Psychedelic healing may sound like a fad from the Woodstock era, but it’s a field of study that’s gaining traction in the medical community as an effective treatment option for a growing number of mental health conditions.
While the study of psychedelics as medicine is inching toward the mainstream, it still remains somewhat controversial. Psychedelics have struggled to shake a “counterculture” perception that was born in the 1960s, a view that had stymied scientific study of them for more than 50 years.
But that perception is slowly changing.
Mounting research suggests that controlled treatment with psychedelics like psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, and MDMA — better known as ecstasy — may be effective options for people suffering from PTSD, anxiety disorders, and depression. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration recently granted “breakthrough therapy” status to study the medical benefits of psychedelics. And two years ago this month, the FDA approved a psychedelic drug — esketamine — to treat depression.
An increasing number of states and municipalities are also grappling with calls to decriminalize psychedelic drugs, a move that UNLV neuroscientist Dustin Hines says could further the recent renaissance in psychedelic science.
“The resurgence in interest in psychedelic medicine is likely related to multiple factors, including decreasing societal stigma regarding drugs like hallucinogens and cannabis, increasing awareness of the potential therapeutic compounds found naturally occurring in plants and fungi, and the growing mental health crisis our nation faces,” says Hines. “Because of the intersection between the great need for innovation and wider social acceptance, researchers have started to explore psychedelics as novel treatments for depressive disorders, including work with compounds that have been used for millennia.”
In the Hines lab at UNLV, husband and wife researchers Dustin and Rochelle Hines are uncovering how psychedelics affect brain activity. Their work, published recently in Nature: Scientific Reports, shows a strong connection in rodent models between brain activity and behaviors resulting from psychedelic treatment, a step forward in the quest to better understand their potential therapeutic effects.