SYDNEY – Australia on Saturday will become one of the first countries to recognize psychedelic drugs as medicines. In February, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, Australia’s medical regulator, sanctioned use of psychedelics for some mental health conditions. Experts agree that psychedelic-assisted therapies in Australia are in their infancy.
Starting Saturday, authorized psychiatrists in Australia will be able to prescribe methylenedioxy methamphetamine – MDMA, the active ingredient in such party drugs as ecstasy or molly — to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
They will also be allowed to prescribe psilocybin, a compound found in psychotropic “magic” mushrooms, to treat depression that has not responded to other therapies.
Susan Rossell, a cognitive neuropsychologist at Swinburne University in Melbourne, is conducting one of Australia’s biggest clinical trials of psilocybin. Preliminary results show significant improvements in some patients’ mental health while others have shown no signs of getting better.
Rossell told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that psychedelic therapies research is still in its early stages.
“We have been stuck for very many years in terms of mental health treatments for people with treatment-resistant conditions,” she said. “So, the fact that psychedelic medicines do seem to be working for a number of people is fantastic. However, they are not working for some people as well, and that is where I would note a great deal of caution in this field at the moment.”
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists has issued new guidelines for its members’ use of psychedelic drugs. They must only be administered in a hospital or clinic, where two psychotherapists must stay with the patient for six to eight hours to ensure their safety.
The organization has said that with a lack of mental health professionals in Australia, it is likely that few providers will be able to meet these conditions.
Other experts fear that the new regulations that permit the use of MDMA and psilocybin in Australia have been approved too quickly. They believe there is potential for psychedelic substances to provoke anxiety, panic or cause psychological damage to patients.
Australia’s official medical regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, approved the use of psychedelics to treat some mental health conditions in February, making the country one of the first in the world to recognize the drugs as medicines.
In announcing its decision, the regulators said the “benefits to patients and public health … outweigh the risks.”