Friday 31st January 2020 was a momentous day in the history of psychedelic research in Australia, as the clinical team of St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne’s landmark trial of psilocybin-assisted therapy for anxiety and depression associated with terminal illness treated their first participant in their first drug-therapy session. That day marked just over two years after the first planning meeting between Dr Marg Ross of St V’s and Dr Martin Williams of PRISM, and almost ten years after PRISM’s first efforts to initiate psychedelic medical research in Australia.
The design of the St Vincent’s palliative care trial draws on the many years of psychedelic medical research experience accumulated worldwide, and also reflects the particular skills of the St V’s clinical team in various modes of psychotherapy, music therapy and beyond.
In her talk, Dr Marg Ross will relate the recent history of psychedelic medical research, describe the current study including several innovative features of the St Vincent’s trial, and discuss the path ahead as we negotiate various regulatory hurdles and contemplate the longer-term potential of psychedelic psychotherapy as a viable treatment for a range of mental health conditions
Dr Margaret Ross is a consultant clinical psychologist and the clinical lead in Australia’s first ever psychedelic clinical trial. The trial will be based at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne and will investigate the ability of psilocybin-assisted therapy to alleviate anxiety and depression in terminally ill patients.
The St Vincent’s clinical trial will see palliative care patients given one to two doses of psilocybin and psychotherapy in a treatment protocol shown in overseas trials to produce rapid and dramatic improvements in depression and anxiety, and provide an altered outlook on their situation approaching death. Alongside psychotherapy and guidance, the psychedelic medicines are hoped to give terminally ill patients a new perspective on their lives, and to reduce the fear and depression which can often take over their final months.
Margaret will talk about the study's progress, its history, aims, and practical workings, whilst addressing the rationale for how psilocybin works to alleviate anxiety and depression.
Martin Williams, PhD, is a research fellow in Medicinal Chemistry at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Monash University, Melbourne. He is founding and current President of the DGR-registered health-promotion charity, Psychedelic Research in Science & Medicine (PRISM), founding and current Vice-President of the botanical/education charity, Entheogenesis Australis (EGA), and co-lead investigator of the upcoming Melbourne psilocybin trials at St Vincent’s Hospital.
Through PRISM, Martin and his colleagues have been advocating since 2011 for mental health research using psychedelic compounds in Australia, and in doing so, have established connections with researchers in the USA, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. In the course of planning and seeking approvals for two clinical trials, one of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD and the other of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of anxiety and depression associated with terminal illness, Martin has become familiar with the Australian regulatory and research governance landscape.
Martin and the Palliative Care team at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, recently achieved the requisite Human Research Ethics and state and federal government approvals for their proposed Phase 2 psilocybin trial, which began in late January 2020. He is currently working with another interdisciplinary research group on plans for a clinical trial of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for treatment-resistant depression.