In the wake of the announcement that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved large-scale trials of ecstasy to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) comes the news that several universities have already been experimenting with using mushrooms to help relieve the symptoms of major depression and anxiety.
If approved as a treatment, going back to the basics of using psychedelic drugs to treat psychiatric conditions might just offer the public both a more natural cure and offer stiff competition to the pharmaceutical industry.
Two studies on these drugs were performed simultaneously – one at Johns Hopkins University and the other at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. The results were published in The Journal of Psychopharmacology.
The studies focused on those who had a diagnoses of severe depression and/or anxiety, as well as those who had life-threatening cancer and were suffering from mood disorders as a result.
In both studies, patients were invited to go on “trips” using “magic mushrooms” in a controlled environment. At Johns Hopkins, 78% of patients noted a reduction in their depression symptoms and 83% stated they had noticed they were experiencing fewer episodes of anxiety. After six months, 65% of the participants said they were cured of their depression and 57% stated they were no longer experiencing anxiety.
NYU’s study yielded similar results, with 60 to 80% of patients stating that they saw a dramatic reduction in their symptoms. 70% of those who participated said this was one of the most meaningful experiences of their lives.
“The most surprising thing to me is that this actually worked. I was highly skeptical. The moment they get psilocybin, their distress comes down. That’s very new in psychiatry, to have a medication that works immediately for depression and anxiety and can last for that long.”
Using psychedelic drugs may be a return to psychiatric roots. In the 1950s and 1960s, psychiatrists often experimented with hallucinogenics on their patients. Many times, they found they helped alleviate symptoms. However, the era of the “war on drugs” and other political issues that made them both illegal and taboo put an abrupt stop to the research. And we may just be getting back to it.
Martin Shkreli, otherwise known as Pharma Bro, made headlines last year when he upped the price of the HIV drug Daraprim by almost 4,000% in a day.
Knowing this drug was necessary to save many people’s lives, it appeared Shkreli had done this for no other reason than to profit off of other’s desperation, but a group of school boys in Sydney, Australia have found a way to recreate the major ingredient in the drug for only $2.
Alice Williamson, a postdoctoral fellow in chemistry from the University of Sydney, teamed up with a local high school to help oversee science projects.
That’s when she had the idea to see if she could get the boys she was coaching to make the medicine for much cheaper. It would be an exciting project with real world application and consequences.
This chemical can be purchased online for just $36.50 for 100 grams.
Although the boys had access to the patent method, it involved using reagents that were too dangerous for a high school chemistry lab.
Because of this, the boys had to find a way to recreate the drug using raw ingredients, creating both a financial and physical challenge.
The 16- and 17-year-olds have been working together for the past 12 months in order to recreate the drug’s active ingredient, taking time both before and after school to do so.
Last week, they were finally successful. They created 3.7 grams of pyrimethamine which Williamson confirmed to be worth about $110,000.
While the drug is still available in non-US countries for $1-$2 per pill, it is only available in the United States through Turing Pharmaceuticals, which operates on a closed distribution model.
To be sold in the US at the cheaper rate, Shkreli would have to allow trials to take place to compare it to his own drug.
As it doesn’t seem he’s the benevolent type, anyone attempting to sell a new drug, such as the inexpensive one the high school students created, would need to fund their own study to prove its effectiveness.
This could cost a upwards of a few million dollars. Therefore, it’s unlikely their drug will hit the market any time soon.
However, Williamson says she hopes this experiment can show pharmaceutical companies that the high price tag for the medication is ridiculous.