Psychedelics: expanding the therapeutic toolkit

We should establish a commission to investigate these substances properly

December 07, 2022
© Alamy
© Alamy

After being frozen out for decades, psychedelics are enjoying a renaissance—with early research showing they could create a mental health revolution. For example, recent trials have shown that psilocybin—the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”—can treat clinical depression at least as well as traditional SSRI antidepressants, with far fewer side effects. 

Likewise, MDMA (also known as ecstasy or molly) has been shown to have dramatic potency in treating PTSD when combined with talking therapy—a finding so significant that it was hailed as one of Science magazine’s ten breakthroughs of 2021, sharing the stage with advances on Covid-19 and nuclear fusion. Such is the pace of discovery that new findings are arriving every month. 

The potential of psychedelics is so vast that the time has come for us to dislodge the political inertia

Set against the scale of the mental health challenge, it now looks like an important tool has been ignored and suppressed for no reason other than social stigma and politics. Psychedelics are remarkably safe. Although they are mind-altering and not free of risks, they’re non-addictive, and the potential for physical and social harm is far lower than for substances such as alcohol. 

The potential of psychedelics is, in fact, so vast that the time has come for us to dislodge the political inertia. Not only do psychedelics offer many people’s best hope for better mental health, but they give us a way to empirically study our brains and minds—likely unlocking deeper scientific discoveries.

In recognition of these early breakthroughs, we should establish a commission to investigate these substances properly, so that the work no longer has to be done in the margins of academia. Task the commission not with discussing legality, but simply with identifying if and how psychedelic medicine could be integrated into our healthcare system. It should also be given a budget to undertake necessary research to inform its findings. The early evidence we have is the first step—a crack in the door that the full weight of science needs to open. 

This article first appeared in Minister for the future, a special report produced in association with Nesta.