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Qualia Research Institute Question Series: Will Psilocybin be a clinically approved treatment for end-of-life anxiety by 2027?
This is the second in a three-part series of questions suggested by the Qualia Research Institute, with particular thanks to Andrés Gómez Emilsson, whom you can find blogging at the always interesting QualiaComputing.com
Psilocybin, the active compound that gives magic mushrooms their magic, is classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the FDA, making legal research very time-consuming and expensive. Like MDMA, it is a psychedelic drug that has well-documented effects on a number of behavioral disorders, and yet is categorized by the government as a highly addictive, unsafe substance with no conceivable medicinal use. It is also in the public domain, and therefore virtually impossible to profit from.
Despite the fact that academics must pay over 13 times the price of the drug as its sold on the street, research in support of finding a way to market continues. And it cannot come fast enough for patients with fatal diagnoses, whose struggles with anxiety and depression are magnified exponentially by their illnesses, and for whom even a single dose can be transformative.
A pair of randomized, blinded studies published Thursday in The Journal of Psychopharmacology provide the most robust evidence to date that a single dose of psilocybin can provide relief from the anxiety and gloom associated with cancer for at least six months.
Roughly 40 percent of people with cancer suffer from a mood disorder, which increases their risk of suicide and impairs treatment. Evidence they can be helped by antidepressants is weak. “People are facing their own mortality, their own demise,” said Roland Griffiths, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the lead author of one of the studies. “That’s a very special and quite poignant vulnerability that many people have in facing life-threatening illnesses.” And while some see the laissez faire approach to governing as a positive for research regulation, others believe the regressive Department of Justice could stand in the way
“I do feel very optimistic," says Rick Doblin, executive director of psychedelic research nonprofit MAPS, a leading funder of psychedelic research. "One of the Trump administration's main things is lower regulation. They're pro business and pro making it easier for Big Pharma to get drugs through the FDA. And that benefits us."
But the FDA isn’t as far up the food chain as other influential agencies. DEA licenses are required for psychedelic research. And Trump has given Attorney General Sessions plenty of leeway in drug policy, says Erik Altieri, executive director of marijuana-focused nonprofit NORML. “It seems that the people really calling the shots are those far closer to Trump than those running the FDA,” says Altieri. “The proof will be in the pudding here about who actually sways Trump's opinion, and what he will be willing to tolerate.”
Last year, Business Insider’s Erin Brodwin reported that experts believe the timeline is almost certainly a decade.
"I'm absolutely sure that, within ten years, psilocybin will be an accepted treatment for depression,"David Nutt, the director of the neuropsychopharmacology unit in the division of brain sciences at Imperial College London told me last month.
So will we hit the mark? By January 1st, 2027, will psilocybin be an accepted treatment for end-of-life anxiety/depression? Positive resolution is by FDA approval in the US or MHRA approval in the UK.
The team at the Qualia Research Institute have generously gotten the ball rolling by providing their own prediction that it is 75% likely the question will resolve positive.
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