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Australia legalises therapeutic use of MDMA and psilocybin

In a world first, the country has officially recognised psychedelics as legitimate medicines. From July, authorised psychiatrists will be able to prescribe the drugs for treatment-resistant mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

For decades, scientists and researchers have sought to prove the extraordinary medical potential of psychedelic drugs.

Time and time again these mind-altering compounds have shown genuine promise in alleviating some of the most intractable (and expensive) conditions to treat, yet with stigma still firmly attached, attempts to rebrand and integrate them into current healthcare systems have been relatively futile.

Until now, that is, because Australia just became the first country in the world to officially recognise hallucinogens as legitimate medicines.

Announced last week, The Therapeutic Goods Administration stated they had found ‘sufficient evidence for potential benefits in certain patients,’ and that from July, authorised psychiatrists will be able to prescribe MDMA and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) for treatment-resistant mental illnesses.

The TGA made sure to specify that the substances will only be allowed to be used in a very limited way, with MDMA prescribed for post-traumatic stress disorder and psilocybin for depression.

‘Prescribing will be limited to psychiatrists, given their specialized qualifications and expertise to diagnose and treat patients with serious mental health conditions, with therapies that are not yet well established,’ the watchdog said.

‘Each must be approved by a human ethics committee.’

To acquire this, they will need to demonstrate their training, robust patient selection, and evidence-based treatment protocols, as well as patient monitoring.

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It has also not been confirmed how psychiatrists will eventually provide access to the drugs, as there are currently no approved medicines containing MDMA or psilocybin available and approved by the TGA for prescription on the market (though more information regarding this is set to be released).

Regardless, the move has been hailed as a ‘very welcome step away from what has been decades of demonisation’ by Dr David Caldicott, a clinical senior lecturer in emergency medicine at Australian National University.

In his opinion, it is ‘abundantly clear’ that a controlled supply of both MDMA and psilocybin ‘can have dramatic effects on conditions often considered refractory to contemporary treatment.’

He also believes that in addition to a clear and evolving therapeutic benefit, the safe ‘re-medicalisation’ of historically illicit drugs marks a positive shift towards policy reform after years of archaic and heavy-handed rulings dictated by governments across the globe.

‘It offers a chance to ‘catch up on the decades of lost opportunity of delving into the inner workings of the human mind, abandoned for so long as part of an ill-conceived, ideological war on drugs,’ Caldicott adds.

The decision hasn’t been without criticism, however.

This is due to fears that a lack of data on long-term outcomes could have harmful repercussions further down the line.

For this reason, many have cautiously welcomed the news, praising its progressiveness, but warning that advocates shouldn’t get ahead of themselves before the questions of accessibility, cost, and the effects of these treatments beyond the 12 month mark have been adequately addressed and answered.