Printer Friendly

Caution about 'miracle cures'.

I thank Drs. Katherine Epstein and Helen Farrell for the balanced approach in their article '"Miracle cures' in psychiatry?" (Psychiatry 2.0, CURRENT PSYCHIATRY. September 2019, p. 13-16), which discussed the new psychiatric use of stimulants, dissociative agents, and hallucinogens. (Here I distinguish 3,4-methylenedioxy methamphetamine [MDMA], ketamine, and psilocybin by mechanisms.) The frustration psychiatrists have felt in attempting to get good results from their treatment efforts has long inspired bold new strategies. While Drs. Epstein and Farrell cited the long history of misguided enthusiasms in psychiatric therapeutics, they omitted more recent backfires: bilateral electroconvulsive therapy, cingulotomy, rapid neuroleptization, and the overselling of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Chronic use and long-term adverse effects are usually underestimated at the beginning of new pharmacologies. Now, with an array of new psychoactive substances being introduced as therapies, we must learn from experience (the definition of mental health?) and use caution.

We need to pay serious attention to the small sample sizes and limited criteria for patient selection in trials of ketamine and MDMA, as well as to what sort of "psychotherapy" follows treatment with these agents. Many of us in psychiatric practice for the past 40 years have been humbled by patients' idiosyncratic reactions to standard medications, let alone novel ones. Those of us who practiced psychiatry in the heyday of "party drugs" have seen many idiosyncratic reactions. Most early research with cannabinoids and lysergic acid diethylamide (and even Strassman's trials with N,N-dimethyltryptamine [DMT] (1-5)) highlighted the significance of response by drug-naive patients vs drug-savvy individuals. Apart from Veterans Affairs trials for posttraumatic stress disorder, many trials of these drugs for treatment-resistant depression or end-of-life care have attracted nonnaive participants. (6-8) Private use of entheogens is quite different from medicalizing their use. This requires our best scrutiny. Our earnest interest in improving outcomes must not be influenced by the promise of a quick fix, let alone a miracle cure.

Sara Hartley, MD

Clinical Faculty

Interim Head of Admissions

UC Berkley/UCSF Joint Medical Program

Berkeley, California

Disclosure: The author reports no financial relationships with any companies whose products are mentioned in this article, or with manufacturers of competing products.


(1.) Strassman RJ. Human psychopharmacology of N,N-dimethyltryptamine. Behav Brain Res. 1996;73(1-2):121-124.

(2.) Strassman RJ. DMT: the spirit molecule. A doctor's revolutionary research into the biology of near-death and mystical experiences. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press; 2001.

(3.) Strassman RJ, Qualls CR. Dose-response study of N,N-dimethyltryptamine in humans. I. Neuroendocrine, autonomic, and cardiovascular effects. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1994;51(2):85-97.

(4.) Strassman RJ, Qualls CR, Berg LM. Differential tolerance to biological and subjective effects of four closely spaced doses of N,N-dimethyltryptamine in humans. Biol Psychiatry. 1996;39(9):784-795.

(5.) Strassman RJ, Qualls CR, Uhlenhuth EH, et al. Dose-response study of N,N-dimethyltryptamine in humans. II. Subjective effects and preliminary results of a new rating scale. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1994;51(2):98-108.

(6.) Albott CS, et al. Improvement in suicidal ideation after repeated ketamine infusions: Relationship to reductions in symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and pain. Presented at: The Anxiety and Depression Association of America Annual Conference; Mar. 28-31, 2019; Chicago.

(7.) Abdallah CG, Sanacora G, Duman RS, et al. Ketamine and rapid-acting antidepressants: a window into a new neurobiology for mood disorder therapeutics. Annu Rev Med. 2015;66: 509-523.

(8.) Mithoefer MC, Mithoefer AT, Feduccia AA, et al. 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-ssisted psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder in military veterans, firefighters, and police officers: a randomised, double-blind, dose-response, phase 2 clinical trial. Lancet Psychiatry 2018;5(6):486-497.
COPYRIGHT 2020 Frontline Medical Communications Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2020 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Comments&Controversies
Author:Hartley, Sara
Publication:Current Psychiatry
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Jan 1, 2020
Previous Article:20 Reasons to celebrate our APA membership in 2020.
Next Article:Physician assistants and the psychiatrist shortage.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters