Boon or bane? Australia legalises MDMA, magic mushrooms for mental health treatment

Health experts stand divided on the decision

Drugs in mental health treatment Representative Image | Shutterstock

The use of synthetic drugs for therapeutic purposes, especially for treating mental health conditions, has been a topic for debate for some time now. Australia has become the first country in the world to legalise the use of psychedelics to treat certain mental health conditions. Now is it a boon or bane?

The health experts stand divided on the bold move taken by the country to treat mental depression. While some hail the decision as a "game-changer" other calls it "too hasty".

The "recreational drug" MDMA, popularly known as ecstasy, and magic mushrooms has hallucinogenic effects increasing the energy levels of the user and sensory experiences.

In the case of magic mushrooms, the hallucinogenic effects are produced by active compound psilocybin.

With the new regulations, approved psychiatrists in Australia can now prescribe MDMA for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psilocybin for depression, reported BBC.

With drugs like MDMA having different effects on different persons, experts raise the concern that it is unknown how the patient or the user with an unpleasant experience react under the influence of drugs.

The use of synthetic drugs including MDMA for treatment in medical fields is been explored by many countries. Clinical trials are also underway in the countries including United States, Canada and Israel.

What are psychedelic drugs

Psychedelic drugs involves class of drugs that are able to induce altered thoughts and sensory perceptions. Researchers from across the world are involved in studies of mostly psilocybin, MDMA, and ketamine for its therapeutic usage.

Among many fields, its use especially in the treatment of addiction, anxiety, major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and end-of-life care are explored.

Health experts stand divided

Dr Mike Musker, a mental health researcher at the University of South Australia said that the use of psychedelics would be carefully monitored.

"It is not a case of take a pill and go's a game-changer...I have read about stories where people have had what you call bad trips or actually they've re-experienced their trauma, and so we've got to take great caution," Dr Musker told AFP news agency.

However, Musker also warned of patients from expecting a miracle cure.

The treatment is likely to take place in three stages over five to eight weeks. Each treatment would last about eight hours, with the therapist staying with the patient the whole time, he said.

However, Professor Susan Rossell, a cognitive neuropsychologist at Melbourne's Swinburne University, called the decision too hasty. Rossell is also leading a biggest trial on the effects of psilocybin on depression.

"When you look at interventions...for any kind of disease, whether it's cardiovascular disease or cancer, you cannot get a drug to market as quickly as this has been done," she told AFP.

The move of the Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) reclassifying MDMA and psilocybin had raised many eyebrows in the medical field. TGA had declared the drugs as "relatively safe" when used in "medically-controlled environment".

"There are promising signs", TGA had said.

So far, there are no approved products that contain MDMA or psilocybin. With the new regulation, psychiatrists will be able to legally supply and access medicines that contain them. The implications of these are yet to be known.

Other than for medical purposes, both the drugs are illegal in Australia.

"It is early compared to the usual process of developing and rolling out new treatments," clinical psychiatrist Dr. Colleen Loo, a professor of psychiatry at the University of New South Wales and the Black Dog Institute in Sydney, was quoted by CNN.

The Oregon Health Authority in May announced that it had licensed the first psilocybin service provider in the state after it became the first US state to legalize psilocybin for personal use for those above 21 years of age, reported CNN.