Psychedelic-assisted therapy has been cited as a breakthrough in the mental health space, mainly for severe conditions when all other options haven’t been successful. But can it be used to prevent these severe conditions from happening? There’s potential, but more research needs to be done, one expert said.
“Right now, we’re focusing so much on treatment of pretty severe mental health conditions. But there’s some evidence — not enough evidence — and especially anecdotally we know that these medicines could be extremely powerful for prevention. We should probably explore that more if we really want to help people,” said Sherry Rais, CEO and co-founder of Enthea, a third-party administrator for psychedelic-assisted therapy. Rais made these comments during an interview at the HLTH 2023 conference held last week in Las Vegas.
Ketamine is currently the only psychedelic with FDA approval for conditions including major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. MDMA and psilocybin mushrooms are in the process of getting approved and could come in the next couple of years.
Rais said that there is anecdotal evidence of people microdosing psychedelics to help them be more productive and creative. At Enthea, some of its employer customers are even asking if psychedelics can be used in this way for employees. And there is a strong argument for why it could be beneficial, she said.
“There is a case of, why do we have to wait for someone to get to the point where their depression is so severe that it’s treatment-resistant?” Rais declared. “Why do we have to wait for someone’s anxiety to get so high that they’re suicidal? Why don’t we help them at the onset of those symptoms?”
Still, Rais noted that she isn’t an advocate for using psychedelics preventatively when there isn’t enough clinical evidence that it actually helps. But she is an advocate for more research being done on the area.
Dr. Noah Craft, co-founder and co-CEO of People Science, echoed the need for more research on psychedelics for prevention during a panel discussion at the HLTH conference, which Rais also participated in.
“I think understanding how these medicines are used both for pathogenesis or sick care or when you’re already mentally ill or not doing well, that’s one thing,” he said. “Understanding how we can use them preventatively or to stay well, that’s an important area that the FDA hasn’t been too focused on. I think these medicines have great potential to do that.”
But psychedelics don’t just have potential for mental health, Rais added. There is also evidence that they could help treat migraines, chronic pain, post-stroke issues and other physical conditions — and this needs more research as well.
Regardless, more needs to be done to improve the stigma around psychedelic-assisted therapy, Rais added. She said Enthea is working to educate the public and employers about psychedelics, and is primarily using the phrase ketamine-assisted therapy rather than psychedelic-assisted therapy as ketamine is the one with approval.
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