2023 Australian Psychedelic Retrospective

By Sam Young

 

In 2023, the world of psychedelic research and therapy witnessed a paradigm shift, marking an era where ancient wisdom and modern science converge. This year, Australia emerged as a leader in this transformative journey, redefining mental health treatment with world-first policy changes and pioneering clinical trials. PRISM would like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of all those professionals and vanguard organisations championing the cause for psychedelic-assisted therapies in Australia and internationally. Now let’s look back at the milestones achieved in 2023 and discuss how these developments not only challenge conventional medical perspectives but also offer new hope for those grappling with mental health conditions. Through this retrospective, we celebrate the progress, reflect on the lessons learned, and look ahead to a future where psychedelics are integral to healing and well-being.

TGA Rescheduling: A Progressive Step with Cautious Undertones

In a landmark decision during 2023, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) of Australia rescheduled MDMA and psilocybin, marking a progressive step towards integrating these psychedelic substances into psychiatric treatments. This rescheduling allowed authorised psychiatrists to prescribe MDMA for PTSD and psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression, signifying a major shift in the landscape of mental health treatment in Australia. This policy change was met with a spectrum of reactions within the medical community. On one hand, it was hailed as a forward-thinking move acknowledging the potential of these substances to provide relief where traditional treatments had fallen short. The decision was grounded in emerging evidence suggesting significant benefits of psychedelics when used alongside psychotherapy for various mental health conditions.

However, the rescheduling also raised important concerns and challenges. Many leading voices in the field suggested the rescheduling was premature and risked hampering the advancement and implementation of psychedelics into the medical model. One key issue was the adequacy of training for psychiatrists in administering these complex forms of psychedelic assisted psychotherapy. Psychedelic therapies, being profoundly different from conventional psychiatric treatments, demand a deep understanding and a new set of skills that many practitioners may not possess. 

Additionally, many healthcare professionals commented on the TGA’s lack of insight into the multidisciplinary nature of these treatments. Psychologists, counsellors, psychotherapists, social workers, general practitioners, nurses, and occupational therapists all expressed views that psychiatrists must not be the only professionals involved in these new treatments.  There was an emphasis on the need for substantial training, supervision by experienced professionals, and the establishment of collaborative care teams and infrastructure to aid in multidisciplinary approaches with psychedelic-assisted therapy.

Additionally, there were apprehensions about patient safety and the risk of exacerbating symptoms or increasing suicidality in certain individuals. The broader application of these treatments beyond the tightly controlled environment of clinical trials necessitates caution and transparency in patient selection and treatment protocols. Overall, the TGA’s rescheduling of MDMA and psilocybin opened new avenues for mental health treatment in Australia, while also highlighting the need for a cautious and well-informed approach in the application of psychedelic therapies.

MAPS IND Submission to the FDA: A Milestone in Psychedelic Medicine

2023 marked a significant milestone in the realm of psychedelic therapy with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) submitting an Investigational New Drug (IND) application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD. This submission represents a culmination of decades of rigorous research and clinical trials demonstrating the potential of MDMA to profoundly impact the treatment of PTSD, a condition often resistant to conventional therapies. The significance of this submission cannot be overstated. It not only reflects the growing acceptance of psychedelics within the scientific and medical communities but also paves the way for potential FDA approval. Such approval would be a historic turning point, legitimising MDMA-assisted therapy as a mainstream treatment option and setting a precedent for the future of psychedelic medicine.

The MAPS submission is grounded in extensive research, including positive outcomes from phase III clinical trials. These trials showcased MDMA’s ability to significantly reduce PTSD symptoms, offering hope to millions affected by this debilitating condition. The potential FDA approval of this therapy could revolutionise mental health care, providing an effective treatment alternative for those who have long struggled with traditional methods. This move by MAPS exemplifies the progressive shift in understanding and addressing mental health disorders and highlights the vital role of psychedelic research in exploring new therapeutic avenues. As we await the FDA’s decision, the anticipation within the scientific community and among mental health advocates underscores the profound impact this approval could have on the landscape of mental health treatment.

MAPS Conference in Denver: A Gathering of Minds and Ideas

The MAPS Conference in Denver, attended by a staggering 12,000 participants, was a testament to the surging interest and support in psychedelic research. Rick Doblin opened his welcoming speech with “Welcome to the Psychedelic 20s”, acknowledging the t(r)ipping of the cultural zeitgeist. This event, one of the largest of its kind, served as a hub for scientists, therapists, policymakers, and enthusiasts to exchange knowledge, share research findings, and discuss the future of psychedelic therapies. The conference highlighted various aspects of psychedelic science, from clinical trials and therapeutic practices to policy reform and cultural integration.

