Altering Perception: Psychedelic substances are being increasingly tested for therapeutic use for mental health conditions

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February 01, 2021 7:30 AM

In some cultures, psychedelic substances have been tolerated across centuries, even celebrated, if not for therapeutic uses—India is, of course, one of the most notable examples.

But, it is only now that Western medicine is testing these for therapeutic value in mental health; marijuana has been used in pain relief and palliative care, but hardly ever as a drug to fight depression or anxiety disorders.But, it is only now that Western medicine is testing these for therapeutic value in mental health; marijuana has been used in pain relief and palliative care, but hardly ever as a drug to fight depression or anxiety disorders.

In these times labelled Orwellian by many in the commentariat, some scientists are trying to see if a Huxleyan turn(in Aldous Huxley’s Island, not Brave New World) could work for mental health. Once associated with the countercultural movement of the 1960s, and now, with everything from creativity to delinquency, psychedelic substances such as psilocybin, LSD and even MDMA are being studied by researchers for possible use in treatment of mental health conditions. Nature reports that clinical trials involving psychedelics have risen from three in 2010 (all involving MDMA) to 17 last year (13 psilocybin, three MDMA and one LSD).

In some cultures, psychedelic substances have been tolerated across centuries, even celebrated, if not for therapeutic uses—India is, of course, one of the most notable examples. But, it is only now that Western medicine is testing these for therapeutic value in mental health; marijuana has been used in pain relief and palliative care, but hardly ever as a drug to fight depression or anxiety disorders. Indeed, the US’s ‘war against drugs’ set the world back by decades on medical use of psychoactive substances. Now, you have the Imperial College, London, the Johns Hopkins University, the University of California, Berkeley, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai—all medical research bellwethers—studying the benefits of these substances in post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, etc. Indeed, they are being tested for use in fighting alcohol addiction. Decriminalisation of certain psychoactive substances, for therapeutic use and, in some cases, for limited recreational use, has helped lessen the taboo. And, if ongoing trials establish clinical benefits, many of these substances could be viewed more positively than before.

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