EU Finances First Psychedelics Research on Incurable Illnesses

The European Union (EU) is funding research into psychedelic-based therapies for patients with incurable diseases. Researchers will use EU funding to determine if psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin can help alleviate psychologic distress in palliative-care patients.

While palliative and end-of-life care are designed to relieve physical symptoms and make patients as comfortable as possible, there aren’t a lot of protocols to alleviate the psychological distress that often accompanies incurable illnesses. Psychedelics have exhibited significant potential as mental-health treatments in several initial studies and have shown that they can treat significant mental distress in conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with few if any side effects.

EU scientists are already working on a clinical trial studying the impacts of psilocybin, the main psychoactive agent in magic mushrooms, against atypical Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The EU-funded research will feature a much wider cohort of patients than previous studies to determine if psychedelics can relieve hard-to-treat depression in people with terminal conditions. This will be the first time the European Union provides full funding (more than $7 million) for a psychedelic study. The European Union will award the funding through its Horizon Europe Program.

The study will involve treating 100 patients in four sites in Portugal, the Netherlands, Denmark and the Czech Republic under the coordination of the Netherlands’ University Medical Center Groningen (UMOG). Study participants will take part in several therapy sessions and receive two doses of psilocybin starting with a lower dose followed by a higher one; some participants will receive a placebo. Unlike the majority of prior psychedelic studies, the EU-funded trial will use two doses of psilocybin instead of a single dose.

In this case, the initial smaller dose is to help patients become accustomed to the psychedelic experience before they receive the larger doses.

UMCG psychiatrist and lead investigator Robert Schoevers says the number of psychedelic trips required for the treatment to be effective is one of the major questions in the nascent psychedelic research field. He said that the researchers would explore whether a single dose followed by psychotherapy is sufficient for long-term relief.

Past studies have found that only one dose can offer respite against numerous symptoms of poor mental health, especially when the treatment is accompanied by psychotherapy. On the other hand, conventional mental-health treatments such as antidepressants usually require daily use over several weeks or even months to be fully effective, and they often cause moderate to severe side effects.

The research team will partner with health-technology assessment bodies and regulators to draw up the study protocol before beginning the trial in January 2025 and issuing its findings sometime in 2027.

The findings of this study will add onto the body of scientific data that psychedelic companies such as Compass Pathways PLC (NASDAQ: CMPS) have uncovered in their different R&D activities.

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