Several studies into psychedelics' potential to treat mental illness will begin recruiting participants for trials in 2021 as Australia's work in the field moves out of the shadows.
Edith Cowan and Monash universities will begin separate trials into the potential for MDMA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. St Vincent's Hospital Sydney will examine the impact of psilocybin on preventing methamphetamine relapse, Monash will study its effect on generalised anxiety disorder and the University of Melbourne will look at its potential to treat depression.
The sanctioned trials in Australia will commence following positive results overseas in studies where participants have undergone psychotherapy after being administered psychedelics.
Stephen Bright is a researcher at Edith Cowan University in Perth, and a founding member of Psychedelic Research in Science and Medicine.
Dr Bright said Australia was involved in the early studies into the potential of psychedelics back in the 1960s, despite the introduction of legislation aimed at stopping the research.
Researchers have continued to present their results at conferences in Australia for decades, Dr Bright said.
With the United States moving towards approving MDMA as a prescription treatment for PTSD, Dr Bright said Australia no longer needed to demonstrate effectiveness.
"We need to demonstrate that we have the people and infrastructure to do it safely," he said.
Dr Bright said Australia had the opportunity to "scale up", with bigger trials ensuring more therapists were trained so when MDMA was given the green light in the US, the safety data was available to show it was possible here too.
He said currently none of the Australian studies had been given government funding and there was little incentive for pharmaceutical companies to back this research either.
Dr Bright said he was concerned that if the infrastructure for administering these drugs wasn't worked into Australia's health care system, the treatments would be limited to those who could afford them.
Psychiatrist and psychedelic researcher Nigel Strauss will fund the Monash trial studying the effects of combined psychotherapy and MDMA on 25 participants suffering PTSD.
Dr Strauss said the most common cause of PTSD was childhood abuse. A significant number of veterans and first responders also suffer from the disorder.
He said while the current recommended treatment of cognitive behavioural therapy and antidepressants was effective for some sufferers, a large group of people didn't respond to it.
"Whatever approach you take, ideally you want people to go back into the trauma [and] work through the memory of it - and that can be extremely difficult for people to do," Dr Strauss said.
Dr Strauss said the treatment being investigated at Monash had potential because it allowed people to feel relaxed and positive enough to work through their trauma.
His area of interest is PTSD in veterans, as he'd been assessing them for many years and had become increasingly concerned about some veterans' lack of progress.
An ACT Ministerial Advisory Council for Veterans and Families spokesperson said the council was yet to review the trials in detail.
The spokesperson said the council needed time to form a position to ensure it was representative of the estimated 26,000 members of the ACT veterans community.