What Comes Next after Psychedelics Legalised for Mental Health Treatment?

In response to the global expansion of psychedelic drug science, Australian stakeholders are “cautiously optimistic about using psychedelics to treat mental health conditions.” That’s according to a wide-ranging review by Monash-based researchers of politicians and representatives of mental health advocacy organisations.

Since February 2023, psychedelics can be legally used by psychiatrists in Australia. Specifically, MDMA (also known as ecstasy) and psilocybin (the active ingredient in certain species of mushrooms) can be used by practitioners who have applied to the “Authorised Prescriber Scheme” and also pass review by a human ethics review committee.

Psychiatric therapy enhanced by these drugs can be very effective. MDMA-assisted therapy has proven effective with patients experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, while psilocybin has facilitated long-term improvements for depression.

However, as we know from the history of medicinal marijuana in Australia, legality is not necessarily the major barrier. Medicinal marijuana has been available to medical practitioners in NSW since 2014 and in Victoria since 2016, but is nonetheless still not widely prescribed.

Instead, patients’ lack of awareness combined with stigma on the part of providers can mean that these kinds of health treatments aren’t put on the table as an option.

Nonetheless, rather than campaigning against that stigma, the Monash researchers found that politicians and advocacy groups remain wary of becoming the target of anti-drug stigma themselves. Politicians are wary of being linked even to supporting medically supervised use of psychedelics, when they could end up being painted as advocates of legalisation, or “selling drugs in front of schools,” in one interviewed politician’s words.

For this reason, one politician expects early programs for psychedelic-enhanced mental health to focus on military veterans and emergency service workers.

“Putting my campaign hat on, PTSD in our first responders and in our returned servicemen, that is low-hanging fruit,” said the politician, who remained anonymous in the review. “I think there’s also almost a zeitgeist moment right now when we’re looking at the mental health of our return service people…it’s almost like we’re ready again for that.”

In the meantime, most policy-makers and advocacy organisations appear to be waiting for the evidence base to mount before embarking on vocal public campaigns.

Thumbnail image courtesy @okta and article image courtesy @itshopelessfox via Unsplash.

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