A former chief of the Defence Force says psychedelic drugs such psilocybin and MDMA should be rescheduled so they can be used to treat mental health conditions including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- The Therapeutic Goods Administration is considering a proposal to reschedule psilocybin and MDMA from “prohibited substances” to “controlled drugs”
- Retired Admiral Chris Barrie says the drugs should be down-scheduled to expand research and treatment opportunities for conditions including PTSD
- The Australian Medical Association and Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists oppose the move, citing the need for more research
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) last month published an interim decision to not amend the Poisons Standard to give mental health professionals more access to the drugs.
Advocates of psychedelic-assisted therapy had applied last year to reclassify the drugs from Schedule 9 (prohibited substances) to Schedule 8 (controlled drugs), which includes morphine, methadone and oxycodone.
The deadline to make submissions on the TGA’s interim decision is today with a final decision due on April 22.
Retired Admiral Christopher Barrie was chief of the Defence Force from 1998 to 2002 and is founder and chairman of FearLess, a charity supporting PTSD sufferers in Australia and New Zealand.
He is also a director of the not-for-profit, Mind Medicine Australia, which has been campaigning to expand psychedelic-assisted treatments for a range of mental illnesses.
Admiral Barrie said many veterans had trouble reintegrating into the community due to PTSD, and overseas studies had shown treatments with psychedelics could help.
“The evidence is that those psychedelics are much more effective than any of the pills you might be prescribed,” he said.
“Some experts who are working in the field have told me the only way we’ll ever get a cure for post-traumatic stress disorder is by the use of psychedelics.
Risk to patients ‘minimal’
Schedule 9 drugs are generally prohibited but can be used for prescribed purposes such as medical or scientific research, including clinical trials, with approval from federal and/or state health authorities.
But Admiral Barrie said current research options were limited, and rescheduling the drugs would expand opportunities.
“It’s not about weakening the laws at all. Schedule 8 still has very serious controls over the drugs’ supply and use,” he said.
“It would enable them to be used by qualified therapists and experts so we can widen the research base and start to see whether or not it’s possible to go down this route towards better treatments on one hand and, potentially, a cure on the other.
Rescheduling premature: Peak bodies
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) and Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) have raised concerns about rescheduling the drugs, saying more research is needed to assess their safety and efficacy.
The AMA said there was a risk of psychosis and hallucinations, especially in susceptible groups, while the RANZCP cited the lack of appropriate treatment methodologies and training protocols.
In its interim decision, the TGA said there was limited but emerging evidence that psychedelic therapies may have therapeutic benefits in treating a range of mental illnesses, but found the current scheduling of psilocybin and MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, was appropriate.
It cited a “a high potential for misuse in the Australian community”, risks to consumers, lack of training for physicians, and the need for more rigorous phase II and III trials.
But it said the scheduling could be reconsidered in the future pending the outcome of clinical trials.
‘Think of those … who’ve given up hope’
Admiral Barrie said he was “astonished and surprised” at the TGA’s interim decision.
“Think of all those people that might benefit from these treatments who otherwise are going to be denied them,” he said.
“Let’s think about the cost to the community of not changing, not only in productivity terms, but in terms of suicide, people who’ve just given up hope because the treatments aren’t working, and to families — broken families and kids whose lives are being destroyed by their anguishes.