Ending the Epidemic

Over the past few weeks, we’ve looked at the many reasons that the depression epidemic has exploded. But what can we do about it? Currently approved medications — even those designed for depression — often fail to address the issue or even exacerbate symptoms. Mounting evidence suggests that psychedelics may be the key to transforming mental healthcare for hundreds of millions. Read last week’s post here.

Even when used as prescribed, all medications have the potential to cause undesired side effects, and depression is a common one. According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, one-third of Americans take medications that have been known to produce depressive symptoms. The cross-sectional study reviewed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2005 and 2014, which was based on responses from 26,192 adults with a mean age of 46.2 years old. Researchers found that about 200 commonly used drugs can lead to depression, including: 

  • Antidepressants (sertraline, citalopram, and amitriptyline)
  • Beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors (metoprolol, atenolol, and quinapril)
  • Corticosteroids (prednisone and others)
  • Hormones (estradiol and finasteride)
  • Anti-anxiety medications (clonazepam, diazepam, and lorazepam)
  • Opioids (hydrocodone combination medications and tramadol)
  • Anticonvulsants (gabapentin and topiramate)
  • Allergy and asthma medications (over-the-counter cetirizine and the prescription drug montelukast)
  • Proton pump inhibitors (omeprazole and esomeprazole, as well as the antacids ranitidine and famotidine)

 

The study also found that the more of these drugs a person consumed, the higher the depression risk — 6.9% of those who took one were depressed compared with 15.3% of those taking at least three. In comparison, only 4.7% of survey participants who were not taking any medications reported being depressed.

Depression not only robs people of years of their lives but also severely decreases their quality of life. Most people will experience at least one depressive episode at some point, but there are various measures that can be taken — such as eating a healthy diet, tending to physical health issues, and fostering healthy social relationships — to decrease those chances. 

For those who do end up experiencing this crippling disease, current treatment methods, such as behavioral activation, cognitive behavioral therapy, and antidepressant medication are effective for many. However, new and innovative treatment methods with higher success rates and faster efficacy do exist, and more are being discovered and developed all the time.

Psychedelic medicine is one such treatment. 

Recent clinical studies provide mounting evidence that psychedelics — specifically, rapid-acting compounds like psilocybin and ketamine — are promising candidates for the treatment of mental health disorders, either in combination with traditional therapies or in cases of treatment-resistant depression. In fact, ketamine is the first exemplar of a rapid-acting antidepressant with efficacy for treatment-resistant symptoms of mood disorders, with studies showing positive results in up to 93% of patients. It has also been found to be extremely effective in patients with chronic pain and/or terminal illnesses — a major contributor to the depression epidemic.

Importantly, though psychedelics show great promise — with study participants frequently reporting experiences as both healing and personally significant — more robust data is a prerequisite to patient access at scale. Studies are currently underway across the country to evaluate the safety and efficacy of everything from psilocybin for treatment resistant depression, to MDMA for post-traumatic stress disorder

But while research must continue, there are undoubtedly reasons to be cautiously optimistic.

Be sure to join us over the next few weeks as we examine several stories of lives transformed by psychedelic therapy — and don’t forget to sign up for our weekly newsletter to stay up to date with all the latest news in biotech, mental health innovation, and much more!