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‘Magic mushroom trial’ for terminally ill patients could help improve Australians’ mental illness

A controversial ‘magic mushroom trial’ for terminally ill patients to remove their fear of dying could help improve other Australians’ mental illness.

The psychedelic drug trial, which is due to commence at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne in April, is designed to ease fear and anxiety in terminally ill patients.

But according to charity Mind Medicine Australia, the ground-breaking treatment may also pave the way to better mental health treatments for other Australians. 

A controversial 'magic mushroom trial' for terminally ill patients to remove their fear of dying could help improve other Australians' mental illness

A controversial ‘magic mushroom trial’ for terminally ill patients to remove their fear of dying could help improve other Australians’ mental illness

Almost one in two Australians will be affected by mental illness in their lifetime, and as MMA Chair Peter Hunt told 9News, psychedelic medicines may ease the burden.

Similar trials of magic mushrooms – otherwise know as psylocibin – in the UK have shown remarkable results for patients with treatment-resistant forms of depression.

Head of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, Professor David Nutt, told the publication while it’s not a cure, the treatment is ‘transformational’.  

‘No other treatment has given people with a resistant depression a kind of effective remission for months,’ he said.

Mr Nutt, who has been at the forefront of psychedelic therapy research, said he found that everyone got a bit better with some even meeting the criteria for a ‘cure’.

Mr Hunt and his wife Tania De Jong will tomorrow officially launch MMA, which is helping to fund the psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy trial at St Vincent’s. 

He said with the rate of suicide in Australia steadily rising over the past decade, trials such as this are necessary to develop better treatments to alleviate suffering.  

‘Mental illness affects all levels of society but the benefit is for people that are wealthier, they have greater access to treatment,’ Mr Hunt said.    

He said one of the biggest challenges for those who are advocating for the treatment is to overcome the stigma around the use of psychedelic drugs.

A popular misconception in the community is that people who are on psychedelic therapy are essentially recreational drug taking, he said.

Mr Hunt (pictured left) and his wife Tania De Jong (pictured right) will tomorrow officially launch MMA, which is helping to fund the psychedelic medication trial at St Vincent’s

According to charity Mind Medicine Australia, the ground-breaking treatment may also pave the way to better mental health treatments for other Australians

According to charity Mind Medicine Australia, the ground-breaking treatment may also pave the way to better mental health treatments for other Australians

Co-lead investigator on the trial, Martin Williams, said in order to qualify for the program, patients must have a life-threatening illness, with depression and anxiety. 

The experience itself with involve a single dose of psylocibin, which is given is the form of a capsule and usually takes about half an hour to take effect. 

Professor Williams said distinct visuals are part of the treatment, which can last up to eight hours, but generally settle down to a more introspective experience.

Despite any ideas the general public might have about the therapy being akin to recreational drug use, Professor Williams said this is simply not true.   

‘This is very heavy-duty psychotherapy, this is not entertainment. It changes the way you view yourself and your relationship with your life,’ he said.    

Clinicians involved in the upcoming trial previously said it has taken more than a year to get the green light from state and federal authorities. 

St Vincent’s clinical psychologist Dr Margaret Ross (sitting) and director of palliative medicine Associate Professor Mark Boughey (right) believe the breakthrough trial will help palliative care patients like Liz (left)

St Vincent’s clinical psychologist Dr Margaret Ross (sitting) and director of palliative medicine Associate Professor Mark Boughey (right) believe the breakthrough trial will help palliative care patients like Liz (left)

A similar New York trial found that an overwhelming 87 per cent of participants reported better life satisfaction after being treated with the psychedelic compound, while 70 per cent said it helped them overcome depression.

‘The way people have described it as is being enriching, beneficial and quite powerful physically,’ St Vincent’s clinical psychologist Dr Margaret Ross told reporters.

Director of palliative medicine Associate Professor Mark Boughey added: ‘It allows them to have a  heightened awareness of the situations, to allow them to feel relaxed. It’s about finding a new perspective on old problems.’

Psilocybin, the psychedelic compound from in magic mushrooms (stock image) will be given to palliative care patients to ease their fear of dying

Psilocybin, the psychedelic compound from in magic mushrooms (stock image) will be given to palliative care patients to ease their fear of dying

Thirty patients will participate when St Vincent’s Hospital begins the three year, privately funded trial.

Applicants must have a state government permit to participate in the trial and will be closely monitored by clinicians on the ‘dose day’.

Clinicians hope the trial will be expanded across Australia if successful at St Vincent’s Hospital. 

Palliative Care Australia welcomed the breakthrough trial. 

The three year, privately funded trial will take place at St Vincent's Hospital from April

The three year, privately funded trial will take place at St Vincent’s Hospital from April

‘This can be triggered by concerns and fears about how they will die, how their families and loved ones will cope as well as existential or spiritual concerns,’ a spokeswoman told Nine News. 

Clinicians understand not everyone will be so supportive.

‘This could potentially help so many people, but it needs more research, and we need to understand the exact mechanisms of how psilocybin helps people and how we can optimise treatment,’ Dr Ross told the Herald Sun.

Professor Mark Boughey added: ‘There will be some degree of backlash because everyone will assume this is just about magic mushrooms. But if you look at the studies … it has minimal … serious adverse effects … it has great potential.’

St Vincent's Hospital clinicians have high hopes the revolutionary trial will make a difference to terminally ill patients (stock image)

St Vincent’s Hospital clinicians have high hopes the revolutionary trial will make a difference to terminally ill patients (stock image)

 

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