FDA Gives Psilocybin Clinical Studies Breakthrough Therapy Status
The FDA recognized psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, with “Breakthrough Therapy” designation for clinical trials studying its use for treatment-resistant depression by a company called Compass Pathways. The group plans to treat patients in Europe and North America over the next year in placebo-controlled studies to determine proper dosage and treatment methods.
Since hallucinogenic drugs were given Schedule I designation in 1966, psilocin and psilocybin have been villainized by the media and politicians who claim it has a high potential for abuse and no medical application. But recent studies from esteemed research institutions, including Johns Hopkins and London’s Imperial College, have helped ease misconceptions and stigma surrounding the drug, and now government regulatory bodies are seeing its potential.
Compass Pathways, a life sciences company founded in 2016 whose focus is to “accelerate patient access to evidence-based innovation in mental health,” specifically through research with psilocybin, was given the go-ahead by the FDA back in August, but the recent designation was an unexpected acknowledgment, according to some of those involved in its research.
According to the FDA, “Breakthrough Therapy” means it reviewed the findings of researchers it granted use of the drug to and viewed their results as:
“Preliminary clinical evidence indicates that the drug may demonstrate substantial improvement over existing therapies on one or more clinically significant endpoints, such as substantial treatment effects observed early in clinical development.”
Once this designation is given, the FDA expedites the development and review of the drug, hopefully allowing medical professionals to soon begin implementing it as a legal, viable treatment and eventually change the scheduling of the drug.
Dr. Roland Griffiths, one of the foremost researchers in government-sanctioned studies of hallucinogenic drugs, told Inverse he’s hopeful the regulatory approval will change, though he doesn’t envision it becoming available from a pharmacy anytime soon, if ever.
Griffiths and his colleagues have mostly advocated for its use in controlled settings with guided sessions from a trained psychologist. He’s also stated he believes it can be a dangerous drug when taken by those with certain pre-existing mental illnesses, notably schizophrenia.
But now that studies have shown psilocybin to act as a “reset mechanism” in the brain for those suffering from severe forms of depression, this latest recognition from the FDA may allow psilocybin treatment to become available for those desperately needing it. This breakthrough may also pave the way for FDA trials with other psychedelic substances, such as LSD, currently studied by Griffiths and others in his field.
For more on Dr. Roland Griffith’s and other cutting edge work studying clinical treatments with psychedelic substances, check out this episode of Psychedelica:
Bicycle Day 2021 – 78 Years Since Albert Hofmann's LSD Discovery
Eight years before Albert Hofmann first synthesized LSD in 1938, Harry J. Anslinger was appointed the founding commissioner of the U.S. Treasury’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics. While both men were of Swiss descent and their life’s work centered around public drug use, their paths couldn’t have been more divergent. And now for this year’s Bicycle Day, as the tides of drug policy are shifting quicker than ever, their stories are increasingly relevant.
While most consider the United States’ war on drugs to have started with the Nixon or Reagan administrations, author Johann Hari in his book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, urges our reconsideration of the country’s infamously failed attempt at drug prohibition to an earlier date.
Hari argues that based on racism, classism, and other prejudices, Anslinger was largely responsible for creating a zeitgeist of public misconception about nearly every drug, without regard to therapeutic applications or larger societal implications.
And though Anslinger’s tenure ended just before the criminalization of LSD, it was the foundation he set in place that widely villainized the chemical for decades.
But with the recent relaxation around psychedelic substances and the recognition of their potential as powerful healing modalities, Hofmann’s radical discovery may finally be realized for what he envisioned it could be.