GDS 2020: Are psychedelics your medicine?

Prof Adam R Winstock, Consultant Psychiatrist and Global Drug Survey CEO,
Associate Prof Matt Johnson, John Hopkins University
Dr Ben Sessa, Consultant Psychiatrist, University of Bristol
Assoc Prof Rupert McShane, Oxford University
PhD Cand. Christopher Timmermann, Imperial College London


Last year GDS2019 explored the acceptability of psychedelics in psychiatry. While those with past experience of these substances were much more likely to choose psychedelic assisted psychotherapy, amongst those without such personal experience, myths about harms such as brain damage were identified as significant barriers to acceptance.

Although research, evidence and regulations are gradually opening the doors of access to these new treatment modalities, to date only esketamine (as a nasal spray) has received formal approval for use as a prescribed treatment (for treatment resistant depression) and so far only in the United States. With a typically sluggish transition from early evidence and research to widespread access to the masses, it is likely to be several years before drugs like MDMA, psilocybin, or LSD are going to be available at your local clinic. Given the lack of effective or acceptable treatments for so many with psychiatric illness, this delay for many people may prove too long. The temptation to try and resolve these issues using less researched treatments, outside clinical settings, might prove overwhelming for some.

It’s highly probable that as you read this, there are 10,000s of people, who outside of formal treatment settings and research trials, are currently engaging in some form of self-treatment with a range of psychedelic substances.  They outnumber those taking part in formal treatment trials with psychedelics by a huge margin. Whether prompted by their own past experience with these drugs, a reluctance to engage with psychiatrists and take anti-depressants, or influenced by social media and books, the promise offered by

psychedelic assisted therapies will be very attractive to many people. So, while we are not encouraging such use, it is happening, and we want to learn from it.

We don’t know much about what substances people are using, or how they take them. We don’t know how guidance by a credentialed therapist (operating underground), an indigenous healer, or facilitators at a private retreat influence outcome. We don’t know even what conditions or emotional concerns people are trying to treat .Thousands of people may already have some of the answers. Think how much experience is out there and how much we could learn.

We’re asking for your help so we can learn more and share our findings with those who are running trials, navigating legislation and who are planning wider treatment access.

Don’t keep your knowledge and experience to yourself. If you have used a psychedelic in the last 12 months to treat a psychiatric condition or emotional concern, please take part now in this year’s Global Drug Survey, GDS2020: