Everything You Need to Know about Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy
The world of psychedelics is exciting, to say the least. As we mentioned in our previous article, newly rekindled scientific research in the world of psychedelics have brought them to the forefront of cultural discussion and debate.
Even just recently, John Hopkins Medicine received $17 million from donors to open a new center purely devoted to psychedelic research.
So, you are probably wondering why there is all this interest in these mind-bending drugs? More and more researchers are pointing to the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics.
Even more so, some of these psychedelics potentially hold the promise of treating psychiatric disorders ranging from PTSD to depression. However, there are still a lot of questions to be answered.
The recent scientific interest in these drugs coincides with the underlying interest in mental health. However, it is good to mention that a lot of commonly used psychedelics were once used for treating mental illnesses decades prior to them becoming illegal.
We are going to break down everything you need to know about psychedelics and therapy, and the coming age of psychedelic science.
Introducing psychedelic-assisted therapy
Before we go on our “trip,” it is good to mention that psychedelic-assisted therapy is not where you scarf down a whole bunch of magic mushrooms and hope for the best.
Psychedelics are dangerous, as you can never truly predict how you or your mind may react to the experience, with some experiences exacerbating any existing mental health problems.
Psychedelic-assisted therapy does refer to therapeutic practices that involve the ingestion of a psychedelic drug. However, this is usually in a controlled and safe environment with a therapist present.
In clinical trials, psychedelic therapy is often broken down into 2-3 sessions, with each session lasting around eight hours. However, these sessions are not done back to back, as most researchers or therapists like to space out each session, keeping them about a month apart.
Trials begin with participants talking and building trust with their therapists before taking any drugs. Preparation may also include taking a complete medical history questionnaire and providing information about the study drug. Once the patient has taken a controlled dose of the drug, the process is relatively simple. Participants might be given an eye-shade or headphones while they are “tripping” and talk to their therapists about how they feel.
What psychedelics are used?
Many of the most common psychedelics have attracted the interests of scientists to treat a wide array of mental health issues. Psilocybin ('magic mushrooms') has taken center stage, along with other well-known psychedelics like MDMA and or LSD.
A lesser-known substance, ayahuasca, is also becoming more popular in the west. This is a traditional Native American drink made from the Banisteriopsis caapi plant, along with other plants. The drink has been used in indigenous cultures for thousands of years and has more recently become a tool for treating people in psychotherapy centers in Latin America.
What mental illnesses are being treated with psychedelics?
In short, in a controlled and safe environment, psychedelic treatments have been shown sometimes to produce a positive and even lasting behavioral change.
Psychedelic treatments have been shown to have an effect in combating addiction, anxiety related to terminal illness, chronic PTSD, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and social anxiety.
Let’s dive a little deeper.
In a study on using psilocybin to treat anxiety-related to terminal illness, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2016, researchers stated: “High-dose psilocybin produced large decreases in clinician- and self-rated measures of depressed mood and anxiety, along with increases in quality of life, life meaning, and optimism.”
“At 6-month follow-up, these changes were sustained, with about 80% of participants continuing to show clinically significant decreases in depressed mood and anxiety.”
Another study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2012, highlighted how LSD and psilocybin could potentially be used to treat alcohol dependence. Psychedelic therapy has also been linked to the treatment of other mental health issues, including social media addiction.
Other studies have highlighted how MDMA-assisted psychotherapy could be used to help people suffering from various forms of PTSD.
Finally, researchers are excited about psilocybin, as it has consistently shown the potential to help treat people with depression.
What is micro-dosing?
Now, when discussing psychedelics, you have probably heard the term micro-dosing thrown around. It has actually become a major trend among Silicon Valley tech workers searching for ways to improve their productivity.
Micro-dosing refers to the ingestion of very small doses of certain psychoactive drugs, most often LSD, psilocybin, or cannabis. Micro-doses are known as 'sub-perceptual' and are usually around one-tenth of a normal dose. Such a tiny amount is taken that users often do not feel any of the traditional psychedelic effects at all.
In short, the aim of micro-dosing is to trigger a drug’s therapeutic benefits, such as increased creativity or improved mood, without the potentially disruptive effects seen at higher doses, such as hallucinations or dissociation. There are already countless anecdotal testaments to people becoming more productive and changing their lives for the better.
Nevertheless, there is not much science on micro-dosing at the moment. More controlled trials are needed. Some animal studies have also identified potentially negative effects with micro-dosing, such as metabolism that slowed after use, which needs more investigation.
Where can I go for psychedelic-assisted therapy?
Unfortunately, you can not just walk down the street and look for a psychedelic-assisted therapy center. Nevertheless, some of the psychedelics on this list are on the path to being decriminalized, at least for medical uses, around the world.
Because research is highlighting that they do more good than harm, we may see therapies brought into the mainstream. There are places in Jamaica, the Netherlands, and in Latin America that offer psychedelic-assisted therapy. The other way to try out psychedelic-assisted therapy is through becoming part of a clinical trial at a place like the new Johns Hopkins center.
What do you think about the renewed interest in psychedelics?
Professor Gretchen Benedix is an astrogeologist and cosmic mineralogist who studies meteorites and figures the forming stages of the solar system.