A growing body of scientific literature has revealed that psychedelics have the potential to treat a variety of mental disorders. Drugs such as ketamine, ecstasy (MDMA) and psilocybin have shown in clinical studies that they are capable of treating psychiatric disorders, including treatment-resistant depression, eating disorders, anxiety and substance-use disorder.
As a result, major investors have increasingly turned their eyes to the nascent psychedelic sector and directed hundreds of millions of dollars toward the research and development of psychedelic-assisted therapies. One of the biggest draws of psychedelic-assisted treatments is that they kick in relatively quickly and provide long-term mental health benefits with few side effects.
Prior research has shown that just a single dose of these substances followed by talk therapy with a trained professional is enough to offset psychiatric symptoms for years, making psychedelic-assisted therapy a great alternative to traditional mental health treatments.
More typical depression treatments such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can take several weeks to cause noticeable effects, and they have to be taken consistently for years to sustain their antidepression effects. Furthermore, they aren’t always effective, and are known to cause a wide variety of negative side effects including sexual dysfunction, weight gain and nausea.
Psychedelic-assisted therapy typically occurs in three stages: preparation, the guided psychedelic experience and integration. As the name suggests, the preparation stage involves building trust between the patient and clinician and preparing the patient for the upcoming session. Therapeutic psychedelic experiences are guided by trained therapists and they can last for up to eight hours.
The integration stage is critical because this is when patients learn how to apply any insights they made during the psychedelic experience into their lives. However, shorter guided psychedelic sessions could be more effective for patients who have never had a psychedelic experience and are wracked with anxiety.
Longer sessions may also require the expertise of more than one trained clinician to keep an eye on the patient, which isn’t feasible because there is a significant shortage of clinicians trained to offer psychedelic-assisted therapy.
In addition to holding up the number of physicians who could be helping other patients, longer sessions increase the cost of treatment, often making it inaccessible to many patients. Reducing the duration of psychedelic trips could be the key to making the treatment more accessible and expanding access from a limited number of patients to the mass market. Shorter guided psychedelic sessions could ultimately lead to mass adoption by freeing up available therapists to work with other patients and lowering the cost of treatment.
It would be interesting to see what innovations companies such as atai Life Sciences N.V. (NASDAQ: ATAI) come up with to make psychedelic-assisted therapies accessible and affordable for the mass market.
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