The Evolving World of Mental Health Treatments

This is neither an endorsement or advice about the treatment of mental health.

It goes without saying that good mental health is foundational to overall health and well-being.

In underwriting, a report of confirmed or even suspected history of depression or related conditions gets a lot of attention and policy issue can range from standard rates to rated premium to sometimes no offer at all, where the risk is deemed too high to accept.

Treatments for depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or other conditions in the mental health spectrum continue to evolve. The use of psychedelics is a newer facet of treatment. Natural substances that induce a hallucinatory state have been around for millennia. These include everything from cannabis, now legal in Canada, and include opium poppy to ayahuasca, the latter a product of brewing a particular vine or shrub commonly found in South America (1).

The first synthetic hallucinogen, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was created in 1938, initially thought to be pain-relief medication, with its’ hallucinatory properties discovered a few years later (2). There is a school of thought that this class of drugs does not have the same addictive potential known to be prevalent among users of tobacco and even alcohol, in itself favoring ongoing study for use as a bona fide therapeutic resource.

The use of psychedelics, illegal in most countries, has long been relegated to use for recreational or even spiritual renewal purposes. The emergence of this class of drugs to treat or even improve already good mental health is seen as a new frontier. Improved understanding of the multifactorial aspects of mental health and the impact of these drugs on our brain continue to shed light where misunderstanding and ignorance used to predominate. Consider one study of 19 patients with treatment-resistant depression. Using functional MRI (fMRI) to view the brain, decreased depressive symptoms were observed at both one-week in all patients and nearly half after five-week after use of psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”). The fMRI showed decrease in cerebral blood flow in areas of the brain where reducing flow correlates with reduced depressive symptoms (3).

In a brave, new world of ever-increasing understanding, and destigmatizing of mental illness, these hallucinogenic agents may in future become accepted mental health treatments.

Watch this space as we learn more.

  1. Wikipedia. Ayahuasca.
  2. Editors. LSD. August 21, 2018.
  3. Carhart-Harris et all. Psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression: fMRI-measured brain mechanisms. National Library of Medicine. October 13, 2017.

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