The remedial potential of psilocybin has helped open the doors to a new world of potential treatments and psychedelic therapies.
Psilocybin and a number of similar psychoactive compounds have begun to show potential as medical therapies.
Psychedelic therapies including psilocybin, MDMA and other psychoactive compounds are slowly beginning to show medical potential as therapies designed to treat mental health concerns. Following the developmental model that saw cannabis rise from an illicit narcotic to a recognized form of medicine in a growing number of jurisdictions around the world, these psychedelic therapies may have the potential to provide significant medical benefits, especially for those suffering from mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addiction issues or other ailments.
Psychedelic treatments, including psilocybin, gaining medical acceptance
In North America, a number of leading medical and academic institutions have already begun to explore the potential of psychedelic therapies. For example, in 2017 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted its “Breakthrough Therapy Designation” to MDMA for the treatment of PTSD. In 2019, 15 sites enrolled subjects in an FDA-regulated Phase 3 clinical trial of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD.
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According to MAPS, the FDA’s Breakthrough Therapy Designation is intended for drugs that may have the potential to treat a serious or life-threatening disease or condition and preliminary clinical evidence indicates the drugs could demonstrate substantial improvement over existing therapies. Like the US FDA, Health Canada has embraced the medical potential of psychedelic therapies. The Canadian regulatory authority has provided psychedelic therapy company Numinus (TSXV:NUMI) with an updated licence under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act to allow Numinus researchers to standardize the extraction of psilocybin from mushrooms.
Under the company’s existing licence, Numinus is authorized to test, possess, buy and sell MDMA, psilocybin, psilocin, DMT and mescaline. Moving forward, the company intends to pursue the potential benefits of psychedelic therapies through the research, development and distribution of these substances. “We are excited about the future of psychedelics, and our focus will solely be on its therapeutic use,” said Numinus CEO Payton Nyquvest. “Psychedelics will only move forward in a therapeutic and research context, where the application of these substances will only happen in safe, controlled treatment environments. Numinus has these pieces in place today.”
In order to bolster the company’s research and development plans, Numinus has signed a pair of medical experts in Dr. Evan Wood and Dr. Gabor Maté. Dr. Wood, a substance abuse expert with over 20 years of experience, is the Chief Medical Officer at Numinus, while Dr. Gabor Maté, a prominent physician and mental health advocate, is expected to inform the Numinus Clinical Advisory Council as a member. “Dr. Wood and Dr. Gabor Maté offer exceptional insights into the challenges of mental health and substance abuse, which complements our goals and mission at Numinus,” said Nyquvest.
Research and investment in psilocybin
The initial progress made in the world of psychedelic therapies has begun to reflect many of the early steps made by the cannabis industry on the path to acceptance. Across North America, the regulation of cannabis for strictly medical uses has often predated legal recreational use.
Recognizing the parallels in these emerging industries, a number of companies in the psychedelic therapy space are working with experts from the cannabis industry in order to educate the public and develop safe and consistent treatment options. There are many similarities between the medical cannabis market and the emerging medical psychedelic market; however, the nature of psychedelics involves a much more stringent set of regulations in order to ensure patients receive a treatment tailored to their unique condition. By working with regulators like Health Canada, companies such as Numinus have an opportunity to support the emerging field of psychedelic-assisted therapy and research by establishing safe and standardized dosages and delivery methods.
Future psychedelic therapy research
The challenging nature of mental health conditions such as PTSD, addiction, depression, anxiety and many others has caused neuroscientists to consider new therapies as well. In 2019 John Hopkins Medicine announced the launch of the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, a research facility focused on the study of compounds including LSD and psilocybin as a means of treating a variety of mental health concerns including anorexia, addiction and depression.
With US$17 million in funding, the center is working to move the field of psychedelic therapies forward while targeting a number of specific conditions. “It’s been hand-to-mouth in this field, and now we have the core funding and infrastructure to really advance psychedelic science in a way that hasn’t been done before,” said Roland Griffiths, the director of the center at Johns Hopkins. “The one that’s crying out to be done is for opiate-use disorder, and we also plan to look at that.”
Leading health authorities in both Canada and the United States have recognized the potential medical benefits of a number of psychedelic compounds. Through medical licensing agreements and research partnerships, both public and private institutions are slowly beginning to pinpoint the medical conditions that could most benefit from psychedelic therapies. As this research continues to improve our medical understanding of psychedelics, there is potential for new therapies to emerge with direct applications for a number of mental health concerns.
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