Psychedelics Are Transforming The Future Of Mental Healthcare – Can It Do The Same For Personal Wellness?

by Matt Stang, Founder & CEO of DELIC

As we grapple with an unprecedented mental health crisis fueled by the ongoing pandemic, healthcare professionals are being met with untenable levels of demand – with studies reporting a 35% uptick in calls to mental health helplines around the world. In the U.S. alone, a CDC survey found that rates of depression, anxiety, increased substance use, stress-related symptoms and serious thoughts of suicide nearly doubled among adults compared to pre-pandemic levels. 

Recent headlines about high-profile figures addressing their mental health challenges have encouraged more everyday Americans to seek help. Unfortunately, lingering stigmas around openly discussing these topics and a general lack of access to affordable treatments with few side effects remain key barriers to alleviating this public health emergency.  

Over the past two years, the use of psychedelics to manage depression, anxiety and PTSD has steadily increased among Americans. This rise in patient demand is reflected in projections that the global psychedelics market will reach $6 billion by 2026. The FDA’s approval of Spravato, an esketamine nasal spray for treatment-resistant depression, in 2019 was a watershed moment for this movement, opening the door for more patients and practitioners to explore the application of psychedelic therapies. 

As researchers, medical professionals, investors and reporters increasingly embrace psychedelics for various treatment-resistant conditions, mental health specialists should also consider expanding the use of this new class of therapeutics to facilitate personal wellness. Recent studies are revisiting the holistic benefits of microdosing, which has historically been based on anecdotal evidence. If future research is able to substantiate the effectiveness of microdosing to improve mental cognition, creativity and general wellness, psychedelics could potentially transform the health and wellness industry and become a regular part of emotional health management, akin to yoga or meditation. 

Psychedelics are still viewed as a drug of last resort by clinicians

By the time patients pursue psychedelic therapy, either at a regulated ketamine or psilocybin clinic, most have already exhausted all conventional options and are in urgent need of care. Within Delic’s chain of ketamine clinics nationwide, we have administered over 60,000 treatments over the past six years to patients primarily experiencing severe mental distress due to acute depression, PTSD, suicidality, OCD and neuropathic pain. 

Ketamine has emerged as an especially approachable option since patients can be in and out of a clinic in two hours due to the compound’s relatively short half-life. While Ketamine was officially approved as an anesthetic in 1970 by the FDA, its legitimacy as a mental health treatment has soared since the regulators approved esketamine, making it more acceptable to cautious patients. 

Mainstream adoption of psychedelic medicine is encouraging for the future of mental healthcare, but we could see a future where these therapeutics are safely utilized in everyday situations –not only as a drug of last resort. Recent medical and regulatory support for this emerging medical field serves as a strong foundation to expand access to more legal and effective ways to improve personal wellness in individuals who may not be in the midst of a crisis but still wish to address specific mental health concerns.

Exploring psychedelics' broader mental and physical applications

Personal anecdotes about the mental and physical benefits of microdosing psychedelics have been part of the public discourse for decades, if not centuries. Unfortunately, the scientific community was unable to corroborate these claims for much of the 20th century. 

After the Controlled Substances Act passed in 1970, federal funding for psychedelic research came to a halt, terminating decades of promising studies. Over the next three decades, a combination of recreational psychedelic use and the founding of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) by Rick Doblin kept the applications of psychedelics in modern cultural and medical discussions. In the early 2000s, public and regulatory acceptance of medical cannabis ultimately prompted researchers to revisit other plant-based therapeutics that were once vilified during the War on Drugs.

Recent studies are picking up where many earlier psychedelics researchers left off and reporting favorable outcomes. A 2020 study involving over 120,000 subjects who microdosed psilocybin and LSD found that the two most commonly reported benefits of microdosing were improved mood and creativity. Additionally, a 2021 study reported that microdoses of ketamine and psilocybin improved task motivation, attentional accuracy, and impulsive action among poor performing rats. 

Psychedelics have also been reported to potentially improve mindfulness and interpersonal relationships among healthy individuals. While this subject has been researched since the 1950s, the most recent findings in 2017 reported that healthy subjects who were given LSD experienced significant increases in feelings such as a sense of oneness, personal wellbeing and trust.

As more artists and entrepreneurs candidly discuss how microdosing has aided their personal wellness and growth, it will only be a matter of time until the general public comes around. However, in order to provide safe and vetted options to mainstream patients, regulators and healthcare leaders must continue to invest in and advocate for comprehensive psychedelic research.

Additional research is integral to increased patient accessibility

While the FDA has demonstrated growing interest in the medical applications of psychedelics compared to other natural hallucinogens, researchers must identify more molecules to better understand optimal use cases. Psychedelics are a breakthrough treatment but they are certainly not for everyone –especially among individuals with contraindications like high blood pressure, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. More research in this field is necessary to ensure that patients at every stage of their mental health journey experience the maximum benefit from their psychedelic treatments.

At the same time, more states should follow Oregon’s footsteps by legalizing psychedelics like psilocybin and creating a regulatory body to ensure that compounds are manufactured and distributed at licensed facilities. Given the country’s ongoing mental health crisis, regulators are more accepting than ever of these new therapies. In September, the DEA even proposed a 4900% increase in the allowed quantities of psilocybin for research and clinical trial purposes.

Additional research and regulatory support will eventually lead to more FDA approvals, which would allow insurance companies to offset steep treatment costs, and thereby increase mainstream patient access. Now that medical professionals and lawmakers have acknowledged the potential therapeutic and wellness benefits of drugs like ketamine, psilocybin and LSD, it is their responsibility to ensure that informed adults who want to pursue this option can access it in a legal, safe and affordable manner. 

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