Depression – the 21st Century Condition Driving Psychedelic Research

By Brett Hilton-Barber and Psychedelic Spotlight.


 

Let’s face it. There’s a lot to be depressed about. Slightly less so now that Donald Trump has been removed from Twitter and the White House, but the overall post-pandemic landscape is bleak. 

Covid-19 has seriously shaken the foundation of human psychology across the world, cutting through culture and class. Helplessness, uncertainty, anxiety and material loss became an international language in 2020, pushing all relationships beyond their previous comfort zones. 

 

Psychedelics are the new medical frontier

 

Pscychedelia to treat the Global Blues

And as the magnitude of the pandemic has taken root in the human psyche, so too has depression. The feeling of having no agency in a hostile world, of anger turned inward. This is where psilocybin comes in.   Global depression has been the main driver of psylocybin medical research and it is becoming big business.

 

See psychedelic trends for 2021.

 

Depression is one of the most common chronic neurological conditions in modern society. It is estimated that over 250 million people, across all age groups, suffer from some form of depression, worldwide. Moreover, this condition along with other mental health disorders are estimated to be responsible for productivity associated losses worth over USD 1 trillion, every year, at the global level. In fact, the US reported a sharp increase (~20%) in the number of prescriptions for antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs during the global lockdown enforced to curb the spread of COVID-19.

According to the World Health Organization, the major roadblocks to effective treatment for depression and other mental illnesses include the lack of understanding of the aforementioned conditions resulting in an irrational social stigma, inaccurate diagnosis, and paucity of effective medication. In this context, it is worth highlighting that there is a growing body of clinical evidence supporting the therapeutic effect of psychedelic substances on psychiatric conditions, such as depressions.

 

Neurotransmitter pathways the road to psychic health

Experts in this field also believe that psychedelics, at appropriate doses, can be used to address some of the serious psychological implications of the current pandemic.

Over time, it have been demonstrated that psychedelic substances interact with a variety of neurotransmitter pathways, including those of 

  • serotonin, 
  • acetylcholine, 
  • norepinephrine, and 
  • dopamine, among several others. 

In fact, there is evidence that an imbalance in the levels of serotonin in the brain, causes depression. Similarly, the aforementioned biomolecules have been associated with a plethora of neurological conditions.

As a result, biocompatible molecules having the ability to modulate neurotransmitter production/function, have the potential to be put to therapeutic use. Early in the 21st Century, XYREM, a gamma-hydroxybutyric acid based psychedelic drug was approved for the treatment of cataplexy in patients suffering from narcolepsy.

 

Microdosing psychedelics as a new approach to treating depression

 

In 2019, SPRAVATO (an analogue of ketamine), developed by Johnson and Johnson, was approved for use in patients suffering from treatment-resistant depression. Recently, the US FDA granted the breakthrough drug designation to 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) and psilocybin, based on clinical evidence of these substances being capable of offering substantial therapeutic benefit in treating major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and treatment resistant depression over other available therapies.

Currently, several stakeholders in the pharmaceutical industry are actively evaluating the therapeutic potential of psychedelic substances against a wide array of mental health problems. As more players achieve proof-of-concept, this niche market is anticipated to witness substantial growth in the mid-long term.

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