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Australia has become the first country to allow psychiatrists to prescribe medicines containing psychedelic substances like MDMA and psilocybin for the treatment of certain mental health conditions.
Beginning Saturday, the Australian regulatory agency Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) announced that it would approve psychiatrists under the Authorized Prescriber Scheme, which allows prescribing permissions to be granted under strict controls that ensure the safety of patients, said the TGA in a statement.
MDMA, also known as ecstasy, will be prescribed for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psilocybin (psychedelic mushrooms) for treatment-resistant depression. The TGA observed that these are the only mental health illnesses in which psychedelics have proven effective in certain patients.
While noting that the research so far on the use of psychedelics in the treatment of PTSD and depression has been promising, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) cautions that it can pose short-term and long-term risks, including hallucinogen use disorder and other mental health-related risks.
“The use of psychedelic and empathogenic agents for psychiatric and other medical indications is currently investigational,” APA further said.
Noting that both drugs “can be used therapeutically in a controlled medical setting,” the TGA said that prescribing would be limited to psychiatrists, given their specialized qualifications and expertise to diagnose and treat patients with serious mental health conditions.
Psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA can cause hallucinations, which is a cause of concern for medical experts who have cautioned that more research is needed on the drugs’ efficacy, reported the Associated Press.
“There are concerns that evidence remains inadequate and moving to clinical service is premature; that incompetent or poorly equipped clinicians could flood the space; that treatment will be unaffordable for most; that formal oversight of training, treatment, and patient outcomes will be minimal or ill-informed,” said Dr. Paul Liknaitzky, head of Monash University’s Clinical Psychedelic Lab, in an interview to the AP.
While the Australian government announced its decision in February this year, the lawful prescription of these drugs took effect from July 1.
Countries like the United States, Israel, and Canada allow individuals to use these drugs on compassionate grounds or in clinical trials, reported Nature.
Another concern among the scientific community is that the drugs aren’t for all patients struggling with depression or PTSD.
Susan Rossell, a psychiatrist at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, told Nature, “It’s not for everybody. We need to work out who these people are that are going to have bad experiences, and not recommend it.”
Rossell, who’s working on research of her own, fears that the drugs could potentially give people ‘bad trips’ and leave them with increased psychological issues. “That’s the worst-case scenario,” she says. Her research suggests 10–20% of trial participants have experienced a bad experience with these drugs. But for the 90-80%, the results look promising.