Psychedelic drugs for treating depression can no longer be ignored, we are informed in a recent opinion piece by leading psychedelic drug researcher Robin Carhart-Harris. In fact, not since the advent of SSRI antidepressants has a new treatment modality for this massively prevalent and devastating condition generated such hope.
As pioneers in the field, MAPS and Compass Pathways are bringing psychedelic drugs (MDMA and psilocybin, respectively) for intractable mental health conditions ever closer to the regulatory finish-line. A major factor behind their success in enlisting the FDA’s cooperation is that, when administered appropriately, psychedelic drugs are not only highly effective, but also notably safe.
Unlike traditional antidepressants, which are taken indefinitely, have serious side-effects, and can be difficult to withdraw from, the psychedelic drug protocol typically achieves treatment goals through a finite number of treatments. For older adults, who are already the greatest consumers of pharmaceutical drugs, a therapy for depression that doesn’t further stuff their bulging pillboxes is excellent news.
Depression in older age can be exacerbated by social isolation, failing health, grief and a diagnosis of terminal illness. It is also a common complication of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, where traditional antidepressants are largely ineffective.
While psychedelic drugs appear poised to live up to their promise as a breakthrough therapy, there are risks associated with using this class of drugs, and older adults may be particularly sensitive to them.
Some may not have the stamina for an hours-long “trip”. Also, certain drugs, including psilocybin, activate a specific receptor in the brain that is associated with serious, and even fatal, heart damage.
Published: June 15, 2020
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