New research is exploring whether psychedelic drugs, taken under strict medical supervision, might help in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. SciLine interviewed Dr. Jennifer Mitchell—a professor in the Departments of Neurology and Psychiatry & Behavioral Science in the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco—to discuss what scientists have found so far about the effectiveness of these drugs in treating these disorders and how they might safely be administered.
The Conversation has collaborated with SciLine to bring you highlights from the discussion, which have been edited for brevity and clarity.
What are psychedelic drugs and how do they work?
Jennifer Mitchell: Psychedelic basically means “mind manifesting,” suggesting that the compound assists one in uncovering subject matter that perhaps is otherwise deeply hidden from the conscious mind.
It’s a slightly different term from hallucinogen, which you see used almost interchangeably at times with the term psychedelic.
A hallucinogen by definition is something that makes you see, hear, smell something that isn’t otherwise there, so you can imagine there’s a lot of overlap between psychedelics and hallucinogens.
Which types of psychedelic drugs are being studied by researchers for potential therapeutic use?
Jennifer Mitchell: The two most well studied drugs at this point are MDMA and psilocybin.
MDMA is the furthest along because there’s phase 3 data (data from late-stage research) and the possibility that a new drug application would be submitted to the FDA sometime later this year.
LSD is also being evaluated for a number of different indications, most notably obsessive-compulsive disorder.