October 31

Psilocybin assisted therapy

Therapies

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What is Psilocybin? 

Psilocybin is a psychedelic compound that’s naturally occurring in over 200 kinds of fungus. When in the body, psilocybin is quickly metabolized into a compound known as psilocin, which reacts with serotonin receptors to produce mind-altering effects like those seen in DMT, mescaline, LSD, and other similar compounds. Generally speaking, the effects associated with psilocybin include numinous experiences, time distortion, altered perception, mental and visual hallucinations, and euphoria. 

Prehistoric rock paintings suggest that humans have been experimenting with psilocybin even before recorded history. Despite its prevalent use in some ancient cultures to produce spiritual experiences, this psychedelic is tightly controlled and illegal in many countries, including the United States, today. It’s strictly prohibited for anyone to have psilocybin and possession is punishable by prison time or fines in the United States. While some cities across the US have voted to decriminalize psilocybin, it does not mean that it is legal to take, carry or sell psilocybin. However, some clinical trials have been granted a special exemption to study the efficacy of psilocybin-assisted therapy for mental health conditions, substance abuse and pain management. The FDA granted Breakthrough Therapy Designation to COMPASS Pathways for Psilocybin for Treatment-Resistant Depression and Usona Institute for Psilocybin for Major Depressive Disorder. 

What is Psilocybin-assisted therapy

Psilocybin therapy is a combination of traditional therapy sessions alongside psilocybin administered sessions. While still in the process of gaining approval, these therapy sessions are designed to take potential medical advantages of psilocybin in order to help make more traditional therapy strategies more effective. 

Due to the strict legal limits surrounding this drug, along with a lack of full scientific understanding, psilocybin therapy isn’t publicly available. As of now, it’s only provided as part of clinical trials. However, as long as everything goes well with the FDA approval process, psilocybin therapy might be available to treat Treatment-Resistant Depression and Major Depressive Disorder as early as 2022. 

What are the current clinical trials for psilocybin therapy

Psilocybin-assisted therapy, as it’s now set up in clinical trials, “combines the pharmacological effects of psilocybin…with psychological support.” COMPASS Pathways, a UK-based life sciences company that develops treatments and programs for clinical research, has developed COMP-360, which is a synthesized formulation of the psychedelic compound. They’re currently undergoing clinical trials for psilocybin therapy to investigate its efficacy in helping treatment-resistant depression. 

Some of the earliest studies with psilocybin therapy in some of the preeminent academic centers have shown signs that this substance could be an effective and safe medicine for those suffering from addiction, anxiety, depression, and various other mental issues when it was administered alongside professional psychological support on behalf of a highly-trained specialist. However, it’s important to note that significant research still needs to be conducted before any surefire statements can be made about this treatment’s efficacy. 

What conditions are Psilocybin used to treat? 

  • Psilocybin for Treatment-Resistant Depression: COMPASS Pathways received the highly-esteemed designation of FDA Breakthrough Therapy for their psilocybin-therapy for treatment-resistant depression (TRD) IN 2018. Clinical trials are being conducted to test the efficacy and safety of psilocybin-therapy and to determine proper dosing.
  • Psilocybin for Major Depressive Disorder: The Usona Institute is leading the exploration of psilocybin’s therapeutic potential for treating major depressive disorder (MDD).
  • Psilocybin for PTSD
  • Psilocybin for Anxiety
  • Psilocybin for OCD
  • Psilocybin for substance abuse
  • Psilocybin for opioid addiction
  • Psilocybin for expansion of consciousness

What do experts say about using Psilocybin to treat mental health conditions? 

