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A trip into EU health – EURACTIV.com


With diagnoses of mental health issues on the rise across Europe, conversations about the clinical use of psychedelic treatments are entering EU policymaking, following promising trial outcomes for illnesses such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.

It is safe to say that we have all heard about psychedelics in one way or another.

Maybe you have read about religious ceremonies aided by psychedelic plants, or holidays in psychedelic retreats. Perhaps you have heard of someone taking LSD or magic mushrooms for the fun of it — or even licking certain types of toads to get high (which conservationists generally deem an unwise thing to do, by the way).

Chances are, some of you out there even tried some of these things yourself – although, hopefully not with a toad.

You may also have heard about the field of research that investigates the benefits of psychedelics in treating a range of mental health issues.

Admittedly, this is not exactly a new field. However, in recent years, the number of clinical trials testing psilocybin, MDMA and LSD for use in psychiatric conditions such as depression, drug dependency, and anorexia has risen dramatically.

Generally, the research looks extremely promising, especially in the context of a Europe waking up to the consequences of COVID-19 and the lockdowns which have worsened our mental health — and it was already declining prior to the pandemic.

Cue: psychedelics entering the EU stage.

The pandemic resulted in a wave of momentum for health initiatives, and advocates for psychedelic research and therapy are already surfing it.

The push builds on hot debates in other countries such as Canada, where the use of psychedelics in palliative care is high on the agenda.

“It would only be natural to also raise awareness about this in Europe,” Viktor Chvatal, secretary-general of Psychedelics Europe, told EURACTIV.

“And I think that can be done in connection with, for example, implementation of the European Cancer Plan, especially the chapter that is focused on palliative care or preparation of the Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe,” he added.

Apart from specific initiatives in the recent strengthening of a European Health Union, Psychedelics Europe is also eyeing more EU funding for their research from different funding tools, Horizon Europe in particular.

“We would welcome it if there would be a bigger focus in the upcoming years in the EU funding programmes on support for innovative solutions in mental health. It’s not only about the medicinal use of psychedelics, but it is a part of it,” Chvatal said.

Let’s rewind for a minute…

…and take a closer look at psychedelic research.

The field could be said to date back to 1938 when Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann first synthesised LSD. Fifteen years later, he isolated psilocybin and psilocin, different types of hallucinogenic components stemming from certain mushrooms.

In the last half of the 20th century, research spread throughout other countries, where the current state of the field varies significantly – partly due to drug laws tripping up researchers in their mission to explore psychedelics’ potential.

“There are a lot of [EU] member states having a very innovative approach and good quality research,” Chvatal said.

Obviously, the researchers do not use ecstasy pills like those that might be circulating around a party, because they can be full of unknown ingredients. Instead, they would use the pure MDMA in low or reasonable doses in controlled circumstances.

The types and goals of recent trials vary, as well as the substance they investigate.

The most recent example of clinical trial results from a smaller study by researchers from Imperial College London which was published Monday (11 April) in Nature Medicine, showing promising results for the use of psilocybin therapy to treat depression.

The participants in the study, all with treatment-resistant depression, received controlled doses of psilocybin which appeared to free up the brain in a way other antidepressants do not do, David Nutt, professor at Imperial College London and co-author of the study, told the BBC.

Mental health discussions at the forefront

Returning to the EU – it is evident that there is an increased concern about mental health. In an afternoon debate in the European Parliament plenary on Thursday, MEPs from a wide range of European parties called on the Commission for more action on mental health, such as the creation of a mental health strategy for the Union.

Word on the street is that the upcoming Czech presidency of the EU Council, in the last half of 2022, plans to make mental health a priority.

“We consider this very important since it creates space for discussing mental health in general,” Chvatal said.

This move towards more focus on mental health could also mean that your country’s MEPs will soon be discussing psychedelics. A new cross-party group of MEPs is being set up specifically on this topic. If all goes well it could launch this Spring, Green MEP Mikuláš Peksa, one of the main drivers of this group, told EURACTIV.

Peksa calls the rise in mental health issues a “second pandemic”, and is one of the advocates for more European coordination in the field.

“If we don’t start tackling mental health problems with effective methods, it will have severe consequences. A potential solution that is showing a lot of promise is the medicinal use of psychedelics. Clinical trials have shown very promising results in treating issues such as treatment-resistant depression, addiction, end-of-life anxiety or PTSD,” Peksa said.

