LSD, magic mushrooms and mescaline have been banned in the U.S. and many other countries since the 1970s, but psychedelic medicine is making a comeback as new therapies for depression, nicotine addiction and anxiety. The drugs have another scientific use, too: so-called psychotomimetics, or mimics of psychosis, may be useful tools for studying schizophrenia. By creating a brief bout of psychosis in a healthy brain, as indigenous healers have for millennia, scientists are seeking new ways to study—and perhaps treat—mental illness. Researhers think that schizophrenia is a group of psychoses, which may have different causes. The new approach is to try to understand specific symptoms: hearing voices, cognitive problems, or apathy and social disengagement. If you can identify the neural bases of these, you can tailor the pharmacology.
They have found an existing drug for anxiety that blocks specific effects of psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms. When healthy people were given the drug before tripping, they did not report visual hallucinations and other common effects, according to a study published in April 2016 in European Neuropsychopharmacology. The effort is part of a burgeoning movement in pharmacology that seeks to induce psychosis to learn how to treat it. And schizophrenia desperately needs new treatments. Seventy-five percent of afflicted patients have cognitive problems. And most commonly used drugs do not treat the disorder's “negative” symptoms—apathy, social withdrawal, negative thinking—nor the cognitive impairments, which best predict how well a patient will fare in the long term.