LSD, Mushrooms, and MDMA Are Being Used to Treat Mental Illness Again

Fifty years after '60s counterculture, researchers are ready to dive back in.

Psychedelics are making a comeback as a treatment for mental illness in the Great White North.

According to an analysis just published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, there’s been a surge in research focusing on using LSD, magic mushrooms, mescaline, DMT, and MDMA to treat psychological issues such as anxiety, PTSD, and addiction. And, as far as the small-scale trials show, the results have been positive.

This much isn’t that surprising. Research in this field began in the 1950s, but it was quickly suppressed as drug counterculture erupted a few years later. Now, 50 years later, it looks like the dust has settled enough for scientists to pick up where their predecessors left off.

“There was a large amount of sensationalism surrounding these substances, and they were associated with a really pivotal cultural point in our history,” Dr. Matthew W. Johnson, a co-author on the study, said in a CMAJ podcast. “And so, really it took a few decades for that turbulent time to pass, and now we can sort of evaluate the medical benefits and risks of these compounds when cautiously applied in a medical setting.”

One study the analysis looked at found that using LSD as part of psychotherapy treatment helped terminally ill patients reduce their anxiety about dying. In another, magic mushrooms helped treat alcohol addiction, and one U.S.-based study showed that MDMA can help people with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD.

The results have been promising, but the authors caution that the studies have also been small. Still, the re-emergence of the psychedelic medicine paradigm — and the surprising absence of governmental intervention — signals a bright, possibly very multicolored future for people who suffer from mental illness.