(WTNH) – When it comes to mental illness, psychedelic drugs may not be what comes to mind as a treatment option.
But now, Connecticut researchers are leading the nation toward a day when Psilocybin, also known as magic mushrooms, will help people overcome depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Psychedelic drugs are nothing new. They have been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The 1960s and 70s may come to mind. It was a time of experimentation and social change. Growing fears and stigma soon followed, then the War on Drugs stopped their recreational use when LSD was outlawed in 1968.
Decades later, a significant shift is happening. Psychedelic drugs are re-emerging in a much different way, with a new generation of scientists bringing hope and promising research. A new state law opens the door for expanded psychedelic therapy.
“I’ve become convinced these drugs really are able to help people,” said Dr. Chris Pittenger.
Dr. Chris Pittenger, a Psychiatry Professor at Yale and the director of Psychedelic Science, explains how magic mushrooms rewire the brains of people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder and severe depression.
“We’ve seen people who have improved and who have stayed improved for an extended period of time,” he explained.
A single dose of synthetic psilocybin is being used in studies right here in Connecticut and it’s showing remarkable results. The creator of the study, Dr. Benjamin Kelmendi, admits that he never looked at psychedelics in this way and it was curiosity that changed the course of his career.
“If someone had told me in 2015 that this is what I would be doing, I would not have believed them,” Dr. Kelmendi said.
He developed the very first placebo-controlled randomized study in the country looking at the effects of psilocybin in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
“Even after the first anecdotal report, I was still in disbelief,” Dr. Kelmendi said. “It was hard for me to imagine that a single dose of psilocybin can have such a profound effect.”
Since 2018, about 40 patients with OCD and depression have taken part in the groundbreaking study. After passing a series of screenings, patients are prepped for a single dosing session.
“We prepare patients for what could happen during the dosing session,” Dr. Kelmendi said. “What to expect if things become difficult.”
He created a space to make patients feel relaxed and comfortable with soothing décor, lighting, and music.
“The dosing session typically starts [at] 8 or 9 in the morning, and it can go until 4 or 5 in the afternoon,” Dr. Kelmendi said.
Dr. Kelmendi says the effects are not immediate and take time.
“Typically, patients after 24 hours of dosing, most patients that is, experience elevated mood, lower anxiety,” he said.
In the days and weeks following treatment, he says OCD patients describe an improved quality of life with less focus on intrusive thoughts.
“After we ran several patients, I began to see that there is actually a clear signal here,” Dr. Kelmendi said. “That these compounds can potentially be a new treatment in psychiatry.”
Dr. Kelmendi’s breakthrough findings led to the state passing a law in the spring, allowing certain patients to use psilocybin or MDMA, also known as ecstasy, as part of treatment.
“Connecticut is the first state in the nation that has actually passed a bill through bipartisan support to support a pilot program to use psychedelic-assisted therapy for patients with severe debilitating mental health conditions,” Dr. Kelmendi said.
The law was written in anticipation of the FDA legalizing psychedelic drugs.
“This is a major milestone in getting close to providing this treatment to patients who otherwise run out of options,” Dr. Kelmendi said.
If you would like to sign up for psychedelic research trials at Yale, click here.