This January, the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London conducted the world’s first clinical trials for the treatment of depression with the psychedelic drug DMT. In conjunction with Small Pharma, the Centre for Psychedelic Research has made a landmark achievement in the development of alternative ways to treat mental disorders.

Founded in 2019 the centre was created off the back of Imperial College’s Psychedelic Research Group which was the first in the world to use modern brain imaging to study the effects of LSD and the first to study the effectiveness of Psilocybin in treating depression.

Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, who heads the team is very enthusiastic over the possibilities that psychedelic treatment for mental disorders could hold

Speaking to The Guardian in 2020 he said, “Psychedelics appear to increase brain “plasticity”, which, broadly speaking, implies an accelerated ability to change.” He, along with Carol Routledge, chief scientific officer for Small Pharma, believe the use of psychedelics such as DMT could be the answer to treatment resistant depression.

The treatment of mental disorders with psychedelics has a complicated history. During the 1960s, before the ‘War on Drugs’, many psychedelic substances including LSD were being used to great effect in psychiatry. The push to have these drugs incorporated in a new approach to the treatment of mental disorders has been rapidly developing over the last decade.

A spokesperson from Small Pharma answered some of our questions on the benefits of psychedelics over traditional medications, some of the possible cons of this new treatment and on what this DMT trial says about where we are in our approach to treating mental disorders.

On the latter they told us it suggests that “society in general is becoming more informed regarding the potential benefit of novel treatments, no matter where they originate. These trials also bring to the forefront a new approach…one which embeds pharmacological and psychological elements into the treatment paradigm. This combination may be key to achieving longer lasting treatment effects for individuals with mental health disorders.”

Also known as the “spirit molecule”, DMT is known for its potent effects and ability to lead people who have taken it through ‘spiritual awakenings’, alike those experienced after NDE’s or ‘near death experiences’.

For The Guardian, Carol Routledge from Small Pharma said of DMT, “The psychedelic drug breaks up all of the ruminative thought processes in your brain – it literally undoes what has been done by either the stress you’ve been through or the depressive thoughts you have – and hugely increases the making of new connections.”

This is the evidence that suggests DMT could possibly be the answer to having a long-term effect on those suffering from major depression, where conventional anti-depressants which often have an emotionally dulling effect, have not been successful.

The most striking positive in the use of psychedelics to treat depression appears to be the longevity of its effects, the spokesperson for Small Pharma stated, “Psychedelic-assisted therapy, based on the research evidence we have seen, is likely to have an immediate onset of antidepressant activity which will be long-lasting, potentially 3-6 months.”

If successful, this most recent trial could prove to be invaluable in improving the treatment of other depressive disorders such as PTSD, obsessive compulsive disorder and even substance abuse

Of course, this kind of treatment is still in its infancy. The use of DMT in treating complex mental health disorders is currently only being studied in very strict, clinical settings and in the coming years there will be many questions around its applicability outside of these clinical trials, where the controls and funding for after care may not be as accessible.

On the elements of this treatment that may hold possible safety concerns, spokesperson for Small Pharma stated, “The first point to make is that this approach is an in-clinic treatment, it will be developed in regulated clinical trials and, if successful, will always be administered in-clinic with wrap-around therapy.” They also noted the need for “robust training programmes for mental health practitioners to train in using psychedelics as a treatment protocol.”

In conclusion, this new development clearly speaks to a very exciting time in pharmacology, psychiatry and psychology and a future where the innovative thinking on display by Small Pharma and the Centre for Psychedelic Research might just bring the answers we need.