Illinois looks at legalizing psilocybin to treat mental health issues Pt. 2

More and more clinical trials continue to show the promise of psychedelic drugs for therapeutic use, and Chicago area doctors are at the forefront of this research.

"They have a mechanism of action that we’ve been searching for, for a long time. This is a very exciting time in psychiatry," said Dr. John Zajecka, a psychiatrist at Rush University Medical Center.

He's talking about the promising results of psychedelics in treating patients with depression so severe, it doesn't respond to traditional pharmaceuticals.

"We have a crisis on our hands. If you look at people with depression, we know that at least a third of those people do not respond to their first, and potentially second antidepressant," Zajecka said.


That's why compounds like psilocybin, found in magic mushrooms, and LSD have drawn the attention of psychiatrists across the country, including at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center, which is about to kick off a clinical trial of its own to investigate the effects of controlled doses of psilocybin on participants suffering from treatment-resistant depression.

"This is much more controlled, so the FDA will most likely just grant permission to use a specific form and a specific dose of psilocybin to be used with a guided therapist," according to Zajecka.

And the potential benefits of psychedelics don't just stop at depression.

"We’re obviously down this path for a reason. There are a number of unmet needs in psychiatry that we need better treatments — treatment-resistant depression, PTSD, substance use," Zajecka said.

Similar psilocybin research is also about to unfold at the University of Chicago, with a focus on treating borderline personality disorder.

"They often seek help through psychotherapy, but medications have never been available to people with borderline personality disorders because there's nothing FDA approved," according to Dr. Jon Grant, a neuroscientist at the University of Chicago.

"I think a lot of research around the world is starting to ask the question, 'well, if these have been used for so long, is there possibly a benefit that we're unaware of,'" Grant said.

But don't be fooled into thinking you can take a dose of LSD or psilocybin and simply be cured. Doctors at both institutions point out the compounds have only proven effective when coupled with a specific form of psychotherapy.

"If the public starts thinking they can just take LSD on their own and their depression will go away, or they’ll just take mushrooms and their depression will go away, we have no evidence of that," Zajecka said.


"We kind of want to temper enthusiasm. It can be very exciting, but it may not be that the pill by itself is enough," Grant said.

Other psychedelics now being formally studied: mescaline, DMT, and the compounds found in plants like peyote.

A bill called the Illinois Cure Act has been introduced to the Illinois state legislature. If passed, it would pave the way for Illinois patients to receive treatments using psychedelics in clinical settings.

Esketamine is a nasal spray that's already been FDA-approved. The expected time frame for that on compounds like psilocybin and LSD range from two to four years.