A snippet from the LIVE Instagram session with Vanessa Hong and Dr. Lindsay Mackay

VH Mental health already is so stigmatized. And even thinking of the word psychedelic for a lot of people it kind of brings up different feelings. The use of mushrooms, psilocybin, the word psychedelic, there is a lot of stigma still attached to that. I think it could be a deterrent for people to potentially try this medicine to treat depression or anxiety. How can we encourage it? How do we approach that person if that person is perhaps a little hesitant to try this? 

LM The history of psychedelic substances is important for context. Many psychedelics such as psilocybin containing mushrooms are naturally occurring and have been used in traditional cultures for centuries. The first experience with psilocybin containing mushrooms reported by a westerner was in 1957 by New York banker Gordon Wasson in the remote mountains of Mexico. He described his experience in a widely read article in Life Magazine that in part, marked the beginning of the psychedelic revolution.  

Once Psilocybin and LSD were synthesized in the mid 20th century, researchers began to use these substances to treat and better understand mental health conditions. The Greek word “Psychedelic” means “mind/soul manifesting”, a term coined by psychiatrist Humphry Osmond who was researching psychedelics in the 1950s. Around the same time, recreational psychedelic use increased and became associated with the 60s counterculture movement. Unfortunately research came to a halt with drug prohibition in the 1970s. No doubt the association of psychedelics with the anti-government, counterculture movement at the time played a pivotal role in this change in regulatory status. Psychedelics were classified as drugs of abuse with no medicinal use, despite growing evidence supporting the potential of psychedelics to treat mental health conditions. 

After prohibition, there was false information spread about the risks of psychedelics and their addiction potential. In fact, Psilocybin and LSD are some of the least addictive and least toxic substances; however, this was not what was portrayed in the media at the time. Research that could have had the potential to help countless people struggling from mental health was pushed back by decades. Regrettably, much of the stigma and cultural associations from the mid century remain today.

What we are seeing now is a psychedelic renaissance as a result of research with psychedelic substances resuming in the mid 1990s. Initially, research with psychedelics was slow due to regulatory barriers and the need to demonstrate safety in healthy volunteers using modern research standards.  As more data accumulated establishing safety and potential benefits, research with psychedelics increased exponentially over the last few decades. Thousands of participants have volunteered in research trials using psychedelics and hundreds of clinical trials are currently underway. There have been regulatory changes in certain jurisdictions like Orgeon, where psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy has been legalized. The mainstream media has started to change the way psychedelics are portrayed, highlighting their ability to offer profound relief to those suffering from conditions like end of life anxiety, treatment resistant depression and addictions. The public perception is shifting from viewing psychedelic compounds as dangerous illegal drugs to being beneficial therapeutic compounds with the potential to change the way we treat and approach mental health. I hope with more data, psychedelic-assisted therapy will become an integral part of our mental health care system and provide relief for those who are suffering and in psychological pain.  

VH I think something else revealed to me during 2020, was for a lot of us we have to be proactive about our own health and we do have to look at different potential modalities of healing, whether that be for trauma, PTSD and mental health issues. My hope as I learn more about psilocybin and mushrooms is that more and more people are able to be more proactive and be agents of their own health and their own lives and look into this. That's why doing this is so important. Even for people that may be microdosing for them there is so much that we’ve talked about. Even with myself that I have learned.

LM I would encourage people to learn more about psychedelics from reputable sources like MAPS  (link below). If you are interested in getting involved in a trial, is a great resource for searching for actively recruiting trials by condition, location and treatment used. Clinical trials are still very limited in numbers of participants they can include and the specific conditions that can be treated. More recently, there have been calls by respected researchers in this space and regulatory bodies to develop research studies in a pragmatic or “real-world” context. I think as regulations start to change in many jurisdictions, access will increase substantially for those who could benefit from psychedelic-assisted therapies. 


Question: Vanessa Hong

Answer: Dr. Lindsay Mackay

Transcribed from Instagram LIVE and edited by Dr. Lindsay Mackay