Chemist, Dr. Chris Witkowski co-founder and CEO of local start-up company Psilera Bioscience, joined MidPoint on June 22, 2022, to discuss their and others’ work developing therapeutic and medicinal treatments for mental health disorders from natural psychedelics like psilocybin (magic mushrooms), DMT, ayahuasca, and the like. In collaboration with USF, Psilera is developing brand-new treatments from psychedelics for mental and behavioral health problems like treatment-resistant severe depression, PTSD, anxiety, addiction, and other such problems. As a psychedelic-based biotechnology company, the future looks bright to Witowski and his colleagues as they put their background and research strengths from the pharmaceutical and cannabis industries into repurposing psychoactive natural products into patient-centric mental health treatments.
Since the pandemic, depression is now the most widespread public health challenge in the United States. Current anti-depression medications are often accompanied by some very unpleasant side effects including insomnia, weight gain, loss of libido and sexual dysfunction, fatigue, and confusion. According to Dr. Witowski, psychedelics work in similar ways to SSRIs in that they change the neural pathways in the brain. But, where antidepressants do not take effect immediately and once dosages are adjusted, they most often have to be taken regularly for life, recent research has shown remarkable long-range improvement in patients’ mental state from just a few doses of psychedelics taken in therapeutic settings and accompanied by talk therapy designed to integrate the psychedelic experience for the patient. Unfortunately, such psychedelic therapies in a clinical setting are not yet covered by most health insurance and can therefore be very expensive.
But, Chris Witowski and his colleagues at Psilera are optimistic that that will change. Perhaps as soon as next year, Witowski speculates that MDMA treatment for PTSD will be covered by insurance, and approval of other psychedelic treatments for mental health will follow as the research increases. ” While the underlying safety/efficacy is good, there’s still so much to learn about dosage, administration, side effects, and consciousness itself,” he believes.