After decades of criminalisation, Mdma, or ecstasy, and psilocybin, the substance contained in hallucinogenic mushrooms, may once again be used for therapeutic purposes in Australia. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (Tga) in Canberra surprisingly announced that from next July psychiatrists with a special authorisation will be able to prescribe Mdma for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and psilocybin for the treatment of depression resistant to other therapies.
Therapeutic Ecstasy in Australia
Australia thus becomes the first country in the world to authorise the medical use of two substances with a long history of clinical trials. Their prescription will, however, be restricted and their use outside the prescribed medical protocols will remain prohibited. Dr David Caldicott, professor of emergency medicine at the Australian National University, nevertheless spoke to the ‘Guardian’ of a ‘very welcome step away from what has been decades of demonisation’.
Ecstasy had been developed as an appetite suppressant in 1912 and in the 1970s began to find therapeutic applications in psychiatry, particularly in the US. However, the explosion of recreational use of Mdma in the 1980s led to its prohibition, which was sanctioned in Australia in 1987. As for ‘magic mushrooms’, in the ‘land down under’ it is far from difficult to find different varieties in the wild but their possession is illegal.
According to Caldicott, it has become ‘abundantly clear’ that a controlled supply of Mdma or psilocybin ‘can have remarkable effects on conditions often considered refractory to treatment. Moreover, the lecturer continues, ‘in addition to a clear and evolving therapeutic benefit, it also offers the possibility of recovering decades of lost opportunities to delve deeper into the inner workings of the human mind’, a path abandoned ‘for so long as part of an ideological and ill-conceived ‘war on drugs”.
In contrast, cognitive neuropsychologist Susan Rossell, of the Centre for Mental Health in Swinburne, approaches the decision with ‘a considerable degree of caution’ and argues that further research is needed. ‘We don’t have any data on the long-term results, so that’s very worrying to me, and that’s one of the reasons I’m extending my study so far,’ Rossell, who is responsible for the largest research ever carried out in Australia on the efficacy of psilocybin in the treatment of depression, told the British newspaper. Acknowledged by the Tga, who warned that ‘patients can be vulnerable during psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy’ and therefore ‘controls are needed to protect them’.