Researchers at Monash University in Melbourne have achieved ethics approval for their research trial proposal seeking to study the effects of psilocybin (the active compound in “magic mushrooms”) as an adjunct to therapy in the treatment of Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Until now, worldwide research into psilocybin’s effects on anxiety has been focused on existential anxiety, such as that which can accompany a terminal diagnosis. Head of Clinical Psychedelic Research at Monash University Dr Paul Liknaitzky will lead the team who will assess the safety and efficacy of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy alongside exploring how the treatment works.

Whilst anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health diagnoses, GAD has been identified as the most prolific with around 6% of Australians suffering with a GAD diagnosis at some point in their life. Sufferers of GAD experience intense anxiety and worry most of the time which can be so excessive that everyday life becomes difficult, whilst current treatments can provide inadequate outcomes, problematic side-effects, and high relapse rates.

Evidence is accumulating that psychotherapy assisted by psilocybin can provide significant and lasting benefits across a range of mental health disorders. Psychedelic drugs can induce states of consciousness that are often reported to be remarkable, moving, beneficial, and difficult to describe. Clinical participants also report challenging experiences that, when well supported, are often felt to be highly valuable by the participant.

Lead psychedelic trainer and therapist at Monash, Sean O’Carroll, says: “As psychotherapists, we regularly witness the psychological pain and suffering inflicted by severe GAD, a condition which is notoriously difficult to treat. It is increasingly clear that psychedelics – when used in conjunction with intensive and novel psychotherapeutic interventions – have great healing potential. This trial will provide us with an opportunity to make a real contribution to the field, by deepening our understanding of how to best work with these powerful substances. It’s very exciting.”

Head of Psychiatry at Monash, investigator, and medical lead on this trial, Prof Suresh Sundram, says: “This is a critical hurdle to pass in our efforts to test a novel potentially game-changing treatment for people suffering an illness which is often under-recognised, poorly treated and disabling.”

This trial, led by the Clinical Psychedelic Research Lab within the Department of Psychiatry and the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, will be conducted at BrainPark, a state-of-the-art research facility at Monash University.

“Given the early yet highly promising results from other psilocybin trials for different conditions,” says Dr Liknaitzky, “this treatment – alongside innovations we’ve developed – may deliver a substantial step forward in the treatment of anxiety disorders.”

Looking to recruit 72 participants, it is set to be the largest psychedelic research and development project in Australia to date and will include psilocybin sessions alongside a program of specialised psychotherapy.

Keep an eye out on our clinical trial catalogue for more details as they become available.