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Psychedelics and its uses to treat Depression


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Psychedelics

Mains level: Medicianal use of psychotropic substances

Central idea: The context of the article is about the use of psychedelic drugs for both recreational and medicinal purposes.

What are Psychedelics?

  • Psychedelics are a class of drugs that alter an individual’s perception, mood, and thought processing while still allowing the individual to remain conscious and with unimpaired insight.
  • They are non-addictive and non-toxic, and cause less harm to the end user compared to illicit drugs.
  • The two most commonly used psychedelics are LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) and psilocybin. Researchers have also developed synthetic psychedelics.
  • In India, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985 prohibits the use of psychedelic substances, except for ketamine which is used under strict medical supervision.

History of psychedelics

  • Humans have used psilocybin and mescaline for ceremonial, healing, and spiritual rituals for millennia.
  • The modern-day use of psychedelics is commonly associated with the German chemist Arthur Heffter isolating mescaline from the peyote cactus in 1897.
  • In 1938, Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann first synthesized LSD while investigating compounds related to ergotamine.
  • LSD was widely used as a therapeutic catalyst in psychotherapy between 1947 and 1967, until it was criminalized in the US due to medical concerns and the Vietnam War.

Experience of using psychedelic substances

  • Users of psychedelic substances report changes in perception, somatic experience, mood, thought-processing, and entheogenic experiences.
  • Perceptual distortions most commonly include the visual domain.
  • Somatic experiences may include the visceral, tactile, and interoceptive domains.
  • Mood changes may include elation, euphoria, anxiety, and paranoia.
  • Entheogenic experiences include transcendental and ineffable spiritual experiences.

How do they work inside the body?

  • Classical psychedelics boost brain serotonin levels.
  • Psilocybin’s therapeutic effects require a ‘trip’ that is mediated by the activation of serotonin receptors.
  • Modern neuroimaging suggests that psychedelics increase the cross-talk between different brain networks, and this correlates with the subjective effects of psychedelics.

Can psychedelic substances cause any harm?

  • Death due to direct toxicity of LSD, psilocybin, or mescaline has not been reported in the literature despite 50-plus years of recreational use.
  • Synthetic psychedelics have been associated with acute cardiac, central nervous system, and limb ischemia, as well as serotonin syndrome.

What is Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy?

  • Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy has three types of sessions: preparatory, medication, and integration.
  • In the medication session, the patient is accompanied by a male-female co-therapist dyad and a psychedelic drug is administered in a comfortable and well-appointed room.
  • Over the next 6-8 hours, the therapists listen to the patient while maintaining a neutral therapeutic stance.
  • In the integration session, the therapists work with the patient to interpret the contents of their psychedelic experience into meaningful long-term change, based on their thoughts and ideas.

Uses to treat Neuropsychiatric Disorders

  • Research has shown that psychedelic substances have potential therapeutic benefits in treating neuropsychiatric disorders such as treatment-resistant depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • In recent trials, a single dose of psilocybin or MDMA-assisted therapy has been shown to reduce depression scores and improve symptoms of PTSD in participants.

Back2Basics: Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985

Purpose Combat drug abuse and trafficking in India
Scope Consolidates and amends the existing legal framework related to narcotics and psychotropic substances
Regulations Strictly regulates and controls the production, manufacture, sale, transport, possession, and consumption of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances
Special Courts Establishment of special courts and appointment of special public prosecutors to handle cases related to drug trafficking and abuse
Covered Substances Opium, heroin, cannabis, cocaine, synthetic drugs such as LSD and ecstasy
Classification Substances classified into different schedules based on their potential for abuse and medical use
Punishment Imposes different levels of punishment for offenses related to each schedule
Enforcement Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Central Bureau of Narcotics (CBN), and state-level drug enforcement agencies
Functions Prevention of drug abuse and trafficking, investigation and prosecution of drug offenses, rehabilitation and treatment of drug addicts



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