DARPA seeks psychedelic drugs that don't cause hallucinations

The government research agency DARPA has announced a new program called Focused Pharma that seeks drug innovations that offer the mental health benefits of psychedelics without the 'significant side effects.' The agency detailed its new program earlier this week, revealing that it has reviewed the growing body of private research on the potential benefits of psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin.

Many psychedelics are listed as Schedule 1 controlled substances in the US, making it difficult for researchers to investigate the many positive mental health effects reported by users. A selection of studies over past years has found evidence that multiple compounds may offer substantial benefits for individuals suffering from treatment-resistant depression and PTSD, among other things.

DARPA said in a statement on Wednesday that it has reviewed existing literature and is interested in the potential benefits these compounds may offer soldiers suffering from PTSD and depression. However, the potential side effects of psychedelics, including hallucinations and the potential for developing hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), are a problem, the agency says.

For this reason, DARPA is asking researchers to develop drugs based on these promising psychedelics, but ones that do not come with the unwanted side effects. In addition to coming up with these new innovative drugs, DARPA says researchers participating in the program will need to validate the product's effectiveness.

Assuming DARPA doesn't end up terminating the program, which it warns may happen if signs point toward it not being possible to retain the benefits without the unwanted side effects, the work will last for four years. Human trials will not be part of Focused Pharma; instead, drugs will be tested on animals.