“We are working on prioritisation of this issue in the European Parliament with like-minded MEPs, and we want to make sure that the regulatory framework is up to date with the latest scientific research. We can’t deprive patients with mental health issues of effective therapy and impede research into possible solutions because of outdated drug classification laws,” he added.

By Amalie Mersh

Subscribe to EURACTIV’s Health Brief, where you’ll find the latest roundup of news covering health from across Europe. The Health Brief is brought to you by EURACTIV’s Health Team Giedrė Peseckytė, Clara Bauer-Babef, Amalie Holmgaard Mersh, Gerardo Fortuna, and Natasha Foote.

EU NEWS

Health data sharing. A more efficient sharing of valuable health data could improve our health systems significantly. But according to health professionals, this requires proper consideration of trust, ethics, and security.

Air pollution. Ninety-nine per cent of the global population lives in places that exceed World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality standards, threatening health and causing premature deaths, according to a new study published this week.

Salmonella outbreak

Closing Ferrero factory in Belgium. A salmonella outbreak, linked to multiple Kinder products made at a Ferrero factory in Belgium, continues to spread in Europe. All production has been suspended at the site, and products manufactured between June and the present date have been recalled.

The beginning of the outbreak. Two top EU health bodies announced on Wednesday (6 April) that an outbreak caused by Salmonella is rapidly evolving in six European Union countries, Norway, and the United Kingdom (UK), with Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs identified as the likely route of infection.

COVID-19

4th dose. European health agencies said that the fourth dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccination, also known as a second booster shot, is currently only being considered for people who are immunocompromised or over 80 years of age. 

COVAX interview. It has been over a year since the COVAX vaccination initiative, led by Gavi, delivered its first shipment. Recently supply outran demand for the first time. The initiative’s focus is now turning towards fundraising to prepare for future variants.

Ukraine

Lack of access to healthcare. The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned on Thursday (7 April) that people in Ukraine “are going to start dying from common causes”, due to the lack of access to medical care and humanitarian aid, adding that they are now preparing healthcare workers for treating chemical attacks.

Protection for refugee children. MEPs have overwhelmingly voted in favour of a resolution to provide more protection for Ukrainian refugee children who have fled the country but now face risks of human trafficking and abuse.

Attacks on healthcare. The World Health Organisation (WHO) verified over 100 attacks on health care in Ukraine since the Russian invasion on 24 February, killing more than 70 people and causing long-term devastation to the healthcare system, according to a report on Thursday (7 April).

Mental health assistance. On Wednesday (13 April) the Commission allocated €9 million from the EU4Health Programme to assist people fleeing Ukraine in urgent need of mental health and trauma support services. Funding will be directed to the International Federation of Red Cross Societies and non-governmental organisations to support healthcare professionals to carry out their work.

HPV

The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced on Monday (11 April) that a one-dose human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine gives “solid protection” against cervical cancer, the fourth most common cancer among women – a promising discovery considering the global shortage of HPV vaccines.

Hepatitis

An increase in acute hepatitis cases in children during the past few weeks was reported in the United Kingdom (UK). ECDC is raising awareness among clinicians taking care of children, to determine whether there are any similar cases in other countries.

The Capitals

Dutch COVID-19 rate sees significant drop. The average number of daily COVID-19 infections in the Netherlands has fallen below 10,000 for the first time since November, health authorities revealed in a new report published Tuesday. By  Sofia Stuart Leeson |  EURACTIV.com

Danish health authority to buy two million iodine tablets. The health authority is increasing its stock of iodine tablets based on the advice of the country’s Emergency Management Agency, predicting a nuclear incident in Denmark’s immediate area, TV station TV2 has reported. By  Charles Szumski |  EURACTIV.com

German Bundestag strikes down mandatory COVID-19 jab proposal. The Bundestag has rejected a proposal by government parties to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for certain groups, revealing divisions within the governing coalition. By  Julia Dahm |  EURACTIV.de

EU laws block Danish government’s nicotine ban. The Danish government cannot prevent those born after 2010 from buying nicotine products because of EU rules. By  Charles Szumski |  EURACTIV.com

Upcoming events

14 April – World Chagas Disease Day.

20 April – European Parliament’s health committee

29-30 April – Symposium of the Belgian Hospital Physicist Association.

24-25 May – EIT Health Summit in Stockholm, Sweden.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]





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