Stigma prevents psychedelics from helping mental health care in Asia

July 6, 2017

Some psychedelics can help treat certain mental health conditions, according to research, however, stigma is a hindrance for drugs that will help mental health care in Asia.

The social stigma around illegal drugs is simply too strong for even researchers to look into the drugs as treatments, despite research showing that psilocybin and MDMA can alleviate PTSD, clinical depression, substance addiction and end-of-life anxiety.

“In Asia, the stigma against psychedelics is so strong that few, if any, researchers have asked for government permission to explore their therapeutic potential,” says Brad Burge of MAPS, a US-based nonprofit that advocates for MDMA research in psychotherapy.

However, Forbes reports that some experts warn against what they believe is fighting fire with fire.

“There is little to no evidence that those substances in particular would be more effective than more traditional psychopharmacology, and they come with significant risk,” said Brian Russman, deputy clinical director of The Cabin Chiang Mai, a Thailand drug rehab center. “As there is no money in experimental or hallucinogenic drugs and it would be fairly unpopular from a political or public standpoint, I can’t see those type of drugs gaining much traction.”

However, countries like South Korea, home to the second-highest suicide rate in the world, need new solutions to the problem soon. China, Japan and South Korea regularly rank poorly in global wellbeing and happiness indexes.

Psilocybin has been shown to alleviate symptoms of major depression, particularly relief from cancer-related depression and existential anxiety. The drug is also being analyzed as a possible treatment for alcohol addiction.

Studies on MDMA suggest that it can help treat patients disturbed by severe trauma or PTSD, including military veterans and victims of sexual assault. New experimental studies are underway to examine if MDMA can improve the lives of autistic adults suffering from social anxiety.

Researchers in Asia are prevented by the stigma of the drugs from carrying out extensive studies, which disallows the studies from meeting clinical standards. The public perception of drugs’ will continue as illegal vices, rather than being legitimate treatment tools. Earnest efforts must be made to support mental health care in Asia, while using narcotics to treat the mentally vulnerable is risky, according to advocates.

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