Health Advice



Psychedelic drugs could help treat mental health problems. But can you get there without the trip?

Meredith Cohn, Baltimore Sun on

Published in Health & Fitness

People process their trauma and gain new perspectives during the experience with psychedelic drugs, Reiff said. Getting patients “out of their comfort zone” is part of the process. Turning those drugs into a pill devoid of psychedelics robs them of the necessary journey, he said.

Such a pill potentially would make them no different than existing drugs, Reiff said.

There is a need for a new treatments, he said, as traditional antidepressants fail to work in up to a third of people who try them. They also take longer to have an effect than psychedelic drugs.

The number of people experiencing symptoms of depression has jumped considerably since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly among young adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drug overdoses also have escalated.

Some cities and states already are rolling back local laws to ready for a new class of drugs based on psychedelics. Oregon and parts of California and Colorado have decriminalized psilocybin and Florida is considering it. That’s even before approvals from the FDA, leading to a warning from the American Psychiatric Association about the need for proper vetting and implementation of a new therapy.

Reiff said if the psychedelic drugs are approved by the FDA, insurance companies would cover the costs, making them profitable for companies and accessible to patients.

Still, researchers acknowledge they don’t know exactly what is happening in people’s brains that makes psychedelic drugs so beneficial and long-lasting, sometimes for months or years.

Thompson’s research will provide important information about the way the drugs work, said Dr. Roland Griffiths, director of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research and a longtime psychedelic drug researcher.


Researchers’ understanding is “still quite primitive,” he said, though it’s widely believed that the psychedelic experience itself is linked to therapeutic effects.

Like Reiff, he is skeptical about the benefit of removing the psychedelic experience but said “it’s an open question that should be studied.”

Griffiths said determining a psychedelic experience isn’t necessary would be a significant breakthrough, especially because the drugs can cause significant adverse effects — including engaging in dangerous behavior and triggering enduring psychiatric illness.

The possibility of a triggering those reactions is why trial participants are screened thoroughly for underlying serious mental health conditions and professionally guided through the experience, he said.

Doing the basic scientific research is important as these mood-altering drugs are getting closer to federal approval as medicines, Griffiths said.

Thompson said he plans to continue the research, next looking at which drugs might work the best without the psychedelic experience and which of more than a dozen brain receptors is the best target.

“The dream here is if you could prevent or diminish the mind-altering properties of the compounds, more people could have the drugs and get the needed benefits,” Thompson said. “But there needs to be broad and deep and reliable scientific findings to convince the public and the FDA this is safe and effective medicine and not something you do at a rock concert in college.”

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