- Every 5 minutes, someone in the United States dies from a drug overdose, with the vast majority of overdoses connected to opioids
- Psychedelic drugs represent the best hope in fully controlling this crisis
The Opioid Crisis has been a rising concern for most governments in recent years, with the United States being one of the most-heavily impacted jurisdiction.
Unfortunately, additional stresses brought on by Covid lockdowns have dramatically aggravated this crisis. In 2020, drug overdose deaths in the U.S. soared by 30% -- to over 93,00.
People die as the clock keeps ticking on legalizing psychedelic medicine
In 2020, one American died of a drug overdose roughly every 5 minutes. Most of these deaths were opioid-related.
Among the many exciting medicinal applications for psychedelic drugs are their unique anti-addiction properties in combination with therapy. While ibogaine gets perhaps most attention among psychedelics for treating addiction, clinical research is showing that psilocybin and LSD also appear to have inherent anti-addiction properties.
In a 2017 study using ibogaine-based therapy to treat opioid addiction 50% of addicts had ceased using opioids by the end of one month of treatment.
Similar research isn’t yet available on the efficacy of psilocybin or LSD to treat opioid addiction. However, a 2014 study by Johns Hopkins on a psilocybin-based therapy for nicotine addiction reported that 80% of participants were still fully abstinent after 6 months.
While nicotine use doesn’t kill addicts as quickly as opioids, it is one of the most-addictive substances known to humanity. That’s powerful evidence to fuel further research and (soon) formal clinical trials on the potential of psilocybin to treat opioid addiction.
It addresses a major demographic among opioid addicts: the illegal users of opioids, who take these drugs for recreational drug use.
However, that’s not original problem with opioids. Before a deluge of illegal production turned them into street drugs, even people being prescribed opioids by physicians for bona fide reasons – the treatment of pain – were becoming addicted to these very dangerous drugs in large numbers.
A new application for psychedelics: chronic pain
The whole reason why opioids were approved for use in the first place is that previous medications, generally opiates, were deemed to be not providing adequate relief for those suffering from especially intense or relentless pain conditions. Therefore, if safer treatments for pain management were introduced (as alternatives for opioids) this would also be a powerful tool for reducing the scope of the Opioid Crisis.
Enter psychedelic drugs.
Psychedelics research for a specific form of intense/chronic pain – cluster headaches – is already well advanced. Indeed, one of the industry leaders, MindMed Inc (US:MNMD / CAN:MMED) is already moving into a Phase II clinical trial using LSD to treat cluster headaches.
However, that is for a specific type of neurological pain. There is considerable excitement on the potential of psychedelics to deliver general pain relief and pain management – and it’s not just a theoretical hope.
Ketamine, the only psychedelic drug that is currently broadly legal, has been used off-label to treat pain for many years. But ketamine does not have as friendly a safety profile as drugs like psilocybin, LSD or MDMA.
A research breakthrough with one of these drugs in pain management would provide much clearer treatment options for patients weighing (dangerous) opioids versus psychedelics. And it’s a big potential prize for psychedelic medicine.
Chronic pain was a $77.8 billion treatment market in 2019. But it’s projected to roughly double in size (to $151.7 billion) by 2030. That commercial potential will stimulate a great deal of psychedelics research into pain management.
It’s unlikely to yield near-term relief in the battle to contain the Opioid Crisis. However, longer term, effective (and safe) psychedelics medications to manage pain may yield almost as large a dividend as being able to treat opioid addiction directly with psychedelic medicine.
The best way to deal with addiction is to prevent it.
Real action is needed on the Opioid Crisis -- now
Reckless (and immoral) pharmaceutical companies have agreed to pay a combined $26 billion for the health plague they have unleashed on the world. But that won’t stop someone dying from an opioid overdose every 5 minutes in the U.S.
Psychedelic drugs have the potential to make a radical impact here – on two fronts.
Psychedelic-based therapy to treat addiction is part of a new frontier in terms of medical therapy. It’s more intense, more expensive, but (much) more effective than conventional therapies. However, simply the magnitude of change in our healthcare model means that it will take time to integrate such therapies into the broader healthcare system.
Conversely, using psychedelics to treat pain is an area where therapists already have real-world experience (via ketamine). It’s an application much more attuned to conventional therapies. Thus, it is an avenue for psychedelic medicine where there is no excuse for governments to not move quickly.
The need for better pain management options is beyond imperative. Risks in using psychedelic drugs are very minimal.
Indeed, Big Pharma has a lot of questions to answer in terms of why it focused drug development for pain on ultra-addictive and ultra-dangerous opioid derivatives when there was already a body of clinical research showing the potential for (safe) psychedelic medicine to treat pain.
Big Pharma has created a health catastrophe. Psychedelic drugs can solve this catastrophe – in a two-pronged approach.
But to do so, the same politicians and regulators who allowed Big Pharma to bombard us with their deadly opioids will have to step to the plate, legalize psychedelic medicine, and take some responsibility for their own role in the Opioid Crisis.