Can psychedelics help with mental health? That seems to be the big question lately. With the recent release of several documentaries into the mainstream regarding psychedelic treatments for conditions such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and even substance use disorders, many are wondering if this may be the miracle cure we’ve been hoping for. I know I am! As a person who has struggled for most of my life with mental illness and is surrounded by the ravages of mental illness, eating disorders, and substance use disorders, I had to learn everything I could. And I must tell you… I have high hopes for the future of mental health treatment. Come down the rabbit hole with me and learn more. Who knows, maybe your hope will be renewed too!
Psychedelics and Mental Health
Psychedelics and mental health have a long history that dates back over 70 years. In fact, most psychedelics (sometimes referred to as hallucinogens) were either created for or first researched and applied in the treatment of mental illness and substance use disorders. Among those most commonly and extensively researched in the US for psychedelic treatments are LSD and Psilocybin. The earliest of these studies (on LSD) provided the foundation for modern psychiatry’s understanding of mental illness. Serotonin was identified 5 years after LSD was invented. In the early days, psychedelics were considered very promising treatment options and were pursued by people of all walks of life. However, in the mid 60’s, as recreational use of these drugs began to rise, prohibition became the objective. Significant pressure was successfully applied to make psychedelics illegal, not only for recreational use but for medical and research purposes as well. During this time much misinformation was spread to deter people from using these substances and much of it still is still believed today.
Due to the current global mental health crisis and hard work of its long-time advocates there has been renewed mainstream interest in research related to psychedelic treatment of mental illness, eating disorders, and substance use disorders. In addition, there are opportunities to pursue psychedelic treatment outside of the official research realm making these treatments accessible to more and more people. Here’s what you need to know about the various treatments available.
LSD is being researched with volunteer participants as a possible treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, and substance use disorders. It is currently not in any FDA trials but is well on its way as its outcomes have been promising.
Psilocybin is being researched with volunteer participants for major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, anorexia-nervosa, bulimia, substance use disorders (including smoking cessation), and Alzheimer’s disease. Johns-Hopkins University has several research projects using psilocybin which has brought a great deal of credibility and acceptance. Currently there is an FDA phase 3 trial for psilocybin use for terminally ill patients struggling with anxiety and depression, and a phase 2 trial for substance use disorders. There are only 3 phases of trials before requesting FDA consideration for the product / treatment to be sold on the market. This means psilocybin is getting close to a possible FDA approval.
MDMA is technically not a psychedelic. While MDMA is much older than LSD, having been invented in 1912, it wasn’t used for mental health treatment until the mid-70s but it also became recreationally popular and was made illegal only a decade later. The illegalization of MDMA may have been the biggest catalyst to the current uprising in research and FDA trials. An advocate of MDMA therapy wrote a guide to getting MDMA through FDA trials for his PhD dissertation. This guide is currently being used to begin the process of getting other psychedelic treatments through trial. MDMA itself is in phase 3 trials for use treating PTSD in veterans and first responders.
How Does Psychedelic Treatment Work?
As a Gen-Xer I completely bought into the messaging regarding drugs, especially psychedelics, so I went into researching psychedelic treatment for mental illness with skepticism. I do think it is important to note that recreational use of psychedelics is not recommended, especially if you struggle with your mental health. Because, according to the researchers, recreational use can trigger a breakdown if there are certain conditions present. But I was happy to discover that psychedelics are not at all addictive (it’s actually impossible to become physically addicted to them) and that they are safe in a treatment environment.
Psychedelic treatments involve 3 parts, intake, psychedelic session, and integration. The patient meets with their trained guide or therapist usually 1 or 2 times to build trust and comfort and set some intentions and then comes in for their psychedelic session. This is usually done in a comfortable room with a bed and chairs and the guide(s) is present. The patient gets comfortable and then takes the dose themselves (in pill form for research participants), and often put on headphones playing music and eye shades. The guides stay with the patient throughout to observe them and ensure that they are safe. Once they are feeling back to their usual selves they are allowed to leave, and a processing or integration session follows.
While this schedule might sound a little intense or daunting it’s important to note that most people only need 1 – 3 dosing sessions. Period. The results are staggering but what they’ve found is that after a year patients who were previously often believed untreatable, are still doing well without maintenance meds or additional sessions.
Is Psychedelic Treatment the Future of Mental Health Care?
After much research and careful consideration, I really feel that psychedelic treatment may just be the future of mental health care and this skeptic has changed her tune. I’m actually very excited about it. All evidence shows these treatments to be very safe and effective in clinical environments. Until now I could never imagine being able to resolve mental illness in 6 months or less!