Amid a psychedelic resurgence in Austin and esteemed medical studies worldwide, the University of Texas at Austin's Dell Medical School has opened a Center for Psychedelic Research and Therapy to combat severe mental health conditions.
It's the first of its kind in Texas and will seek to help those with depression, anxiety and PTSD, especially those who haven't benefitted from more traditional treatments.
They'll implement an assortment of drugs, including ibogaine, a Central African root bark that has been used to treat opiod drug addiction; ayahuasca, a psychoactive brew originally used among indigenous people in the Amazon; psychedelic mushrooms (psilocybin); and MDMA (often called ecstasy or Molly).
Psychedelics have earned a hippy-dippy reputation since their use by members of counterculture movements and young people since the 1960s. Though each of these has been used recreationally or in religious ceremonies, they're also behind a growing bed of research—institutions like Johns Hopkins University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the Icahn School of Medicine have opened centers similar to Dell's newest research hub.
(Dell Medical School)
Charles B. Nemeroff, the professor and chair of Dell Med's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and co-lead of the center, said these studies have been promising.
“This research will bring further scientific rigor and expertise to study psychedelic therapy,” Nemeroff said. “Recent studies have demonstrated considerable promise for these drugs when incorporated with clinical support, and this work has the potential to transform how we treat conditions like depression and PTSD, and to identify synergies between these and other well-established therapies to achieve long-term benefits for those seeking treatment.”
The center's first patients will be military veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder as well as those with long-lasting grief disorder or depression and those who have experienced childhood trauma. Two veteran programs for those looking to treat their PTSD with psychedelics, The Mission Within and the Heroic Hearts Project, will be the center's first partners.
Instead of taking them daily like traditional medicines, the drugs will be given a few times in a psychotherapy session with a mental health provider. According to Greg Fonzo, an assistant professor in Dell Med’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, the use of psychedelics could help patients' brains to be more adaptable.
“A key ingredient in how psychedelic therapies promote mental health may be their ability to enhance neural plasticity, the process that allows the brain to adapt to new experiences – which when combined with brain modulation therapies may promote maximum benefit,” Fonzo said. “The potential implications are far-reaching for people with these conditions and their families, and also for the future of mental health treatment and care.”
The drugs aren't yet approved by the FDA, but there's been recent headway: six states have decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms, while Oregon has legalized them for medical use. In Texas, House Bill 1802 was adopted in the latest legislative session to allow a study on using alternative therapies for veterans with PTSD.
Austin Nicholson was ahead of the curve when he got his vasectomy in September 2021, saving himself a long line as Austin-area doctors say the demand for sterilization has seen a “significant” spike since Roe v. Wade was overturned on Friday.
Nicholson, 25, said he would prefer to adopt children, had felt the Supreme Court decision coming for a while, and, wary of the consequences, he decided to pull the trigger and make an appointment.
“A big part of it was the political climate. We could both potentially face consequences and she would definitely face more consequences, which I also personally would not want,” Nicholson said. “I didn't want to be stuck in Texas and have a potential abortion on the mind when it's illegal.”
According to vasectomy specialist Dr. Luke Machen of Austin Fertility and Reproductive Medicine, the clinic received over 150 vasectomy appointment requests combined on Friday and Monday following the ruling. Typically, the clinic performs 45-50 vasectomies per month.
The Austin Urology Institute reported that they received about 70 calls in the first hour after the ruling was released. OBYN at Women’s Health Domain reported receiving over 100 requests from women interested in getting their tubes tied.
“I would say a significant number of patients who scheduled recently have mentioned the Supreme Court case,” Machen said. “A lot of guys have said they were thinking about having a vasectomy over the last year or so, and the ruling was the final push to get it done.”
The average patient at Austin Fertility who receives a vasectomy is about 37, though Machen said he has started to see an increased number of patients with zero children choosing to get a vasectomy. While they put together a study, Machen expects demand for the procedure to plateau but stay higher than before the ruling.
Machen said vasectomy is the most effective form of permanent birth control, requires only about a week of recovery time, is reversible with success rates of up to 95% and has no effects on sexual function or testosterone.
Nicholson said the procedure was less than $700, he was never in any pain, had very little recovery time and has never regretted the decision—in fact, he has happily recommended the procedure to friends.
“It helps me feel better knowing that I won't put a woman in that situation where she'd have to be faced with a potentially life-altering decision, or consequence even,” Nicholson said. “I actually have had three of my friends ask me questions about it and tell me that they were considering it.”
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