NBC News: Better Antidepressants and Anti-anxiety Drugs

Psychedelic Therapy

NBC News just ran a story about psilocybin and other so-called “psychedelic” drugs.  (From the chemical perspective, these molecules target the neurotransmitter serotonin, just like all of the best selling pharmaceutical antidepressants and anxiolytics.)

Could a natural product like psilocybin revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry?

A Replacement for Pharmaceutical Products?

Here is the interesting insight from Joseph Bennington-Castro at NBC:

People with mood disorders, including those who are unresponsive to conventional therapies, might be able to ditch their antidepressants and antianxiety medications. Those with terminal illness could enjoy their remaining days without the fear of death looming over them, while people with PTSD could return to a normal life unobstructed by paralyzing flashbacks. And rehab centers for substance use and eating disorders could empty out as more people turn to psychedelics.

Wow. On the one hand, this statement seems like an exciting source of hope for many people suffering from depression and anxiety.  On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder how the pharmaceutical industry feels about this possibility.  After all, psilocybin is a naturally occurring molecule — not the product of pharmaceutical innovation.  How could this affect the $15 Billion per year market for pharmaceutical antidepressants?

How Will Pharma Respond?

The pharmaceutical industry’s sentiments can be found by reading between the lines elsewhere in the article.  In summarizing the history of research in this area, the author notes that psilocybin research “stalled in the early 1970s … because psychedelics had developed a reputation as dangerous recreational drugs and had been reclassified by the federal government as “drugs of abuse” with no medical value.”  I think that explains what happened to 50 years of research in this area.

What Have We Learned Since 1970?

Despite being “stalled” in the past,  research in this area appears to have gained new momentum.

“If the drugs prove to be as safe and effective as recent research suggests, we may be on the brink of what some are calling a revolution in mental health care.”

In addition to treating depression, the author notes that psilocybin treatment shows tremendous promise for treating eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and major depression — including cases that don’t respond to conventional antidepressants.