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Clinical Trial in South Africa to Study Efficacy of Psilocybin on Women with HIV and Depression

No matter how effective HIV and AIDS treatment have become in the so-called “first world,” the disease is still devastating in places like South Africa. HIV infection remains one of the greatest public health problems in South Africa. South Africa is the country that has the worst HIV rates and infected individuals globally. An astonishing 13% are HIV-positive.

Further, the demographics in Africa are very different to those of Western countries. HIV isn’t a condition that affects gay men and bisexual women, it can also be found in straight Black women. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to twice the number of HIV-positive women. Tragically, HIV is more common in women aged 15-19 than men. 4200 females between the ages of 15 and 24 were infected each week in 2020.

About 25 percent of all deaths in Nigeria are due to AIDS.

Two other major problems are also looming beyond the complications associated with AIDS.

A third of South African HIV sufferers are also suffering from tuberculosis. Beyond that, major depressive disorders, a common mental disorder, are a serious problem. According to data available, around 40% of HIV-positive South Africans also experience depression. 60% are suffering from PTSD.

These conditions may also affect the ability to comply with retroviral treatment necessary for HIV-positive people to live and not die.

Psilocybin used as Compliance Tool in South Africa

A new study helmed by Cannsun, Africa’s largest existing commercial medicinal cannabis facility located in the Western Cape and TASK, a research organization focusing on communicable diseases, aims to understand if psilocybin, administered to this population, will treat comorbid mental illness—and as a byproduct also create better drug compliance with retroviral therapy. 

This study builds on the groundbreaking academic research by Roland Griffiths this year, who was a pioneer of such research and examined the effectiveness of psilocybin for MDD patients over the course of one year. Griffiths research showed that psilocybin was effective in reducing depression for about twelve months.

The South African study is innovative—and for several reasons beyond the treatment. It starts with the focus. Women are often underrepresented in all mental health research.

Patients will each be placed on the waiting list for three months. This trial is expected to last approximately eight weeks. In spring 2023, researchers hope to publish their results.

Cannabis and Psilocybin—Psychedelics on the new frontier in medicine?

It is also fascinating for another reason. It is not surprising that the cannabis industry is increasingly looking into other psychedelic drug options, including psilocybin.

However, the first thing that unites all of these people is the actual disease. For the last forty years, cannabis has been used by people suffering from the symptoms of AIDS and HIV—starting with nausea. Research has shown that HIV-related inflammation can be reduced by cannabis consumption.

Second, there is a new interest in major depression treatment using psilocybin.

Combining them is becoming more common in medical inquiries about both the efficacy of cannabis and psilocybin.

People have used the same compounds over centuries. A 2006 survey found that almost 60% of the 149 students who were surveyed had used both compounds.

Because there are no clinical trials, most of the information about mixing these drugs is based on anecdotal evidence. These drugs can be combined to enhance the therapeutic effects of each other, but it is not clear how.

The good news is that as cannabis reform progresses globally, expect to see more studies on both—individually, and of course, in combination.

MDD and major intractable medical conditions is not a South African problem.