Scientists are always looking for new ways of treating mental illness. Indeed, it was only recently that we learned of new research undertaken by 34-year-old neuroscientist Rebecca Brachman. Brachman has been busy developing a new treatment that builds a kind of mental robustness, which will allow individuals to subject themselves to harrowing events without having to relive the trauma afterwords.Brachman found that ketamine – a drug that has long been touted as a potential treatment for depression – rendered laboratory mice seemingly impervious to conditions that would usually cause symptoms of anxiety or disturbance relating to the circumstances in which they had been placed.Now, it appears that the scope of psychedelic drugs’ potential as a treatment for mental illness is expanding further still, after new information presented at the Psychedelic Science conference held last week in California suggested that psychedelics could be useful as a remedy for several mental illnesses.It is thought that drugs like MDMA could be used to treat disorders such as PTSD, depression and anxiety; an FDA-approved trial will aim to ascertain the potential of such methods later this year.
Elena Argento is a researcher at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDs; she thinks that such methods could have a profound effect on the likely risk of suicide among at risk groups like female sex workers. Argento’s hypothesis is built around her observations during a four year study of sex workers’ access to health care services.Participants in the study – which included 800 sex workers based in Vancouver – were quizzed on their mental health and drug use. Some were discounted from the research if they had admitted to suicidal tendencies during their first interview, as the study aimed to measure the potential that psychedelic drugs held in affecting new periods of suicidal feeling.Argento’s findings were significant; she concluded that of those observed, sex workers who had admitted to taking a psychedelic substance at any time in their life were associated with a lessened suicidal risk of 60%. It was also noted, though, that crystal meth and childhood abuse were a considerable factor in creating suicidal tendencies in later life. While previous studies have also pointed toward LSD’s provable success as a treatment for depression and anxiety, Argento’s study was not orchestrated under laboratory conditions.Taking into account Argento’s findings, which she will hope can be corroborated in trials that are to be conducted later this year, as well as Brachman’s research into ketamine’s effectiveness as a prevention for PTSD and related illnesses, it seems that science has markedly shifted toward the use of drugs that are thought of as traditionally harmful as potential treatments for mental illness.For Argento, the next phase of her research could include a closer look into whether the type of drug used, or the frequency with which it is used, would impact an individual’s state of mind differently. Here’s hoping that these pioneering women can continue to break new ground in their pursuit of amazing new preemptive solutions for mental illness. If you want to read about Brachman’s research into ketamine as prevention for PTSD, click here.