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UNC professor shares personal motivation for studying psychedelics as possible treatment for mental illness

Could mushrooms be a potential treatment for mental illness?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There's a resurgence in studies looking at the potential use of psychedelic drugs to treat a variety of psychological issues. 

After decades of legal restrictions, drugs like psychedelic mushrooms and LSD are being studied as treatments for depression and anxiety.

Psychedelic drugs have been reported to trigger life-altering experiences. Recent research suggests some of them could have legitimate uses.

“We have these potential medications which at least in the study so far appear to have this really miraculous effect and really depilating mental illness," UNC-Chapel Hill Professor Dr. Bryan Roth said. 

For Roth, the research is also personal. 

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“My mom had schizophrenia and she had her first break when I was five or six and was afflicted with that all her life, so I was highly motivated to find out what the heck is going on in the brain," Dr Roth said.

Mental health treatment hasn't changed in generations, limited primarily to psychotherapy and medication. While tripping on LSD or "magic mushrooms" may not sound like a conventional therapy session, Roth says brain scans have shown psychedelics may increase connectivity among different regions of the brain. 

“Basically, a single dose of these drugs has this sort of robust long lasting effect with people who have difficult to treat depression," Dr. Roth said.

Some states like Oregon have legalized psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms. 

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“I can’t imagine North Carolina would be far behind," Dr. Roth said.

Still, there's a lot more work that has to be done before these treatments would be rolled out to the public. 

“Assuming this ever gets approved, it’s not that you would take some mushrooms home, it would be part of some integrated treatment and plan with your doctor," Dr. Roth said. 

Dr. Roth's lab also received a $27 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as part of the Focused Pharma program, which aims to develop a new class of psychotherapeutic drugs for treating a range of neuropsychiatric conditions.  

LSD and psilocybin, are classified as Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, labeled dangerous and illegal.

Contact Lexi Wilson at lwilson@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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