Medical research into psychedelic medicine has seen a revival in recent years but educating the public is desperately needed to move the needle, experts say.
Speaking at the HLTH 2023 conference in Las Vegas, a panel of US healthcare professionals including the president of the Psychedelic Medicine Association (PMA) reflected on how decades of “misinformation” and fear mongering may be holding the public back from understanding the potential health benefits of using psychedelic therapies to treat mental health.
“A lot of people still fear psychedelics,” said Sherry Rais, co-founder, and CEO of benefit plan company Enthea. “We need to start with education and help people understand the science and medicine behind these substances.”
In August, Enthea, released one-year results from a benefit program administered to Californian company Dr Bronner’s, which offered employees and their families coverage for ketamine-assisted therapy (KAT).
The data revealed score reductions for patients diagnosed with various mental health conditions, including an 86% improvement for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, 67% improvement in Major Depressive Disorder and 65% improvement in generalized anxiety disorder.
“What we’ve found worthwhile is starting with a discussion on ketamine therapy, because ketamine is FDA approved and has a 50-year track record of safety and efficacy. Sharing personal success stories can help people understand how these medicines can provide truly transformative experiences,” said Rais.
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Former US Navy SEAL Marcus Capone said one week using the psychedelic drug Ibogaine had radically changed his life after antidepressants and other prescription medications failed to treat his depression and PTSD.
Following recovery, Capone has founded TARA Mind, a public benefit corporation that aims to expand access to psychedelic-assisted therapy. He also works with military veterans to secure grants and pursue treatment outside the US.
“We need to treat veterans but they’re a small percentage of the population,” said Capone. “Over twenty percent of Americans are suffering from mental health conditions and psychedelic therapy has the potential to help.”
Healthcare systems also need to evolve to incorporate potential psychedelic treatment, said physician-entrepreneur Noah Craft.
“The post Freudian psychiatric assessment of how our brains and mental health works is fairly limited,” said Craft.
“When we take a step back, we know our mental health depends on many factors including connection to community, cultural upbringing, and spirituality. The FDA currently doesn’t have any instruments or appreciation of those realms and the standard physician-patient interaction does not include these conversations.”
The panel agreed that the priority for healthcare professionals should be sharing data and knowledge from clinical trials on psychedelic therapies with the public.
“Education is the ultimate end game,” said Craft. “We need to bring the broad base of evidence we have for these therapies to the public attention so people can understand the benefits.”
According to GlobalData analysis, the psychedelic drug market is on the brink of extraordinary growth and projected to soar to $7.2 billion by 2029, reflecting a 55% compound annual growth rate.
This ascent is propelled by favourable regulatory developments, including pioneering clinical trial guidelines from the FDA which were crafted in response to promising psychedelic clinical results in mental health disorders.
An investment report by FTI Consulting found nearly two-thirds of US institutional investors (60%) expressed a strong interest in learning more about the psychedelic medicine sector, compared to a more reserved 35% in the UK. Investors across the UK and the US cited a lack of clinical data as a primary barrier to investing.
Psychedelics is also intersecting with the world of virtual reality (VR) technology. In 2022, Australian biotech psychedelics start-up Enosis Therapeutics partnered with Berlin-based healthcare services provider OVID Clinics and the MIND Foundation to set up a pilot program to create the world’s first in-clinic application of virtual reality (VR) and psychedelic-assisted therapy.