Recent scientific interest in psychedelics as alternative mental health treatments has raised questions on the application of hallucinogens in treating athletes’ mental health. Following decades of federal criminalization, we have entered an age of looser drug policies and even drug reform that has facilitated the research of previously controlled psychedelic substances such as psilocybin, MDMA and LSD.
Although psychedelics are still controlled, more researchers are getting official approval to run studies and clinical trials testing the medical efficacy of psychedelics against various mental disorders. This research has revealed that psychedelic compounds can deliver significant long-term benefits against conditions such as treatment-resistant depression, eating disorders, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, especially when they are paired with talk therapy.
Toronto Blue Jays lead primary care physician and the assistant medical director at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Dovigi Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Clinic David Lawrence recently discussed the potential of using psychedelics to address mental health challenges in athletes. He recently published a study exploring the connection between psychedelics such as DMT and feeling strong feelings of connection and familiarity with otherworldly things, entities or places.
Lawrence said that while the study focuses on one specific aspect of the DMT psychedelic experience, psychedelics have generally exhibited efficacy in treating mental health issues that typically affect athletes. The high stakes involved in most professional sports cause immense mental strain on athletes, which can directly impact their performance, career trajectory and quality of life.
Data from the American College of Sports Medicine shows that around 35% of top athletes experience issues such as disordered eating, burnout, depression and anxiety. Sports injuries such as concussions and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries can also impact their overall well-being and contribute to poor mental health.
Noting the multitude of clinical trials and studies on the efficacy of psychedelics as mental health treatments, Lawrence posits that hallucinogens may help to alleviate issues such as anxiety, depression and PTSD that plague many athletes.
Disordered eating patterns are especially prevalent among professional athletes, Lawrence said, adding that they can be especially hard to treat. Prior studies have shown that psilocybin, the main psychoactive agent in magic mushrooms, may hold promise as an alternative treatment for eating disorders like anorexia.
However, he notes that researching psychedelics as alternative mental health treatments will come with many legal considerations as psychedelics are still outlawed in many jurisdictions. Integrating psychedelics into treatment protocols for professional athletes will also require the aid of professional sports organizations as many of them have also banned psychedelic use among athletes.
The work being done by for-profit companies such as Compass Pathways PLC (NASDAQ: CMPS) is likely to shed more light on which groups of people could benefit most from the psychedelic medicines being taken through the clinical development process.
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