Could we treat depression by prescribing patients a psychedelic drug?

Here’s an interesting idea.

Dr Carol Routledge, working with Imperial College London, is overseeing a first-time clinical trial which involves patients tripping on a psychedelic drug before a talk therapy session. Why?

As chief scientific and medical officer at drug firm Small Pharma, she believes the psychedelic drug ­dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, could be used in a new way to treat depression as an alternative to antidepressants.

During the first stage of her trial run in a safe, controlled, relaxed setting, healthy volunteers receive a dose of DMT given intravenously to see how normal people react to different doses, and to discover the maximum strength needed for a ­therapeutic benefit.

Stage two of the trial involves people with depression receiving the drug, after staying in the clinic overnight and undergoing medical checks.

Blood levels of DMT are monitored and researchers also take EEG ­recordings to observe brain patterns.

Dr Routledge says: “They kind of go on a journey into themselves, and that’s when they can think of things that happened in the past that are painful.

“They can think of things that happened in the past that are really pleasurable, but all of that is really important for the therapeutic benefit you gain afterwards.”

DMT and other psychedelic drugs work by disrupting ruminative neural pathways in the brain.

“What your mind does is it goes over and over what happened to you until you get these really strong neuronal pathways that are these negative feedback loops and it’s very, very difficult to shift your mindset out of those,” says Dr Routledge.

“What psychedelics do is they disrupt that ingrained neuronal connectivity and they cause a lot of new connections in the brain to be made – they increase the synaptic connections, which are basically the connections between your brain cells and your brain.

“They kind of almost reset the brain and then the therapy helps you deal with that setting and puts you on the right track.”

This DMT-assisted psychotherapy offers real promise to people suffering depression and anxiety.

When asked how confident she was that DMT could one day be commonly used to assist therapy, Dr Routledge said: “I have seen enough data to know that these approaches, and this approach particularly, will ­revolutionise how we treat these depressive and anxiety disorders.

“It’s a when, not an if.”