Party medicines that deal with mental illness

At any given time, there is only a handful of people who are truly canned in the zeitgeist.

In music at the moment it is Kendrick Lamar; in fashion, Virgil Abloh; in film it is Dwayne Johnson. You can add author Michael Pollan to the list.

His book from 2006 The Dilemma of the Omnivore was part of a seismic shift in which readers and eaters began to ask where their food came from, how it was produced and who was sewn on the way (the farmers, the animals, the planet) to get it on your plate. By the time the 10th anniversary edition was released, it had sold more than two million copies. But this year he shifted his focus from the stomach to the brain How you can change your mind – The new science of psychedelics and cemented his rep as a writer on the edge of public consciousness. The starting point was the concept of microdosing – a red-hot trend in Silicon Valley and beyond – where the most sideways thinkers use small amounts of LSD, which are subperceptual & # 39; generate effects that can improve mood, productivity and creativity. A smart drug for smart people, if you believe the hype.

Pollan has typically built on this by replacing the microdosing with macrodosing. By which we meant that he used drugs. A lot, a lot of medication. In quantities that people say The New York Times, "feel the colors and smell the sounds". Whether or not he knew it at that moment, he almost always opened the doors of the observation a little when it came to psychedelic drugs and their potential benefits.

In addition, he has deployed a budding movement in which recreational drugs, such as LSD, mushrooms, marijuana, ketamine and MDMA, show a glimpse of clinical promise where conventional medicines are not. It is in the area of ​​mental health that the results are clearest. And that is a good thing too, because for all the increasing openness that we have about discussing this plague, the numbers do not decrease.

Quite the opposite.

We have been told that drugs are bad, but do they have benefits we have never known? Image: istock

We have been told that drugs are bad, but do they have benefits we have never known? Image: istock

In April of this year GGZ group Medibio questioned 3500 Australian employees from 41 organizations from different sectors and found that 36 percent had depression and 33 percent fear. In the statistics of 2007, on the other hand, the fear is at 14 percent and the depression at six percent.

Part of this leap is undoubtedly due to the fact that people talk more comfortably about these issues and seek help. That is very good. However, it is equally clear that the current approach to counseling in combination with the most common drugs – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Lexapro – does not work for everyone. Nothing does and nothing will ever happen, but in laboratories all over the world go-to party drugs for everyone, from bushmen to EDM enthusiasts, yield results that are beginning to overshadow their damaged reputation.

One is MDMA, which was invented in 1912 by a German pharmaceutical company to help medicines that control bleeding. It started for the first time in the dance party scene in the middle of the 80s and quickly became part of these events as well as tolerating Armand Van Helden, wild breeding and finding conversations with strangers to be fascinating. At best, manufactured under questionable conditions, there are clear risks associated with recreational use. But transfer the institution from club to clinic and another picture appears. Especially as a potential treatment for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In a study conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in the United States, 56 percent of 107 subjects no longer qualified for PTSD after treatment with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, measured two months after treatment. At the follow-up after 12 months, 68 percent had no more PTSD. "Most subjects received only two to three sessions with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, all participants had chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD and had an average of 17.8 years of PTSD," said MAPS Director of Strategic Communications Brad Burge.

Although research is still in its infancy, there are encouraging signs of how psychedelic medicines can help mental illness. Image: istock

Although research is still in its infancy, there are encouraging signs of how psychedelic medicines can help mental illness. Image: istock

A separate study conducted by the Medical University of South Carolina on an admittedly small group of 26 first responders and military personnel concluded: "Active doses (75 mg and 125 mg) of MDMA with adjunctive psychotherapy in a controlled environment were effective and well tolerated reducing PTSD symptoms. "

There is a little unpacking in these qualified conclusions, especially the terms & # 39; with additional psychotherapy & # 39; and & # 39; controlled institution & # 39 ;. "It is important to remember that MDMA is not a" home-home "drug," Burge says. "MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is a guided treatment – it happens in a clinic or therapist, with a medical assessment and therapeutic supervision.This is not? Take two and call me ?. Patients would never have a prescription for MDMA get to fill themselves at the local pharmacy.Unlike all other medications for PTSD, with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, patients take the drug only two or three times in a ten-week period of psychotherapy – and research suggests that the benefits last . "

He adds that although the drug has side effects such as possible anxiety, lack of appetite, increased body temperature and nausea during the four to six hours that it is in your system, Burge says: "They are not as extreme or long-term as SSRI & # 39 ; s ", which millions of Australians take daily.

"No one in the completed studies reported dependence or continued use of MDMA after participating in the study," Burge says.

Psychedelic drugs are used to tackle mental illness. Image: istock

Psychedelic drugs are used to tackle mental illness. Image: istock

According to Burge, the benefits of MDMA are not limited to the treatment of PTSD. "It has also shown great promise in early research as a complement to psychotherapy for anxiety associated with life-threatening illness and social anxiety in autistic adults, and is now (also) being studied in treatment of alcoholism and cognitive behavior therapy couples therapy." At the very least he that it will be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for PTSD therapy by 2021.

Closer to home, Dr Gillinder Bedi, a senior research fellow at both the University of Melbourne and Orygen, the National Center of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, advocates a cautious approach in the MDMA-as-therapy debate. "The slow progression of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy from subcultural margins to adoption has been driven by the faith of those who advocate it," she says. "Without this motivated community, MDMA would probably not have been developed as a drug." The downside of this powerful advocacy base is that it can lead to fairly extreme claims, such as the penicillin label for the soul-designed studies that control have on the bias of researchers, there is a need for researchers and clinicians outside the MDMA advocacy community to be involved in the ongoing development of this research direction. "

The cover of the GQ edition from September to October.

The cover of the GQ edition from September to October.

It is clear that there are currently more questions than answers, many of which are practical. "For example, should prescribing be limited to physicians with specific qualifications?" Bedi asks. "What training would be required for those performing psychotherapy? How should the drug be treated and kept by pharmacists? This suggests a need for strict training and supervision of MDMA-assisted therapy."

Then there is the proven human factor that not everyone will play according to the narcotic rules. Example: Modafinil. A report from the Brain, Mind and Markets Laboratory at the University of Melbourne revealed that the anti-narcolepsy drug was the aid for certain financial professionals and students who want to maintain their focus during long hours in the library or looting the markets. Some are online. Some come from Australian doctors in a trend known as off-label prescribing. And if Modafinil – known as "Viagra for the mind" – is in demand, wait until your local GP has pure Molly at his disposal.

"Adoption of MDMA will lead to off-label prescribing, with doctors prescribing the drug for conditions other than PTSD," says Bedi. "This can include a range of conditions, such as depression and substance use disorders."

This is just one of the many red flags. Burge says that therapeutic acceptance of MDMA is paralyzed by several other factors. "Recreational use and abuse have been a source of stigma, but an even bigger cause of stigma is the wrong information, bad science and political guidance that policymakers have been working on for decades," she says.

– This story is an excerpt from GQ Australia. Read the whole story in the September-October issue, now on sale or on

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