After being classified – for decades – as illegal and controlled substances, medical science is finally realizing the value of psychedelics like psilocybin (magic mushrooms), LSD (acid), MDMA (ecstacy/molly), and ketamine (which is technically considered to be an anesthetic with psychedelic effects) in the treatment of depression, PTSD and other mental health conditions.
This has been a long time coming.
But, we’re not there yet.
I am neither a physician, scientist nor pharmacologist, so my opinions on this topic aren’t based on my own research, training or professional knowledge. As a licensed psychotherapist, I have read a lot about the use of psychedelics and mental health, but I cannot legally prescribe or recommend them. As a private citizen, I have tried a few of these substances myself and have friends and colleagues who have tried many more.
Also, it’s no secret that lots of Tech Genius/IT types have been microdosing on psychedelics for years. A microdose is a small dose of a psychedelic that many people believe can help boost creativity, productivity and could even work as an antidepressant.
As of this writing, a lot of this stuff is still (technically) illegal. At present, I do not have any legal ability to supervise the use of these substances by my clients or to recommend that they use them on their own. However, when big, prestigious research institutions like UCSD are doing research with ketamine for depression – one of my clients is in one of their ketamine research studies – you know that soon it will hit the mainstream.
In my late thirties, I did a couple of ecstacy (aka MDMA) sessions with an ex-boyfriend who called himself a “spiritual guide”. He tape-recorded the sessions. They were both interesting and useful. Since then, I’ve experienced similar “highs” of insight and altered states from meditating, dancing, yoga and other practices.
Personal growth can take many paths. That said, I think we’re on the edge of a radical shift in mental health care. Are psychedelics the next cannabis? Many people – doctors, scientists and Silicon Valley gurus alike – say, “Yes”.
The FDA — which 50 years ago banned psychedelic substances — has started loosening restrictions to allow their study and use: recently designating MDMA a “breakthrough therapy” to treat PTSD. The FDA also approved ketamine for treatment-resistant depression in 2019 and deemed psilocybin a breakthrough therapy for major depressive disorder.
Psychedelics have been further legitimized as potential treatments for disease by the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, who organization received $17 million in funding to exclusively study the efficacy of psilocybin and other substances for a variety of mental health disorders. The center’s establishment marked a turning point for psychedelic research: if one of the most prestigious research institutions in the United States was devoting this much time and energy to the relationship between psychedelics and mental health, then a paradigm shift is underway.
Despite the recent resurgence of psychedelic research, much is still unknown about how these substances work. While research shows that psilocybin works on the serotonin receptors in the brain and MDMA encourages the release of serotonin and dopamine, a huge part of current research attributes the success of psychedelics to two admittedly highly-subjective occurrences: ego dissolution (described as the complete loss of one’s sense of self), and mystical types of experiences (hallucinogenic encounters with what’s described as a divine or spiritual entity). In studies on the effects of psychedelics on depression, participants who experienced these states saw the strongest and longest-lasting improvements, and many consider them to be some of the most important and life-changing experiences of their lives.
There’s strong evidence that the environment/situation in which a person takes psychedelics has a huge effect on the outcome. As I understand it, psychedelic-assisted therapy is a therapy session assisted by a psychoactive compound. In the protocol set up for most clinical trials, one or two facilitators are in the room to help the patient through the psychedelic experience, and multiple subsequent therapy sessions help people process and integrate that experience. It’s in this process where researchers believe the healing lies.
Could we be on the verge of a “psychedelic renaissance”?