In a new paper, R Street Institute fellow Chelsea Boyd explores current evidence around using psychedelics to potentially treat mental health disorders, examines existing policies that govern their therapeutic use and offers suggestions for future psychedelic therapy policies.

Research on psychedelic-assisted therapy is scarce, but new preliminary research is promising. The FDA has granted “breakthrough therapy” status to 3,4-Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine––more commonly known as MDMA or ecstasy––for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psilocybin for treating depression. In addition, research indicates that classic psychedelics show low abuse potential and toxicity. In clinical trials of psychedelic-assisted therapy, serious adverse events have not been reported and side effects have been minimal. Boyd details these findings and explores what they might mean for efforts to legalize psychedelic treatment for mental health disorders.

“Although research on the use of psychedelics for the treatment of mental health disorders is still emerging, efforts to legalize or decriminalize psychedelics are gaining momentum,” said Boyd. “As jurisdictions begin to allow the use of psychedelics, policies should focus on decreasing regulatory burdens to ensure access and equity in psychedelic-assisted therapies.”

There is a real need for new mental health treatments, but development of new psychiatric drugs has slowed in recent years. Psychedelics could fill this gap. A growing number of case studies provide evidence that they are an under-explored alternative to traditional mental health treatment, but they need closer examination. Psychedelic-assisted therapy researchers are still establishing best practices for treatment.

A number of states, including Oregon, Colorado and the District of Columbia have either legalized or decriminalized the possession or use of some or all psychedelics. Policymakers should be prepared for the further application of psychedelic medicine and ensure thorough research, sound regulatory models, and jurisdictional oversight. The safety of people who could use psychedelics to treat mental health disorders must come before their broad application.

Read the full study here.