Australian Government to Spend $15m on Psychedelic Trials

Can shrooms be used to improve mental health? Australia is spending big money to find out.
March 17, 2021, 4:10am
psilocybin
Photo by Getty, Moha El-Jaw

The Australian government will fund a series of clinical trials into the potential use of psilocybin, MDMA, ketamine and other drugs as treatments for debilitating mental illnesses.

The $15 million Innovative Therapies for Mental Illness Grant Opportunity, announced on Wednesday under the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), aims to bolster Australian-led research into drug and psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. It’s hoped that otherwise illicit substances, ingested in a controlled setting and in the presence of a psychiatrist or psychologist, could help to combat resistant illnesses like PTSD, depression, addiction and eating disorders.

The announcement comes just weeks after Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) published an interim decision to not amend its guidelines to give mental health professionals more access to the drugs—even as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) grants them “breakthrough status” for their proven efficacy in clinical trials.

“The early results of trials in Australia and internationally are extremely encouraging, but more research is desperately needed before these approaches can be used by psychiatrists outside of controlled clinical trials,” Greg Hunt, Australian Minister for Health and Aged Care, said in a statement. “It is vital that we continue to support the search for new and better treatments for mental illness.”

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“This grant opportunity will boost local research into potentially life-saving therapies and offers hope [to] all those suffering from mental illness, including our Veterans and emergency service personnel dealing with the devastating effects of PTSD.”

Advocates have recently been pushing for the TGA to reclassify drugs such as psilocybin and MDMA from the class of prohibited substances—which includes drugs like heroin and methylfentanyl, one of the most potent opioids available—to that of controlled drugs—which includes drugs like morphine, methadone and oxycodone—to advance research. 

Thus far the TGA has declined, with a final decision yet to be issued on 22 April. But local mental health charity Mind Medicine Australia has urged the administration to reverse its interim decision on scientific and humanitarian grounds.

“Rescheduling the medical use of MDMA as part of therapy in medically controlled environments will not open ‘the flood gates’ to the use of these therapies in Australia,” said Mind Medicine chairman Peter Hunt, in a statement sent to VICE World News. “The prescribing doctor will have to convince both the TGA and the relevant State/Territory Government that the needs of the particular patient warrant this therapy.”

“Within those strictures we believe that the choice to use this therapy should be between the treating doctor and the patient suffering from the treatment resistant condition,” added Tania de Jong, the charity’s executive director. “Australians are suffering and dying, and this treatment finally offers an opportunity for true healing.

“We hope that [the TGA] will put aside the politics of 50 years ago which has caused so much mistrust and focus on the data and science that will save lives.”

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