Scientists suggest clinical potential for psychedelic drugs

Psychedelic drugs such as LSD, ketamine or magic mushrooms could help treat people suffering from psychiatric disorders, Swiss scientists say.

Psychedelic drugs such as LSD, ketamine or magic mushrooms could help treat people suffering from depression, compulsive disorders or chronic pain.

Mind-altering recreational drugs have always gotten a bad rap, but new research indicates that they could be combined with psychotherapy for clinical use.

Swiss researchers conducting brain imaging studies at the University of Zurich found that psychedelics such as LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), ketamine and psilocybin -- the "magic" part of "magic mushrooms" -- affect the brain in such as a way that they could help reduce symptoms of psychiatric disorders.

Yes, you read that right: mind-altering drugs can help patients alter their perception of pain levels.

Far out, dude.

Key is the involvement of behavioral therapists or psychotherapists, which scientists say can help patients deep-dive into, say, suppressed memories. (Psychedelics have a wide range of effects, from freeing bliss to anxious paranoia.)

Researchers Franz Vollenweider and Michael Kometer of the university's neuropsychopharmacology and brain imaging unit said that the drugs affect the brain's neurotransmitter systems, which have been found to be different in people with clinical depression and anxiety.

But doses of psychedelics must be low and given in combination with therapy sessions to be effective, they said. They must only be given over a short time period, they said, and are best for patients who fail to respond to drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, on the market as Prozac or Paxil.

"These are serious, debilitating, life-shortening illnesses," the researchers wrote, "and as the currently available treatments have high failure rates, psychedelics might offer alternative treatment strategies that could improve the well-being of patients and the associated economic burden on patients and society."

Their research was published the journal Nature Neuroscience.

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