dot.LA Summit: As Attitudes Shift Around Drugs and Mental Health, ‘It’s Time’ for Psychedelic Therapies

Keerthi Vedantam

Keerthi Vedantam is a bioscience reporter at dot.LA. She cut her teeth covering everything from cloud computing to 5G in San Francisco and Seattle. Before she covered tech, Keerthi reported on tribal lands and congressional policy in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter, Clubhouse (@keerthivedantam) or Signal at 408-470-0776.

dot.LA Summit: As Attitudes Shift Around Drugs and Mental Health, ‘It’s Time’ for Psychedelic Therapies

Fifty years after President Nixon announced the war on drugs, changing cultural attitudes around psychedelics have led to a slew of decriminalization and legalization efforts across the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration is now reviewing psychedelic-based drug, a sea change from just a few years ago.

Mike Dow from Field Trip Health, one of the many companies testing psychedelic-based drugs, and cannabis company Kurvana CEO Mehran Moghaddam believe that this shift will change the course of mental health treatment as the drugs become more accepted for medicinal use.

Canada-based Field Trip Health has clinics around the world, including Santa Monica, where therapists perform ketamine-assisted psychotherapy. Ketamine, once known as a rave drug, has long been studied for its correlation with positive mental health outcomes in patients who use it.

"There's such a mental health crisis and the available treatments that we have just are not effective for a big percentage of the population," said Dr. Mike Dow, a psychotherapist at Field Trip Health who finds promising the properties in psychedelics to address mental health problems

Oregon is the first state to narrowly pass a law that would allow people to use psilocybin (colloquially known as magic mushrooms) for psychotherapy, following a slew of research that shows psilocybin to be a promising treatment for mental health disorders like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Many believe it has the potential to replace common depression drugs known as SSRIs.

The research has opened the door to legalization of the drug for psychiatric use. The FDA is now reviewing several drug candidates based on psychedelics. And investors have sunk over $700 million into the space in 2021 alone, according to Pitchbook.

Still, Moghaddam said, it's unlikely you will soon be able to pick up psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA at a store, like you can marijuana in many states.

Moghaddam founded the cannabis company Kurvana in 2014. He worked closely with regulators to understand the framework through which cannabis can be consumed safely by more people.

He said for psychedelics to be decriminalized it would take a shift in political will. The Drug Enforcement Administration considers these drugs narcotics and it would take federal legislation for that to change.

But it is decriminalized in some pockets of the country. In 2019, Denver became the first U.S. city to decriminalize the use of psilocybin mushrooms and several others have followed. Oregon voters approved a magic mushroom decriminalization legislation last year. But legislative effort to reduce criminalization for a range of psychedelics in California has sputtered and there are no lawmakers in D.C. pushing legalization.

"It takes time for the laws to unfold and for things to be available. Obviously, those things still need to be approved and they're pending," said Moghaddam, who has worked closely with cannabis regulators. "But we're hopeful in that sense that in a few years, the way you see hundreds of ketamine clinics popping up, potentially MDMA will be in those clinics not too long from now."

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