Australia legalizes medical use of psychedelics for mental health

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Australia has become the first country in the world to legalize the use of psychedelics to treat certain mental disorders. Under the new regulations, which came into force on July 1, registered Australian psychiatrists can prescribe MDMA for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psilocybin for depressions that have resisted other treatments.

While Australia is the first country in the world to regulate the medical use of psychedelics, numerous clinical trials are underway in the United States, Canada and Israel.

The use of psychedelics will be closely monitored and not just about “take a pill and go”, said Dr Mike Musker, a mental health researcher at the University of South Australia.

Calling the measure a “paradigm shift”, he told AFP that in the case of MDMA for example, the patient would likely have three treatments over a period of five to eight weeks. Each treatment would last approximately eight hours, with the therapist staying with the patient for the duration of the treatment.

However, patients should not expect a miracle cure.

“I’ve read stories of people who have had what are called bad trips, or actually relived their trauma, so we have to be very careful,” Dr Musker said.

The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) reclassified MDMA and psilocybin in February so that they can be used for therapeutic purposes.

She declared these substances “relatively safe” when used in a “medically controlled environment” for patients “with serious mental disorders”. Otherwise, MDMA and psilocybin are illegal in Australia.

The TGA acknowledges that there are unknowns and inconclusive evidence, but says that “there are promising signs” that controlled therapeutic drug use may improve the mental health of some people and that the “benefits for some patients… outweigh the risks”.

The regulator clarifies that there are currently no approved products containing MDMA or psilocybin. However, the reclassification means that psychiatrists will be able to access certain drugs containing these substances and dispense them legally, even if their safety and effectiveness have not been assessed.

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