MDMA: Psychedelics therapy now in Australia

At the beginning of this year, a decision made by Australia’s normally conservative pharmaceuticals authority to permit the use of psychedelics as an adjunct to therapy sessions caused academics to raise eyebrows.

Psilocybin, which may be found in magic mushrooms, will now be utilized to treat treatment-resistant depression as a result of the ruling. In pill form, MDMA, widely known as ecstasy, will also be legalized for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Because the new regulations took effect on Saturday, Australia is now the first nation in the world to nationally recognize psychedelic substances as legitimate medical treatments.

Many medical professionals and patients are applauding this as a watershed event, despite the fact that early access to the treatments will be restricted and expensive.

However, prominent health organizations have also emphasized the need for prudence.

In 2017, it was determined that Marjane Beaugeois was suffering from severe depression. She remembers, “Within a span of two months, I said goodbye to my mother, my grandmother, my cherished pet dog, and my romantic relationship.”

She claims that the antidepressants that were prescribed to her left her “zombie-like, unable to cry, self-soothe, or feel better.” She was unable to eat, shower, or leave her house in Melbourne during this time.

“I’d still go to bed praying not to wake up,” the 49-year-old man says. “I’d still wake up feeling like a fool.”

Her search for alternative treatments eventually led her to a psilocybin clinic in Amsterdam, but she went there with some trepidation.

“I do not have any previous experience with the usage of alcohol or drugs. “As a professional who helps addicts, I have always had strong reservations about it,” she explains.

But she was also desperate to get away from her depression that was resistant to treatment, and so in 2018, she scheduled an appointment with the hospital.

Psilocybin was consumed in the form of a tea. “The colors got much more vibrant. I had the reassuring sensation of being strongly reconnected to the wider world. Just thinking about it makes me choke up… it was a monumental and breathtaking demonstration of unconditional love.”

After three sessions, she reported feeling better. “I could smile, feel joy, and go about my daily routine with clarity,” she adds. “I was able to do all of these things.” “When I got home, my friends said that they saw the sparkle return to my eyes.”

When Glen Boyes proposed to his therapist that he try treating his crippling depression with microdosing of psychedelics, his therapist reacted with skepticism.

“He explained that it wasn’t something he does, but he couldn’t stop me, and he would do brain scans to track my progress,” he recalls. “He would do brain scans to track my progress.”

During the Covid-19 lockdowns in Sydney, the veteran, who is 33 years old, claims that he started having “lingering PTSD” from his time spent serving in the army.

However, after ten weeks of therapy sessions and microdosing, the red regions on his initial brain scans that showed blockages were no longer there. “The haze in my brain began to lift. I was able to think rationally once more.”

Due to the fact that no other country has rescheduled these compounds for clinical use on a national level, the number of people who have participated in psychedelic therapy is quite low.

Congratulations were extended to Australia for “leading the world in this vital treatment innovation” by Professor David Nutt, Head of Neuropsychopharmacology at the Imperial College in the United Kingdom.

Ben Sessa, a doctor who studies psychedelics and is also a researcher, referred to the approval as “pioneering.” According to what he said to the BBC, “this is where the global psychedelic spotlight shines now.”

Dr. Sessa has stepped down from his position as the director of the leading psychedelic clinical organization in the United Kingdom. He plans to spend the next 18 months in Australia, where he will conduct a psychedelic prescribing training program that is tailored to individual needs.

Other nations, such as Switzerland, Canada, and Israel, have also investigated the use of psychedelics for compassionate purposes. The regulatory bodies in these countries have come to similar conclusions, albeit not on a national scale like in Australia. There are also psychedelic clinics that can be found operating lawfully in places such as Jamaica and Costa Rica.

However, the manner in which Australia implements clinical prescriptions for both medications, as well as the associated cost, will be carefully observed.

Ecstasy was initially developed in 1912 as an appetite suppressant; nevertheless, it wasn’t until the middle of the 1970s that it was banned for use in therapy sessions in the United States. In the 1980s, it became popular in Australia as a party drug because to the benefits that it was said to provide, which included enhanced energy, empathy, and enjoyment. It was made illegal in 1987.

In the 2000s, however, research slowly started up again. Recent clinical trials have found that both MDMA and psilocybin can immediately relieve the symptoms of severe depression; nevertheless, very little is known about how these substances exert their therapeutic effects.

Charity organization Mind Medicine Australia (MMA), which advocated for the use of psychedelic medicines, is now assisting in the education of medical professionals who will be responsible for acquiring and prescribing the medications.

In order for psychiatrists to become authorised prescribers, they are required to submit an application to both an ethical committee and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), which is Australia’s medicines authority. After that, they will be responsible for locating and supplying both MDMA and psilocybin.

According to one psychedelics specialist, after all expenses are included in, the cost of therapy may soar to A$30,000 (£15,700, $20,000), which includes the substances themselves, supervision from interdisciplinary teams, psychiatrist consultations, and leasing a private clinic.

Because of the exorbitant cost, Dr. Stephen Bright, a senior lecturer at Edith Cowan University, is skeptical that these treatments “will be very widely available at all” for the first 12 to 18 months. He says this is because of the price tag.

Philanthropist Peter Hunt, chair of the MMA, disagrees with such estimates. He told the BBC that patients could expect to pay between A$10,000 and A$15,000 for two sessions of psilocybin assisted therapy and three sessions of MDMA accompanied therapy, respectively. “We costed the treatments with a mental health clinic,” he stated. “We found it to be…”

However, because there are no plans for the government to subsidize these expensive therapies, it is anticipated that the majority of patients will not be able to pay them.

The most prominent medical and mental health organizations in Australia are among the most outspoken opponents of the use of psychedelic therapy.

According to Kristen Morely, a professor of addiction medicine at the University of Sydney, “There has been considerable caution from the scientific and medical community.”

MMA claims that the “weight of submissions from thousands of Australians whose current mental health treatments just aren’t working” was a contributing factor in the TGA clearance being granted.

However, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) have both voiced their grave concerns.

Both organizations have issued calls for studies to be conducted on a bigger scale and for improved research into psychedelic medicines. They have also issued a warning regarding the unknown hazards, long-term side effects, and “potentially very limited benefits” associated with the use of psychedelics in treatment.

“Even in cases where other treatments have been tried without success, there is still a chance that psychedelic-assisted therapy might be able to offer patients a glimmer of hope.” But it’s not a magical cure,” cautioned Professor Richard Harvey, who leads the Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Steering Group at the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Physicians (RANZCP).

Because of the “potential for psychedelic substances to cause fear, panic, and re-traumatization,” he recommended taking an approach that was “cautious, considered, and informed.”

According to what he had to say about the matter, “vulnerable people can understandably feel distressed if their experience isn’t in line with their expectations of this therapy.”

It is also unclear, according to his argument, whether the effects of psychedelic treatments were more likely the result of the chemicals themselves or the psychotherapy.

To put it more succinctly, psychedelic-assisted treatment is still in its infant stages. There is more that it is necessary for us to learn.”

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