Otago researchers tripping (over their feet for psychedelic research)

Dunedin academics are part of an international resurgence into psychedelic drug research within a medicinal context.  

“Psychedelics” are a class of drugs characterized by their mind-altering qualities and include LSD, psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and mescaline containing cacti. Harnessing these psychoactive properties has provided promising results indicating therapeutic potential of psychedelics for treating addiction, anxiety, depression and Alzheimer’s according to recent studies, two of which took place in Dunedin.  

University of Otago Professors, Dr Claudia Grott Zanicotti, Dr David Perez, and Dr Paul Glue, conducted a study into the viability of Ketamine as an antidepressant. Ketamine, traditionally an anesthetic, was administered weekly via weekly intramuscular injections over an eight-month period into a 36-year-old ovarian cancer patient with a history of a major depressive disorder (MDD). They say treatment was effective and provided “remission of her symptoms.” 

Another observational study conducted by Otago University Anthropology Professor Dr Geoff Noller looked at the success of Ibogaine in weaning people off opioid addiction. Ibogaine is gazetted under the Medicines Act 2010 and can be administered by registered medical practitioners to patients in their care. Provisional results in 2014 showed that of the 14 patients observed, 11 completed the treatment and five remained opiate free at the end of five months following a single dose.  

The enduring stigma following LSD misuse in the 1960s has proved to be the biggest obstacle for research and is partly to blame for the almost 50-year hiatus in psychedelic research. “Because they are generally illegal, it is extremely difficult to express interest in studying these substances,” says James Parsons, a member of the student group Students for Sensible Drug Policy Ōtepoti. 

Instead, he argues, we need to look at the Dunedin model as showing positive results that have been achieved by operating within the system, and a step towards psychedelics becoming medically available as viable treatments. 

“What a post-prohibition society looks like is objectively and rationally looking at the pros and cons of each drug, and saying in a certain setting and a certain use and a certain context they can actually be beneficial.” 

Students for Sensible Drug Policy Ōtepoti and local practitioners are hosting ‘Psychedelic Potluck’, a forum encouraging open discussion on psychedelics on Tuesday 24 April at 7pm in the Evison Lounge in the OUSA Clubs and Societies Building. All are welcome to join the conversation; it is asked that a food donation is supplied.

This article first appeared in Issue 8, 2016.
Posted 10:31am Sunday 24th April 2016 by Sally Wilkins.