Psychedelic drugs have been used across cultures for centuries, but only recently has modern science begun to tap into the potential use of these drugs as a mental health treatment.
The word psychedelic comes from two Greek roots: “psyche,” meaning mind/soul, and “Delos/delic,” meaning to reveal. Thus, the word translates to “soul/ mind revealing.”
Unfortunately for this potentially revolutionary mental health treatment, the long-held stigma towards drugs continues to complicate research. For a while, this made it nearly impossible to continue looking into the potential benefits of psychedelic drugs.
These restrictions are loosening, however, and the FDA has even called psilocybin therapy a “breakthrough therapy.” This means more and more researchers are able to study these drugs. The findings are often groundbreaking.
Trials are currently underway to test psychedelic drugs including psilocybin, LSD, ketamine, and others in order to treat a predicted mental health epidemic that is beginning to occur as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While more research is needed, preliminary findings are shockingly successful in treating mental health issues including, but not limited to, PTSD, depression, drug addiction, and anxiety.
Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms)
Research done with Psilocybin suggests that it may be successful in providing a lasting decrease in anxiety for people suffering from life-threatening diseases such as cancer.
In combination with therapy, the drug helped 13 participants “grapple with loss and existential distress.” Nearly all participants reported that they developed a different understanding of dying after using the drug according to Gabby Agin-Liebes, BA, of Palo Alto University, who conducted the research.
“Participants made spiritual or religious interpretations of their experience and the psilocybin treatment helped facilitate a reconnection to life, greater mindfulness and presence, and gave them more confidence when faced with cancer recurrence,” said Agin-Liebes.
Another study suggests that psilocybin can be used on patients with treatment-resistant depression with promising results. The results show symptom improvements for the patients after just two psilocybin treatment sessions which remained significant 6 months after the treatment.
Ayahuasca has played an important part in many South American traditional religions for centuries. This plant-derived psychoactive drug was first formulated by indigenous South Americans of the Amazon basin.
Some communities that use the drug regularly still exist in the 21st century despite exploitative measures of Western nations who saw the drug as “uncivilized.” The substance is typically prepared by a shaman or religious guide and ingested by members of a religious group. The substance is regarded as a valuable tool in places of worship.
Ayahuasca has only recently been studied as a potential treatment for depression and addiction, or for people coping with trauma.
“We found that ayahuasca also fostered an increase in generosity, spiritual connection and altruism,” said Clancy Cavnar, PhD, with Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos.
Adele Lafrance, Ph.D., of Laurentian University, highlighted a study of 159 participants who reported on past use of hallucinogens and their emotions and spirituality levels. The study found that using hallucinogens related to a higher level of spirituality and emotional wellbeing as well as fewer symptoms of disordered eating, depression, and anxiety.
A 2016 study found that after taking LSD, healthy participants reported increased optimism and trait openness. The study seems to reinforce the idea that psychedelics improve psychological wellbeing in the mid-long term.
LSD, like Psilocybin and Ayahuasca, shows promise as a treatment for anxiety and depression among other conditions. It is also commonly reported to increase spirituality and, in turn, emotional wellbeing.
In an interview with an anonymous source, they claimed that taking LSD substantially decreased their levels of social anxiety.
“Going into the trip, I set an intention to address my feelings of anxiety around my self-perception,” they said. “By focusing on this throughout the trip, I was shocked by how much happier I felt afterward.”
They also say that the positive effects have continued in the months following the experience. “I can’t believe how much more self-assured I feel now. It is like night and day.”
They want to remind everyone that it is a serious drug and not to underestimate the power of it, and not to abuse it. “If you are going to trip, you need to do a lot of research and be in a safe environment with people you trust.” While they continue to experience long-term positive effects, they know it is not the same for everyone.
MDMA, more commonly known as ecstasy, is in its third and last phase of clinical trials and is hoping to win approval by the FDA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
Findings from the study also suggest that the drug can help treat social anxiety in autistic adults when used in combination with psychotherapy. Twelve adults in the study with moderate to severe anxiety showed “significant and long-lasting reductions in their symptoms” according to the research.
“Social anxiety is prevalent in autistic adults and few treatment options have been shown to be effective,” said Alicia Danforth, Ph.D., of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, who conducted the study. MDMA and therapy, based on this research, could be a potential breakthrough for this condition.
These studies only represent a small percentage of a larger database of information on the potential benefits of psychedelic drugs. While the findings are promising, more research is needed. Self-treatment using these drugs is risky and potentially dangerous.
If you are interested, contact a medical professional and continue to do extensive research before taking any type of psychedelic. Waiting until they are an FDA approved treatment option will be the safest and most effective way to treat any mental health condition.