During the 1960s researchers explored the use of Ketamine and other psychedelic drugs to calm a person’s mind, and now UW Health is again having a look at some of these psychedelic drugs.
Last year UW Hospital treated around three dozen patients with depression using ketamine. In addition, they carried out a study of psilocybin, which is the hallucinogenic substance in magic mushrooms, and it was found safe in healthy individuals
The researchers at UM Health plan to carry out trials with psilocybin on individuals who have opioid or methamphetamine addiction issues, or individuals dealing with depression. UW Health is also participating in a national study on MDMA (ecstasy) for PTSD. Already The FDA has labeled MDMA a PTSD breakthrough therapy. Psilocybin and MDMA, as well as most psychedelic drugs, are illegal and not approved for treating medical conditions but are available in research settings.
UW Health psychiatrist Dr. Steven Garlow, who has been treating patients with ketamine, says, “These are extremely potent psychoactive compounds. It seems perfectly reasonable, in a responsible fashion, to look at how they can be used in a beneficial way.”
From 2012 to 2015, while at Emory University, Dr. Garlow has been treating patients with depression using Ketamine. In 2015 Dr. Garlow came to UW Health where he then started his Ketamine program in 2017 for those patients who were suffering from severe depression where other drops were unsuccessful in helping.
The patients received six 40-minute infusions over a 3-week period. Some patients receive a maintenance treatment every couple of weeks. What Dr. Garlow found was that the Ketamine helped dramatically in 25 percent of the cases, for 35 percent minimal improvements occurred, and in other 40 percent, Ketamine did not help at all.
Dr. Garlow says, “What’s most important here is that in those 25 percent of patients who experienced dramatic improvement their depression was completely gone.”
For one of Dr. Garlow’s patients, a former police officer, diagnosed at the young age of 18 with depression, and who had tried numerous depression medications without success it was so bad, that before being connected with a Ketamine clinic, he had planned to commit suicide, but then he started to receive Ketamine treatments at UW Health, which has been a lifesaver. He is now on a maintenance dose every two weeks.
In 2015 a psilocybin study at the School of Pharmacy at UW Madison had twelve participants who received cumulative doses over a number of months. While the participants were ‘tripping’ meditation guides assisted the participants in a tranquil treatment room. Participants didn’t experience any major side effects, and for most participants, a standard dose of psilocybin worked to treat depression and anxiety.
According to Paul Hutson, a professor of pharmacy, the goal is to use psilocybin to reduce depression and anxiety in people with terminal cancer, yet another possible use of psychedelics.
A number of additional studies are underway or preparing to get underway. Psychedelics and their future role in medicine are on a path that has yet to be fully navigated.