Digital therapeutics and telehealth set to transform psychedelic therapy

COVID-19 and the ‘new normal’ for healthcare provision 

Pioneers and early movers in the psychedelics industry are using tech to a) develop bespoke therapies for patients which are individually tailored to treat their specific mental health challenges; and, to b) broaden access to healthcare for greater numbers of patients via telehealth services. 

Amidst a global pandemic which shows no signs of abating, there has never been a more appropriate time to harness technology in the battle against mental health disorders.  COVID-19 has exacerbated circumstances (due to isolation, grief and trauma) which can trigger mental health conditions like depression, anxiety or PTSD. It has also brought into sharp focus the important role which technology can play in connecting people for work, leisure and now health. 

Telehealth and psychedelic-assisted therapy

Telehealth, online therapy, virtual care, telemedicine, digital therapeutics. There are many terms to describe these services, which at their core involve video sessions with a therapist via computer or smartphone, intended to make it easier to give and receive mental health care remotely. As the industry develops a number of psychedelic companies are beginning to harness this digital-first focus.

In June 2020, Mydecine Innovations Group, a psychedelics firm developing psilocybin-based therapies announced that they had signed a deal to acquire Mind Leap Health, which provides a digital care platform to patients. Mindleap “combines telehealth with mood, emotion and habit tracking” helping to connect patients with health specialists in order to provide personalised care plans.  

In April, Field Trip Health, a mental wellness company offering legal psychedelic therapies in Canada and the US announced it wouldl introduce “the world’s first virtual psychedelic therapy services” via an online platform. These services include psychedelic breathing techniques and integration therapy. Integration refers to the process of making sense of a psychedelic experience with guidance and support from a trained psychedelic therapist. 

Field Trip is also offering online therapy specific to COVID-19-related stress, which they claim has been shown to reduce PTSD, depression and anxiety. The company is making it available to frontline workers for free. 

Advantages of telehealth 

Telehealth is designed to remove barriers to access health services. People with debilitating mental health conditions such as major depressive disorders, for example, may find it difficult to attend in-person appointments. This may be due to a number of factors like anxiety around travel, decreased energy levels or lack of motivation, a preference to remain in the comfort and safety of their home when working through difficult or traumatic issues.

According to articles published on Cambridge University Press patients can miss approximately 20% of scheduled appointments for mental health treatment. This is almost double the rate of other health specialities. Furthermore up to 50% of patients who fail to attend appointments drop out of scheduled care completely. While some patients reschedule, those who do not are frequently at risk of further deterioration, relapse and hospital readmission. 

Optimising patient experiences through new technologies

In June 2020, ATAI Life Sciences announced it was developing digital tools to enhance patient care in collaboration with Introspect Digital Therapeutics. The company will create devices for ATAI, which will magnify the effects of drugs under development in a number of treatments. Through the use of “digital biomarkers” doctors may be able to more accurately tailor doses of medicines, including psychedelic medicines, to individual patients, thus improving treatment outcomes and shortening recovery times. 

Furthermore, MindMed, a neuro-pharmaceutical company developing psychedelic-inspired medicines for mental health and addiction, recently announced it has filed patent applications for technologies aimed at screening and optimising dosing of MDMA and LSD based on individual patient profiles, in conjunction with the Liechti Lab at the University of Basel.  

The nascent psychedelics industry is not only blazing a trail in terms of the development of groundbreaking compounds for the novel treatment of a variety of mental health conditions but it is simultaneously pioneering the use of cutting edge digital technology in order to promote and broaden access to virtual health services and tailored psychedelic treatments. 

The current global pandemic has highlighted the importance of promoting positive mental health in new and innovative ways and digital therapeutic solutions, in tandem with psychedelic medicines, is likely to go a long way to address this.

For further insights and information on the nascent psychedelic industry, read Prohibition Partners’ report Psych: Psychedelics as Medicine and watch out for the second edition of the report due 10 August, available at: https://psych.prohibitionpartners.com/.

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