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Mind-altering drugs could treat mental disorders

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Psychedelic compounds have had a colorful past. Although initially investigated for medical uses, they were banned after cultural and political times changed in the 1960s and 1970s. Now, the compounds are getting another chance in the mainstream, according to the cover story of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society.

Jyllian Kemsley, a senior editor at C&EN, explains that the tide turned against psychedelics once the baby boom generation started taking them recreationally about 50 years ago. But now, as physicians discover that conventional drugs are failing many patients with mental health issues, interest in psychedelics as treatments is growing. For example, many patients who had experienced long-term symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder found significant relief after just two or three treatments with a compound called MDMA, which is better known by its street name, ecstasy. Other potential applications for psychedelics include treatment of addiction, depression, neuropathic pain, epilepsy and anxiety.

Research into using these compounds as medicines is in early stages, and the legal, societal and business environment surrounding them makes studies difficult to conduct and funding hard to come by. But the possible payoff is so great that some researchers are determined to carry on their work despite these barriers.

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