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Psychedelics in psychiatry – a world first in Australia
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Original Medthority Content

Psychedelics in psychiatry – a world first in Australia

Read time: 10 mins
Last updated:21st Nov 2023
Published:21st Nov 2023
Author: Article by Lily Fitzgerald, MSc; Medical Writer at EPG Health

On July 1, 2023, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in Australia rescheduled 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA) and psilocybin as Schedule 8 (Controlled Drugs) medicines for treatment-resistant depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), respectively1

Prescribing is restricted to authorised psychiatrists and must be provided in conjunction with psychotherapy1. For all other medical uses, psilocybin and MDMA remain in Schedule 9 (Prohibited Substances)1. The rescheduling reflects the lack of effective treatments for people with specific treatment-resistant mental illnesses2,3:

  • Approximately one third of people with depression have treatment resistant depression, defined as those who do not respond to available pharmacologic interventions
  • Prevalence rates of PTSD continue to rise; while there are available treatments, only 31% of people’s symptoms recover or improve
  • Even for people whose symptoms improve, PTSD scores often remain above diagnostic thresholds

Psychedelic substances have been used for spiritual or healing purposes for thousands of years in indigenous communities worldwide4. Medical research on psychedelics has recommenced in Western medicine following easing of legal restrictions imposed since the 1970s5.

Imaging studies with psychedelics show they modulate connectivity in a neural network associated with ‘ego dissolution’ and increase global network integration, theorised to facilitate a psychological ‘reset’6,7. While MDMA is not considered a classical psychedelic, it has similar subjective and potential therapeutic effects, allowing people to experience insight into their psychology5.

MDMA and psilocybin phase 2 and 3 trial data

As of September 2023, there are 49 clinical trials investigating psilocybin for depression and 36 investigating MDMA for PTSD

A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial phase 3 trial of MDMA for PTSD observed people treated with MDMA-assisted therapy (n=46) had a significant reduction in PTSD symptoms (p<0.0001) compared to placebo (n=44)8. In people treated with MDMA-assisted therapy, 67% no longer qualified for PTSD diagnosis compared to 32% placebo with therapy8. In addition, 33% in the MDMA group met remission criteria compared to 5% in the placebo group8. There were no serious safety or tolerability issues8. A phase 3 open-label extension study of this (MAPPUSX) and a long-term safety and effectiveness study (MPLONG) are underway9,10.

Phase 2b trial results of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression observed significant (p<0.001) reductions in depression scores at Week 3 from baseline in a single 25 mg dose group (n=79) compared to 1 mg (n=79)11. Adverse events (AEs) including headache, nausea and dizziness occurred in 77% of all participants on Day 1, with no serious AEs (SAEs)11. Suicidal ideation (n=2) and self-injury (n=2) were reported in the 25 mg group as SAEs from Day 2 to Week 311.

A phase 2 trial of single 25 mg dose of psilocybin in people taking a concomitant serotonin reuptake inhibitor saw a clinically meaningful reduction in depression scores at Week 3, with no serious treatment-emergent AEs observed12.

A phase 3 trial of a single dose of psilocybin with psychological support for treatment-resistant depression is due to be complete in October 202413.

Concerns about psychedelic-assisted therapy

Susan Rossell, a psychiatrist at Swinburne University of Technology and the lead on Australia’s largest trial for psilocybin-assisted therapy for treatment-resistant depression, states that the unpublished research suggests that 10–20% of people have a ‘really terrible time’14. However, research is ongoing to predict responders and the optimal routes of administration to minimise harm and maximise benefits15-17. The optimal context and setting for psychedelic-assisted therapy, such as music choice, is under investigation16,18,19.

Professor Steve Kisely, a psychiatrist at the University of Queensland, said “As this is essentially a nationwide experiment, I’d say they should wait and learn from the experience of the early enthusiasts who take up this option”, when asked what advice he would give psychiatrists who may be considering psilocybin- or MDMA-assisted therapy.

Kisley also expressed concerns over the speed of the rescheduling, suggesting available scientific evidence is lacking20. Long-term data are yet to be published, and there are challenges in conducting randomised controlled trials in this area, including effectively blinding participants and researchers20.

What’s next in Australia for psychedelic-assisted therapy?

In Australia, roll out of psychedelic-assisted therapy in psychiatry could be slow as best-practice protocols have not been stipulated by the Australian government14. However, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) have produced protocols for MDMA and psilocybin therapy, and psychedelic clinics are being prepared14. Richard Harvey, a psychiatrist and chair of RANZCP’s Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Steering Group has confidence in the protocols14.

Mind Medicine Australia, a charity that supports the rescheduling, is now offering training for psychedelic-assisted therapy for clinicians in Australia, New Zealand and Asia Pacific, of which some will be involved in clinical trials in Australia21.

While we await upcoming clinical trial data to be published, Australia will lead the world in providing real-world evidence on MDMA and psilocybin as potential therapies


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  21. Mind Medicine Australia. Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies (CPAT). Accessed 4 September.