With a majority of standard treatments being proved rather ineffective in the treatment of mental health disorders and drug addiction, attention has turned to psychedelics. Proponents of psychedelic therapy see the psychedelic experience as a “birth right” while its detractors see its ability to dissolve opinion structures as a threat to social order . Views have been polarized all along, but recent scientific developments have started swaying public opinion in a more positive direction. Before analyzing research in the field of psychedelics and their economic impact on healthcare, it is crucial to lay the framework.

    Psychedelics are a class of hallucinogenic drugs that set off non-ordinary states of consciousness. They alter and enhance sensory perception and trigger spiritual experiences. They are eaten, smoked/inhaled, or brewed into tea. All throughout human history, hallucinogens were used during religious ceremonies to experience a heightened stated of spiritual awareness. Even now, they feature extensively in the cultures of indigenous tribes in Central and South America. DMT, LSD, MDMA (i.e., Ecstasy), and Psilocybin (i.e., Magic mushrooms) are a few well known psychedelic compounds. 

          Drug addiction and mental health disorders such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety impose a heavy cost on an economy and its healthcare system. For one, they significantly harm labour productivity by damaging individual performance and the work environment. According to a report named ‘Mental health matters’ published in the health magazine “The Lancet” in November 2020, lost productivity costed the world economy approximately $2-5 million in 2010, a cost projected to rise to $6 trillion by 2030. Given the brazen attack on mental health by the COVID pandemic, these figures might be seriously understated. Additionally, mental health issues also constrain labor supply.

        Conventional treatments for PTSD, depression, and drug addiction are so ineffective that a large proportion of the money spent by the health care system on standard mental health drugs and related services is wasted. This problem is compounded by the fact that most patients undergo these ineffective treatments for very long periods of time. Therefore, the inefficacy of standard mental health treatments means that expenditure on them is like throwing money into a blackhole.

     Psychedelics have the power to alleviate these economic troubles to such an extent that psychedelic-assisted therapy has been dubbed by a parallel, more potent health service. In recent times, a plethora of studies and clinical trials has bought into the limelight the therapeutic properties of hallucinogens with regards to mental health. Such therapies have the capability to drastically improve the condition of people with mental disorders that do not react to general medical processes. Moreover, they have shown promising results in helping people overcome drug addiction. For instance, addicts who were given psilocybin at John Hopkins research center have stated that it gave them the “impetus to abstain”. There has been no definitive conclusion but researchers strongly suspect that psilocybin played a key role.

A common misconception is that using psychedelics to combat drug addiction is counterproductive because patients will become addicted to them instead. However, individuals consuming psychedelics hardly ever become dependent on them, according to the National library of medicine and various other scientific communities.

The cost effectiveness of treatments that revolve around psychedelics can be shown by diving deeper into two studies published in March 2022, where MDMA was used to treat PTSD. With PTSD, current psychotherapeutic treatments have limited effectiveness for many and at least half of the patients do not react to standard therapies. As a part of the trial for the first study, patients received three 90-minute preparatory psychotherapy sessions, three 8-hour active MDMA or placebo sessions, and nine 90-minute integrative psychotherapy sessions. The results showed that MDMA-assisted therapy (MDMA-AT) was associated with 54.2% decrease in criteria for PTSD at follow up. Additionally, it would save $103.2 million over 30 years for thousands of patients, who nevertheless need to meet criteria for treatment, as exposure to psychedelics can be very dangerous for individuals with schizophrenia or psychosis. The second study found that expanding access to MDMA-AT to 25-75% of eligible patients over 10 years would avert between 43,618 and 106,932 deaths and help the US healthcare system to save $109-$266 billion.

         Certain things will have to be further considered before psychedelics-based treatments are allowed to go mainstream. Psychedelics are not a magical elixir and taking them without guidance can entail physical and psychological risks. Thousands of therapists would have to be trained to guide patients through the “mystical experience” and help them realize its full benefits. Also, social stigma around these substances would have to be diminished with the aid of information campaigns. There is an increasing amount of evidence to support the fact that psychedelic-assisted therapy is less costly and very effective at tackling mental disorders. All parties concerned with mental health can look forward to bright times ahead!

Curious about this topic? Check out the latest episode of our podcast “Benefits of psychedelic therapies with Elliott Marseille”