all have to have that recognition that there is a huge risk.”

But, he said, there is a lot of room in between those extremes and the potential benefits are too enticing for some scientists not to support.

“In reality it’s just a chemical compound that binds to a serotonin receptor and causes changes to the way people think or feel,” Lichter said. “And if that change can actually help them, which is what some of these studies are showing, we need to destigmatize it and give it hope, give it the attention it deserves.”

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