“At this point, the data suggest that the potential therapeutic benefits of psilocybin therapy are real, and of potential medical and public health significance.” – Matthew W. Johnson, Roland R. Griffiths, Peter S. Hendricks, & Jack E. Henningfield

“This is the largest controlled study of psilocybin to date. The results of the study are clinically reassuring and support further development of psilocybin as a treatment for patients with mental health problems that haven’t improved with conventional therapy, such as treatment-resistant depression.” – James Rucker NIHR Clinician Scientist

“Nearly one in fifteen people in the US experiences an episode of major depression each year*, significantly lowering their ability to function at work, to enjoy life, and to live out their full life potential. At Usona, our goal is to contribute to well-being by demonstrating the safety and efficacy of psilocybin as a treatment for depression. This goal fuels us to carry out research of the highest standard, with an aim toward FDA approval for a treatment that could change lives.” — Malynn Utzinger MD, Co-Founder & Director of  Integrative Medicine

What are the risks of Psilocybin and Psilocybin therapy

The use of psilocybin is most closely associated with psychological risks rather than physical. In fact, psilocybin mushrooms are generally considered to be less toxic than many other drugs in circulation. While studies with animals have determined lethal doses, cases of the same happening to humans are “extremely rare.” 

Some potential negative side effects of psilocybin use include: 

  • Panic attacks 
  • Paranoia 
  • Anxiety 
  • Mood swings 
  • Numbing 
  • Tremors 

It’s important to note that most of these side effects have been associated with psilocybin recreational use. The side effects associated with psilocybin therapy in a medical setting will require more research. 

What happens during Psilocybin therapy sessions? 

It’s tough to offer a clear outline of what occurs in a psilocybin therapy session due to the dearth of studies being conducted. However, we do have information from the clinical trials that have been conducted. 

How long is a typical session? 

A typical session lasts around eight hours. However, therapists and researchers have often opted to leave a significant amount of time in between each session. 

What does the entire treatment plan or “protocol” look like? 

The clinical trials have often started out with therapists talking with patients in order to build trust and a sense of calm before any drugs are administered. Some standard medical preparation might include the completion of a medical history questionnaire as well as offering some key information about the drug itself. When the time comes, the patient will receive a pre-prescribed and controlled dose of the substance. While experiencing the effects of the drug, the patient will talk to the therapist about what they’re feeling.

What will I feel during the Psilocybin therapy session? 

With only a few clinical trials having been conducted, it’s tough to say for certain what patients will feel during a psilocybin-assisted therapy session. However, there is some reporting with regard to specific cases. For example, a MAPS study testing the efficacy and safety of psilocybin-assisted therapy in managing anxiety reported that the therapy was expected to produce feelings of depersonalization and derealization along with some rapid changes in mood and visual perception. 

How much does Psilocybin therapy cost? 

Because psilocybin-assisted therapy is still undergoing clinical trials, the exact cost of this treatment isn’t known. If approved by the FDA, it’s safe to assume that it will cost significantly more than traditional treatments. Even after it’s approved, it will take a considerable amount of time before it’s widely available. This gives the first established psilocybin clinics the ability to charge more. 

Am I eligible for insurance coverage? 

The infancy of research into psilocybin therapy makes it difficult to say if this treatment will be eligible for insurance coverage for PTSD. Of course, psilocybin therapy will first have to be approved by the FDA before insurance companies can offer coverage. 

Does Psilocybin therapy intervene with my current treatment plan? 

Currently, there’s simply not enough information out regarding psilocybin-assisted therapy to answer this question accurately. It’s always advisable to talk with your primary care physician when undergoing new treatments, especially when you’re already receiving other treatments. 

What to look for in a good Psilocybin clinic? 

Since psilocybin therapy is still undergoing clinical trials, there are no official psilocybin clinics. However, it’s not bad to start thinking about what you would look for in a clinic if this treatment were to become available. You should keep an eye out for the following characteristics: 

Expertise: Psilocybin therapy is still a new area of study. If it ever becomes an approved treatment for public use, it’s critical to find a psilocybin clinic with extensive expertise in the area. 

Credentials: Before undergoing any treatment, it’s paramount to ensure the clinic you choose has the proper credentials. If the FDA approves psilocybin therapy, there will most likely be very strict requirements for psilocybin clinics to follow. You should ensure all proper legal and professional measures are taken by a clinic before using them for treatment. 

I am ready to take the next step, what do I do? 

Fill out the interest form to be notified when Psilocybin-assisted therapy will become available. 

Please refer to our in-depth article about Psilocybin therapy for more information

Disclaimer: This website does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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About the author 

Karen Tunnell

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