Trials are already underway testing the use of psychedelics such as psilocybin, LSD, ketamine, ecstasy and other currently scheduled drugs to treat a mental health epidemic predicted to hit after the lockdown is over. New research in the USA is also pointing to antidepressants such as Prozac made by Eli Lilly and Company (NYSE:LLY) as a potential redirected treatment against the cause of the health crisis itself. Prescriptions for anxiety medication are already on the rise, while the potential for a major breakthrough in the form of medical psychedelics is coming from companies such as Mind Medicine Inc. (NEO:MMED) (OTCQB:MMEDF) (FRA:BGHM), Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), Champignon Brands Inc. (CSE:SHRM) (OTCQB:SHRMF) and Numinus Wellness Inc. (TSX-V:NUMI) (OTC:LKYSD).
Restrictions over the medical use of psychedelics appear to have loosened, as the US FDA has helped speed up the process of approving them to treat major depressive disorders (MDD). Twice within a year, the FDA has designated psilocybin therapy as “breakthrough therapy“, in an attempt to accelerate the process. Now psychedelic pharmaceutical companies such as Mind Medicine Inc. (‘MindMed‘) (NEO:MMED) (OTCQB:MMEDF) (FRA:BGHM) are aiming to expand this type of breakthrough beyond just MDD, and potentially also help treat other serious issues, such as opioid withdrawal and adult ADHD through the controlled use of psychedelics.
For many struggling with the additional stress of the current lockdowns and other health concerns, it appears that the ongoing opioid crisis is being worsened, as the two health emergencies collide.
MindMed is entering Phase 2 clinical trials later this year, having already initiated dosing in an additional Phase 1 human safety study for its 18-MC platform developed to treat opioid use disorder patients with a synthetic derivative of ibogaine.
“We feel one of the outcomes of the current health crisis will be increased rates of opioid addiction and mental health issues,” said MindMed Co-Founder and Co-CEO, JR Rahn. “The Mindmed team is focused on advancing 18-MC as a potential solution for the opioid crisis and other forms of addiction.”
Treating Two Health Crises At Once
Experts are concurring with Rahn’s projections, warning that the lockdown could lead to a surge of alcohol and drug addiction relapses. To make matters worse, centers that treat Americans with opioid addiction are being denied some extra emergency funds at this time, further worsening the epidemic.
The hallucinogenic drug ibogaine (extracted from the West Africa iboga shrub) has been studied in the past in the treatment of substance dependence. But concerns over its safety were addressed, in particular dealing with its cardiac toxicity risk, and long hallucinogenic experience.
Where 18-MC succeeds is where ibogaine fails. Mind Medicine Inc. (‘MindMed’) (MMED) (MMEDF) (BGHM) has developed a synthetic derivative that has been designed and is intended to be a highly effective addiction treatment, cardiac safe, non-hallucinogenic, and not a Schedule 1 substance.
In many ways, the lockdown is bringing out the worst in society’s ability to cope, as prescriptions of anxiety medications rise, as does the risk of addiction relapses. However, authorities are currently sounding the alarm about increased “deaths of despair” while drug overdose deaths have seen a drop.
Thinking Outside the Box on Mental Health
Ahead of the outbreak, there was already some movement on treating serious mental health conditions through the use of medical psychedelics.
Last year, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) received approval from the FDA on its medically tweaked ketamine spray (or “Spravato”), which now sells under the brand name Ketanest, and is used for treatment-resistant depression.
Taking a similar route, Champignon Brands Inc. (CSE:SHRM) (OTCQB:SHRMF) is also working with ketamine to treat patients, via ketamine topicals. In April, the company announced its ketamine treatment would be dispensed by a major Canadian pharmacy chain, unnamed in the accompanying press release. Champignon’s ketamine-based formulations will be used by the Clinics for the purposes of conducting chart reviews and associated patient studies under human ethics approval from Health Canada.
Timing is important, as JNJ’s Ketanest just happened to enter the market amid a ketamine shortage last summer.
A similar shortage was witnessed at the same time for the drug fluoxetine, which Eli Lilly and Company (NYSE:LLY) is most notable for marketing under the name Prozac. Manufacturing problems led to physicians being warned of low stockpiles of the drug in 2019, but the situation was solved just in time for 2020. According to March data from research firm IQVIA, prescriptions for antidepressants, including Prozac rose 9.2% year over year for the same period.
But new psychedelic-based treatments could be on the way. In Canada, newly listed Numinus Wellness Inc. (TSXV:NUMI) (OTC:LKYSD) has a license through Health Canada to test, possess, buy and sell MDMA, psilocybin, psilocin, and DMT. The company hopes to scale its model of operating stand-alone centers for patients with its health solutions in future acquisitions.
While Mind Medicine Inc. (MMED) (MMEDF) (BGHM) isn’t directly dealing with depression, its two flagship platforms are utilizing psychedelics to tackle two mental health issues that are exacerbated by social isolation, and are at higher risk during the lockdowns.
Both its 18-MC and Microdosing LSD platforms are moving into Phase 2 trials this year. The 18-MC platform deals with opioid withdrawals, while the Microdosing LSD platform addresses adult ADHD.
However, social isolation may be especially harmful for individuals with ADHD, as ADHD usually occurs with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. Opioid addiction is already referred to as a ‘disease of isolation‘, made only worse by the current situation.
With the crisis continuing into its 4th month in North America, and several health issues being made worse by current conditions, many eyes will be looking to the FDA and whether more “breakthrough therapies” will be approved over the coming months.
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