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Australia legalises psychedelics to treat some mental health conditions, but therapists warn it is no miracle cure

When patients nervous about taking psychedelics for the first time ask their therapist if they’ve tried it, only a handful are able to say yes. 

Clinical psychotherapist Marg Ryan is one of them. In a world-first trial, it was part of her training at Monash University’s Clinical Psychedelic Lab.

“Pretty much every participant says to you, ‘Have you done this? And is it safe?'” Dr Ryan says.

“And you can with your hand on your heart say that you have done it authentically and that you know what they’re going through and that they are safe.”

Paul Liknaitzky, who heads up the lab, believes the experience is worthwhile.

“It was an incredibly useful form of training where therapists had the opportunity to lie here in the dosing room and receive a truncated version of the same treatment that their patients received,” Dr Laknaitzky says.

Paul Liknaitzky believes psychedelics have enormous medical potential, but was surprised by the TGA’s decision to legalise them. (Compass)

He says it’s the only way to truly begin to understand what participants go through.

“[Therapists] may need to have some sort of personal understanding of at least an altered state of consciousness that is dramatic and unusual,” Dr Laknaitzky says.

It’s just one of the groundbreaking research projects underway in Australia, which has become the first country to legalise the use of psilocybin and MDMA for the treatment of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Other countries have allowed it on limited grounds, but Australia is the first country to recognise psychedelics as medicine at a national level.

ABC program Compass, presented by Indira Naidoo, examines the healing powers of psychedelics, the risks involved, and whether Australia is ready for this new era of mental health treatment.

‘A box of understanding’

Up until July 1, the drugs could only be legally accessed through clinical trials.

Some like Gabrielle, who did not want to use her last name, took matters into their own hands.

A woman in white lies on a mattress on the ground surrounded by plants.

Gabrielle is taking part in a psychedelics microdosing trial at Macquarie University. (Compass)

The treasurer of the Australian Psychedelics Society turned to ayahuasca, a plant-based psychedelic from the Amazon basin, to help deal with her troubled relationship with her mother.

“My mum had me very young, and she had a really rough upbringing and had a lot of trauma and we had a really chaotic life,” she says.

She had not spoken to her mother for at least 10 years.

“So my point of doing the medicine was to delve into that, in order to release it,” she says.

The first thing she remembers about the experience is the feeling of her mother giving her a hug.

She was confronted with painful and emotional memories, but says the medicine showed her that what she was feeling was what her mother had gone through as a child.

A woman with blond hair and cardigan sits in a chair

Gabrielle, an accountant, started microdosing to improve her focus and motivation. (Compass)

“In that moment, it was like this box of understanding towards my mum cracked open and respect and compassion, and just overwhelming love for her,” Gabrielle says.

Since then, she has reconnected with her mother.

“It was like I was carrying around this big weight on my shoulders that I didn’t even know I had and it was just gone,” she says.

‘Too little time’

The term psychedelic refers to a broad class of compounds derived from plants, fungi, and synthetic sources.

“These compounds produce dramatically altered states of consciousness that seem to occasion very different perspectives on yourself or the world, new views on old problems,” Dr Liknaitzky explains.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-07-26/psychedelics-mdma-psilocybin-legal-mental-health-conditions/102643756 Australia legalises psychedelics to treat some mental health conditions, but therapists warn it is no miracle cure

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