In the 1960s and '70s, psychedelic drugs defined the hippie generation.
Today, researchers find that drugs such as psilocybin, MDMA and Ketamine can be used as a treatment for mental health diseases such as PTSD, addiction and depression.
At the forefront of this movement to study the effects of using psychedelic drugs as therapy is Dr. Jeannie Fontana, CEO of TREAT California.
TREAT California is a statewide initiative that will create a $5 billion research funding agency. It will provide treatments and research on psychedelic medicines.
“I think it presents an opportunity to create a new paradigm for treatment for mental health,” Fontana said. “If we can help at least 10% of the population that’s not being treated right now, or 20 or 30% of the population, it’s a huge contribution to this space.”
In this episode of “LA Stories” with host Giselle Fernandez, Fontana shares how she came to be a leading part of this citizen-driven movement.
An unlikely character for the role, Fontana grew up during the Reagan-era war on drugs and the ads and warnings about the dangers of them stuck with her.
Fontana received a medical degree in internal medicine, a master of science in environmental toxicology and health, and a doctorate degree in biochemistry and molecular biophysics. She was a founding member of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a pioneer in stem-cell research. She also advocated on behalf of ALS patients.
When Fontana first heard of the positive outcomes of psychedelic assisted therapy, she threw herself into researching and learning everything she can about it.
“I studied it extensively, doing due diligence on it for the scientific merits, because I was so interested in the potential impact it could have,” she said.
Fontana eventually tried psychedelic-assisted therapy herself and calls it a life-changing experience.
Right now, people need to leave the country in order to receive this treatment — something many people cannot afford. Fontana and her team are advocating for research that will result in the legalization of PAT in the United States. They committed to making these therapies available to all Californians, regardless of their ability to pay.
A recent clinical trial of MDMA-Assisted Therapy for PTSD found that 67% of the participants no longer qualified for a PTSD diagnosis.
In another trial at Johns Hopkins University, after only one session of psilocybin-assisted therapy for major depressive disorder, 60% of participants remained symptom free after one year.
For Fontana, these results show a real need for the legalization and acceptance of these drugs for the treatment of mental illnesses.
“This is an opportunity of a lifetime to address mental health addiction and pain, and we need everybody to participate in this movement,” she said. “These are not insolvable problems. We just have to come together and decide that these are problems we want to solve.”
Watch “LA Stories with Giselle Fernandez” at 9 p.m. every Monday on Spectrum News 1.
CORRECTION: This article has been updated to reflect Fontana and her team's position on the legalization of PAT. (May 17, 2023)