Psychedelic therapy has been making waves in the medical world. Although much of the research and science is relatively new, there is much evidence that psychedelics can be used to treat a series of mental health disorders. Many believe that the use of psychedelic compounds may be able to “reset” the brain and positively affect neurotransmitter levels.
The most common compounds that scientists have been studying in psychedelic treatment include psilocybin mushrooms (or magic mushrooms), LSD, MDMA, and mescaline (or peyote). However, in recent years there has been a push to study even more psychedelic drugs. If you’re interested in psychedelic therapy, keep reading. We’re going to cover everything you need to know to help you better understand this new and powerful movement in cognitive therapy.
What is Psychedelic Therapy?
Psychedelic therapy is the use of plant compounds that induce hallucinations to treat mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more. Oftentimes, the goal of psychedelic treatment is to improve the success of more traditional treatments, such as oral medication, and is often done in conjunction. It is also often prescribed by doctors when traditional forms of medication have failed. It is believed that by inducing psychedelic experiences, patients can experience positive mental side effects and improve overall well-being.
How Does Psychedelic Therapy Work?
While traditional medications for mental health conditions can take weeks, even months, to see results, psychedelic therapy has been shown to work almost immediately. Some say that even after one psychedelic therapy session they see improvements in their mental health.
Although the results vary from person to person, a few potential ways in which psychedelic therapy may work for some patients are:
Changes in neurotransmitters: Neurotransmitters are often referred to as the body’s chemical messengers. Psychedelic drugs have been shown to adjust neurotransmitters and induce positive changes in thinking and behavior. For example, psychedelic therapy (specifically the use of psilocybin) combined with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been used to help people quit smoking cigarettes.
An increase in suggestibility: There is some research that suggests that people who use psychedelics may be more suggestible, therefore making them more responsive to more traditional medicines and talk therapy.
Mystical or spiritual connection: Intense psychedelic experiences can shift a person’s mindset or belief system, which can cause them to think or act differently or more positively.
What Kinds of Psychedelic Therapies Are There?
There are many different psychedelic drugs that can be used in the form of therapy. The most common substances and their uses include:
LSD: Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) can help alter a patients' mood, consciousness, and self-perception. Most uses for LSD in therapy include the treatment of anxiety and depression.
MDMA: Also known as ecstasy, MDMA is not often considered a classic psychedelic substance. This drug, however, does produce psychedelic-like effects. Of the many side-effects, most users experience feelings of euphoria, increased arousal, altered life perceptions, increased ability to socialize, and increased empathy. MDMA has been shown to aid the treatment of PTSD.
Psilocybin: Psilocybin is the main psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms and has been linked to altering mood, consciousness, and overall life perceptions. It has been shown to help improve anxiety, depression, and addiction.
Mescaline: Mescaline is a psychedelic compound found in some cacti, infamously the peyote cactus. Mescaline can induce mood-altering effects, spiritual awakenings, and improvements in anxiety and depression.
Whether you’re using LSD, MDMA, psilocybin, or mescaline in psychedelic therapy there are two common ways in which they are administered for therapeutic use:
Drug-assisted therapy: This type of psychedelic therapy is done in conjunction with traditional psychotherapy treatments, such as interpersonal therapy or behavior therapy. This is often done through the act of microdosing, or the act of taking a very small amount of a drug to reap certain benefits without inducing psychoactivity, or what most of us understand as ‘tripping’.
Guided psychedelic therapy: Here, a provider administers the psychedelic treatment and guides them through their experience while offering therapy and support along the way and well afterward.
In psychedelic therapy where a patient is undergoing a full psychedelic experience rather than microdosing, it is highly important that the provider ensures the set and setting are right. The set refers to the act of acknowledging and recognizing the patient's mood and expectations for their treatment. The setting refers to the overall environment, be it the general space or the relationship between the patient and the provider.
After the experience, the next step of the psychedelic therapy process is called integration. Here, the provider aims to help the patient understand and make meaning of their psychedelic experience and how to integrate it into their personal lives.
Psychedelics can produce lasting mind-altering effects when used correctly because of their ability to affect circuits in our brain which are connected to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is linked to modulating our moods, cognition, memory, learning, and more. When used therapeutically, psychedelic drugs can produce a number of potential benefits while under the influence, such as relaxation, increased introspection, heightened spirituality, improved sense of well-being, and social connectedness.
In terms of more long-term potential benefits, psychedelic therapy has been linked to aiding treatment of anxiety and mood disorders, alcohol and other substance abuse, PTSD, and depression.
While psychedelic therapy can be an extremely useful tool to help treat mental health disorders and to increase overall well-being, there are risks that are important to consider. Some things to consider before entering the world of psychedelics is that it is possible to experience psychosis, or a loss of consciousness with reality that can induce hallucinations and delusions, cardiovascular issues, or an overall sense of fear and unhappiness.
Self-treating can be very dangerous. While psychedelic drugs are becoming more regulated and acceptable, they are still illegal in most places. Until psychedelic drugs are more mainstream and accessible, anyone interested in psychedelic therapy should consult with a provider.