This convergence of diverse perspectives underscored the multidimensional nature of psychedelic research, emphasizing its implications beyond just the medical and scientific communities. Workshops, lectures, and discussions explored the potential of psychedelics to heal and transform lives, tackling topics like mental health, trauma recovery, and spiritual well-being. The Denver conference was not only a celebration of how far the field has come but also a rallying point for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in mainstreaming psychedelic therapies. Some of these points of contention included concerns for how hype could lead us astray, how we avoid Prozac nation 2.0, the opportunity to shift the conversation to decriminalisation, cultural appropriation, and the need to achieve equity in service provision.

The event symbolised a collective journey towards a more empathetic and holistic approach to mental health care, driven by a community united in its quest for understanding and healing.

Vale Dr Roland Griffiths: A Legacy of Psychedelic Exploration

The psychedelic community in 2023 mourned the loss of Dr Roland Griffiths, a towering figure in the field of psychedelic research. Dr Griffiths’ work was instrumental in the resurgence of scientific interest in psychedelics, particularly in the study of psilocybin. His research at Johns Hopkins University played a pivotal role in understanding the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, contributing significantly to the fields of psychology and neurosciences. His pioneering studies opened new avenues for treating various mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and addiction. Dr Griffiths’ legacy is not just in his research but also in his ability to bridge the gap between scientific inquiry and compassionate care. His work has left an indelible mark on the field, inspiring a new generation of researchers and practitioners in the realm of psychedelic therapy.

Completion of Australia’s First Psychedelic Clinical Trials

2023 was a landmark year for Australia in psychedelic research, marked by the completion of the country’s first three psychedelic clinical trials. These trials, conducted at St. Vincent’s, Swinburne University, and Monash University, focused on psilocybin-assisted therapy for various mental health conditions. At St. Vincent’s, the trial explored the use of psilocybin in treating end-of-life distress for terminally ill patients, offering insights into its potential to alleviate existential anxiety. Swinburne’s pilot study investigated the efficacy of psilocybin in treating major depressive disorder, contributing valuable data to the understanding of psychedelics in depression treatment. Monash University’s trial focused on Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), assessing psilocybin’s role in managing chronic anxiety.

The completion of these trials signifies a crucial step in the integration of psychedelic therapies into mental health care in Australia. The outcomes not only bolster the growing body of evidence supporting the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics but also pave the way for further research and potential wider application in clinical settings. These studies highlight Australia’s commitment to pioneering in this field and its role in shaping the global discourse on psychedelic medicine.

Australia at the Forefront: Leading the Psychedelic Renaissance

Australia has solidified its position as a frontrunner in the field of psychedelic therapy, both through progressive policy changes and significant strides in clinical research. The formation of the Australian Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Practitioners (AMAPP) and the Psychedelic Institute of Australia (PIA), and the Indigenous Psychedelic Assisted Therapies (IPAT) alongside the ongoing efforts of PRISM, underscores this leadership. These organisations are dedicated to fostering excellence in psychedelic research, creating robust regulatory frameworks, ensuring cultural sensitivity and inclusion, and developing comprehensive training programs for practitioners. Their collaborative work is pivotal in ensuring that Australia remains at the cutting edge of psychedelic medicine, driving innovations that could fundamentally transform mental health treatment globally. With these institutions at the helm, Australia is poised to continue leading the psychedelic renaissance, shaping the future of this promising therapeutic field.

A Psychedelic Future of Promise and Prudence

As we reflect on the advancements in psychedelic research and therapy in 2023, particularly in Australia, we see a future brimming with potential. The positive prospects of psychedelics in mental health treatment are clear, yet they come with a call for cautious optimism. It is imperative that Australians like you continue supporting organisations like PRISM which are pivotal in advancing this field. Strategic partnerships, regular financial support and tax-deductible donations ensure that PRISM will continue our journey towards integrating psychedelics into mainstream healthcare. As we move forward, their role in shaping a responsible and beneficial psychedelic future becomes ever more crucial for the greater good of society.

 

Sam Young has worked at PRISM for the past 2 years curating the organisations social media and newsletters. He has a passionate interest in psychedelic research and holds and Bachelor of Psychological Science (hons) and is currently studying a Master of Counselling and Psychotherapy degree.

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The re-emergence of psychedelic research places a crucial emphasis on a holistic approach to mental health from pharmacology, neurobiological process, ecological connection, and therapeutic support.  PRISM supports research and clinical development of therapies where current options provide limited relief.

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We are a DGR-1 non-profit research charity developing medical and legal processes for the application of psychedelic medicines for improved wellbeing.

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