Right now, millions of people are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) worldwide. Up to 10% of the population of the US will suffer from PTSD in their lifetime 1. PTSD can develop after any kind of trauma, most commonly sexual assault or combat experience. People with PTSD may find it hard to function normally, re-experiencing their trauma in frequent waking nightmares. It can lead to depression, drug abuse, and even suicide in many cases.
PTSD is a real struggle for healthcare professionals to treat, with various therapeutic and drug-based approaches having limited benefit. Many PTSD patients are resistant to commonly used therapies, and may develop a chronic form of the disorder 1.
The stimulant drug Ecstasy, or MDMA, is most commonly known for its use as a party drug. But MDMA was originally used as a tool for psychotherapy in the 70s and 80s. Psychotherapists used MDMA to induce an easily controllable emotional state that enhanced communication with their patients 2. Use of MDMA in psychotherapy became a well-kept secret, with therapists constantly in fear that their miracle drug would be taken away by the DEA. Very little was published on MDMA around this time, but private correspondence was circulated around psychotherapists for years, hailing this new unique therapy drug.
Salvia divinorum is a unique psychoactive plant that has been used in religious ceremonies for centuries. But could its use go beyond the spiritual? Salvia has also been used traditionally as a painkiller at low doses, and recent research suggests that Salvinorin A, the main psychoactive compound in Salvia, may be the key to developing a non-addictive painkiller. Could this mystical plant really have medical potential?
Salvia has been used in religious ceremonies for centuries in Mesoamerican culture
A common issue with modern painkillers is that they are often very addictive. Many effective painkillers, such as morphine or codeine, can lead to addiction with improper use. In America, more people die from prescription drug abuse than heroin. An ideal painkiller would relieve pain without causing addiction; this is where Salvia may come in useful.
Psychedelics have huge potential to benefit society in a number of ways – but perhaps the most immediate is the treatment of suffering. From psilocybin as a salve for end-of-life anxiety in cancer patients 1, to LSD as a potential treatment of alcoholism 2, psychedelics are increasingly showing their medical value. Recently, a group of investigators from UCL headed by Dr Robin Carhart-Harris and Professor David Nutt, have released a handful of studies investigating psychedelics, supported by the pioneering Beckley Foundation. All together, these studies support the idea that classic psychedelic drugs like psilocybin and LSD could lead to new treatments for depression.
Authors of the studies, Dr Carhart-Harris (left) and Professor Nutt (middle) with Beckley Foundation creator Amanda Fielding (right). Picture: Beckley Foundation.