In this episode, we discuss new research into psychedelic drugs as potential therapies for psychiatric illness. Several studies have suggested that drugs, such as psilocybin, may be useful in treating problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction and depression. Psychiatry researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have been using a brain-imaging technique called precision functional mapping to learn how psilocybin affects certain networks in the brain.
Principal investigator Ginger Nicol, MD, an associate professor of child psychiatry, says scientists have suspected since the 1950s that there may be benefits from some psychedelic drugs, but because the drugs were classified as schedule one substances, researchers weren’t allowed to study them. Recently, that has changed and Nicol, with fellow psychiatry researcher Josh Siegel, MD, PhD, gave a lecture sponsored by Washington University’s Taylor Family Institute for Innovative Psychiatric Research, outlining some potential benefits of psychedelics in addressing hard-to-treat psychiatric problems.
Using high-tech brain scans, they have been able to see what happens in the brain when a person takes psychedelic drugs, and they’ve found that the drugs cause more rapid changes than other medications used in psychiatry. What they want to learn next is whether the responses they’ve observed in brain scans translate into similar responses in the clinic, which could lead to improved mental health. They are planning to participate in a phase 3 clinical trial using psilocybin to treat people with treatment-resistant depression.