NSW Greens MP Cate Faehrmann recently hosted an online webinar with Tania de Jong AM and Peter Hunt AM from Mind Medicine Australia, looking at the emerging role of psychedelics in mental health treatment.
Statistics presented at the webinar show mental illness at alarming levels in Australia (and getting steadily worse) with one in five Australian adults now suffering from chronic mental illness, and one in eight Australians now on anti-depressants (a 95% increase in the last five years).
The numbers for defence force veterans and first responders show even higher psychological distress, with often tragic outcomes.
As well as suicide, homelessness and family breakdown, Productivity Commission data suggests the total cost of mental illness to the Australian economy amounts to $180 billion per year.
Current treatments are not working for many people
In the case of depression, only 35% of sufferers experience remission from some combination of anti-depressants and psychotherapy, and up to 80% relapse after that treatment stops. The numbers for post traumatic stress disorder are worse.
Mind Medicine is a not-for-profit registered charity which seeks to broaden the mental health treatment options in Australia to include medicinal psilocybin (for depression) and medicinal MDMA (for PTSD), with research suggesting these substances have markedly better rates of success than existing therapies when administered under clinical conditions.
Board members of Mind Medicine include such luminaries as Admiral Chris Barrie AC (past Chair of the Australian Defence Force), Dr Simon Longstaff AO (Australian Ethics Centre), Andrew Robb AO (the former Federal Minister for Trade and Investment) and Professor Jane Burns (Chair, Centre for Mental Health at Swinburne University).
Advisory panel members include many leading psychiatrists and medical practitioners.
Another enthusiastic supporter is ACT MLA and Minister for Mental Health Shane Rattenbury, who also appeared at the webinar.
Expanding medical treatment options
Tania de Jong explained that medicinal psilocybin and medicinal MDMA have been granted ‘breakthrough therapy designation’ by the US Food and Drugs Administration to fast-track the approval process, with Australia likely to follow.
This follows strong clinical evidence that 1-3 dosed sessions of these medicines in the right circumstances can have a ‘curative’ rather than palliative effect.
She described them as being like ‘antibiotics for the mind’, with none of the risk of addiction that accompanies many pharmacological interventions.
Voices of international psychedelic trial participants
A number of patient testimonials were presented in the webinar. ADF veteran Joel Harrop said, ‘Trauma creates a prison in the mind, leaving countless Australians shackled by mental illness. I believe psychedelic therapy is the key to unlocking those prison doors.’
A New York University end-of-life participant said, ‘Everyone deserves to have this experience. If everyone did, no one could ever do harm to another again.’
An MDMA-assisted trial participant in Israel said, ‘ I felt like I went through fifteen years of psychological therapy in one night’.
Graphs were presented showing remarkable improvements from clincal trials around the world, particularly in relation to depression and anxiety.
The presenters emphasised that clinical MDMA and ectasy are very different things, with illegal substances often bearing no chemical resemblance to MDMA or in wildly inappropriate doses.
In terms of medicinal psilocybin and/or MDMA, new trials are underway to assess treatment of conditions including depression associated with early stage dementia, anorexia, and alcohol addiction, with active psychedelic research programs underway at leading universities including Harvard, Yale, King College London, Oxford, Maastricht University, Imperial Collage London and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
After the politically motivated setbacks for psychedelics in the Nixon years (described by Professor David Nutt of Imperial College London as ‘the worst censorship of research and medical treatment in the history of humanity’, the future is looking bright for psychedelics and mental health.
In Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration is now accepting public submissions to reschedule medicinal MDMA and medicinal psilocybin as controlled medicines.
Mind Medicine Australia has also made a short video which can be viewed here.