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Natural Medicines for Trauma, Palliative Care, & Hospice Care Patients

April 2, 2022
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Ramon Martinez III

Executive Summary 

“Natural medicines” containing psychoactive compounds (such as psilocybin, ibogaine, mescaline, and dimethyltryptamine/DMT) have been used widely in both indigenous cultural and spiritual contexts. However, these compounds have not been thoroughly explored in the context of Western medicinal use. Although federal funding to research certain compounds has been restricted, privately-funded clinical studies have shown potential in psychiatric settings, including for depressed and anxious cancer patients, those with substance abuse disorders, and those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Two bills have been introduced in the 2022 Missouri legislative session (HB 2850 and HB 2429) that would allow terminally-ill or treatment-resistant trauma patients to obtain dimethyltryptamine, ibogaine, mescaline, or psilocybin, or would expand the Missouri Right to Try Act to allow terminally-ill patients to be administered these compounds (as well as methylenedioxymethamphetamine and lysergic acid).

 Highlights 

  • Anywhere from 25-77% of terminally-ill patients experience high rates of anxiety and/or depression, and up to 50% experience delirium.
  • Compounds like psilocybin have been shown in small trials to reduce depression, anxiety, and improve mood in 80% of terminal cancer patients.
  • Oregon remains the only state to have approved the use of  psilocybin for medicinal use.
    • Several states (like CO, WA, NJ, and OR) have decriminalized possession of compounds like psilocybin, while Texas and Connecticut have approved the creation of state health agency working groups to investigate the potential of these compounds.

Limitations 

  • Given the status of many “natural medicines” as Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substances Act, there is a lack of data on how these compounds can or should be used clinically, and what ailments they may be effective in treating. 
  • Most clinical-setting research has been done on psilocybin and methylenedioxymethamphetamine, and as such data is still needed on the effect of other medicines of this type.
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