Psychedelic drugs should be used to treat depression, says pharmacologist

Drugs like LSD and psilocybin should be available everywhere, hears Web Summit

Psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin are hugely effective treatments for depression and PTSD and should be made available to people everywhere, a discussion at the Web Summit in Lisbon has heard.

“These psychedelics produce transformative effects on people with mental health disorders after a single, or a few dosing sessions,” Robert Barrow, chief executive of MindMed, a New York stock exchange listed biotech firm, told a talk titled ‘Therapy 2.0 – the next step in mental health’.

“One question we have is how will we deliver these therapies? Will it be an eight- or 10-hour trip – for lack or a better word – or treatment session?”

The challenge is to get psychedelic drugs approved for use, said Barrow, a clinical pharmacologist, and then to to deliver them, at scale, around the world.


The benefits from psychedelics, he says, can last months and there is enormous support among psychiatrists for their use. There have been few new mental health treatments in the past 20 or 30 years in psychiatry until the use of psychedelics, he added.

“This is an entirely new approach, which we have trialled in about 1,000 patients and seems to work well.”

MindMed has a phase two clinical trial for the use of psychedelics to treat anxiety disorders starting later this year, while a trial for their use to treat opioid addiction will begin next year.

“The vision is that one day when people go to their doctor with depression that instead of being prescribed Prozac or Zoloft they will be asked if they want to try LSD or psilocybin,” says Barrow.

Ekaterina Malievskaia, a UK-based doctor who founded Compass Pathways, a healthcare company researching how psilocybin could assist with treatment-resistant depression, said the company is focused on people who have not responded to other treatments.

“A number of companies are quite far along with psychedelics in phase two or phase three clinical trials,” she said during a discussion titled ‘are psychedelics about to go mainstream?’

“We hope people will come to medical centres for safety to see whether they are good candidates for treatment.”

Dr Lynne Marie Morski, president of the Psychedelic Medicine Association, which represents healthcare workers interested in the use of psychedelics in medicine, said a number of US cities had or planned to decriminalise the use of psychedelics.

Dr Morski said there was a need to educate doctors and patients around the world on the potential benefits of hallucinogens as otherwise doctors would keep handing out anti-depression and anti-anxiety drugs to patients.

There is no need to engage in a campaign to get support behind psychedelics, says Dr Malievskaia, because the results seen through the clinical trials are the best promotion possible.

Dr Morksi says that the health authorities in the US have fast-tracked psilocybin and MDMA for the treatment of mental disorders, as they believe in them. However, psychiatrists remain cautious about the use of psychedelics for treating mental disorders.

Brendan Kelly, Professor of Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin, said: “There is evidence to suggest that psychedelics merit further evaluation but there is insufficient evidence to introduce them into clinical practice.

“Positive transformative experiences are reported, but there is also potential for bad trips, misuse and engendering false hope.”

“It is important that psychedelics are studied, but we should not mistake enthusiasm for evidence,” he said.