Doctors are changing their minds about psychedelics due to psychedelic drugs’ potential as a treatment for mental health issues like anxiety, depression, PTSD, addiction, etc. According to Michael Pollan, author of “How to Change Your Mind, psychedelics, like psilocybin (a chemical found in magic mushrooms) and MDMA (normally referred to as Ecstasy or Molly), have shown their effectiveness in treating many mental health concerns, including anxiety and depression.
According to a clinical trial done by Michael C Mithoefer, Rick Doblin, and others, MDMA reduced PTSD symptoms in military veterans, firefighters, and police officers. After a 12-month period, PTSD symptoms’ severity decreased significantly.
This article discusses what psychedelics are, how they work, their historical use, and the resurgence of interest in psychedelics in recent times. Every claim is backed and supported by recent scientific studies and breakthroughs. You will also learn about the potential benefits and use of psychedelics in modern sciences, especially in the mental health field.
What are Psychedelics, and how do they work?
Psychedelics are a type of drug that can temporarily alter thoughts and the way human brains function, according to Peter Grinspoon’s article on health.harvard.edu. Some of the famous psychedelic drugs include LSD, Psilocybin, MDMA, Ketamine, and Ayahuasca.
LSD and psilocybin, if high doses are consumed, can induce visual hallucinations and altered perceptions. MDMA primarily has an effect on mood and closeness to others. Ketamine, traditionally used as anesthetics, can cause dreamy mental states. Ayahuasca is used at traditional and cultural ceremonies to create an inner state of ecstasy and euphoria.
Psychedelics work by changing the ways in which a human brain connects and communicates with its different parts and regions, thus resetting and releasing old thought and emotional patterns, according to Dr. Jerrold Rosenbaum, the director of the Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Psychedelics allow the brain to form new and temporary neural connections while decreasing and loosening the old neural connections. These temporary connections induce neuroplasticity in the human brain, allowing the processing of old memories, feelings, and past traumas with a new perception.
Historical use of psychedelics in medicine
The historical use of psychedelics in medicine has been proven and backed by fossil evidence. Archaeologists have found fossil evidence to show the use of psychoactive plants in ritual ceremonies for the past 10,000 years, according to a dissertation by MAPS.org, a leading non-profit psychedelic research organization. Dr Ronald Siegel proposes that humans have this urge for intoxication and compares it with the urge for hunger, thirst, and sex.
Dr Werner Stoll published the results of his investigation on the psychological effects of LSD on humans in 1947. He found that LSD produced altered perception and accelerated thinking.
Dr. Max Rinkel and Dr Robert Hyde studied the effects of LSD on normal people in a clinical study in 1950. Rinkel and Hyde found that LSD could produce temporary “psychotic disturbances” in normal people.
Researchers like Humphrey Osmond, John Smythies, and Colin Smith showed that LSD and mescaline can treat chronic alcoholism. Out of 24 people in the study, 50% of people showed improvement even after 3 years of LSD therapy.
LSD psychotherapy can help in the treatment of neurotic patients, according to researchers, including Ronald Sandison, at Powick Hospital in England in 1965. They observed that many neurotic patients who never showed improvement using traditional therapy showed improvement after taking LSD therapy.
Resurgence of interest in psychedelics
The resurgence of Interest in Psychedelics started with many psychedelic research studies, including research by Harvard researcher Walter Pahnke in the 1960s. Walter studied the effects of psilocybin on 20 theology students and found that some students had some mystical experiences.
In the mid-1960s, LSD psychotherapy studies were growing in number. Researchers found that LSD can accelerate and deepen the therapeutic experience, causing patients to recall past painful experiences.
Recent scientific studies and breakthrough
There are many recent scientific studies and breakthroughs, including the clinical trial by Rick Doblin, that suggest MDMA can decrease the severity of PTSD symptoms even after 12 months. The study was done on 26 veterans, and they were divided into 3 groups.
One group of 7 veterans took 30 mg of MDMA, 2nd group of 7 veterans took 75 mg of MDMA, and 3rd group of 12 veterans took 125 mg of MDMA. 13 veterans out of 26 who took MDMA therapy experienced a decrease in PTSD symptoms severity, especially the group who took 75 mg and 125 mg of MDMA.
According to another study done by Alan K. Davis, published in JAMA Psychiatry in 2021, psilocybin-assisted therapy produced large, rapid, and sustained relief in people with major depression.
According to a study done by Robin Carhart-Harris, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2021, people who took 2 doses of psilocybin to treat major depressive disorder did better than people who took a daily dosage of escitalopram over six weeks.
According to a study done by Robert H Howland on ketamine in Treatment-Resistant Depression, ketamine rapidly provides antidepressant effects in patients suffering from Treatment-Resistant Depression and reduces suicidal tendencies.
Use of psychedelics in modern medicine
The use of psychedelics in modern medicine includes the treatment of various mental health conditions, such as addiction, anxiety, major depressive disorder, and PTSD. Psilocybin, a psychedelic compound found in magic mushrooms, produces sustained improvement in people suffering from anxiety and depressive disorders after taking one dose.
According to an analytical study of 12 studies focused on the effects of LSD, psilocybin, and Ayahuasca, psychedelics, when used as medicines, significantly improved mood and decreased depressive symptoms after short-term (1 day) and long-term (up to 60 days) after consuming medicinal psychedelics. The best results showed up between 2 to 7 days after psychedelic treatment.
According to The Global Ayahuasca Project, Ayahuasca helps in treating depression and alcohol addiction. Participants reported reduced alcohol use and improved mental well-being and health.
Psychedelics have the best effects when used as medicine with psychotherapy under the guidance of a trained therapist. The psychedelic therapy must be taken in a safe and conducive environment, known as “set and setting,” where trained therapists can guide you through the psychedelic experience. You must visit your therapist for the integration phase to share your experience and generate meaningful insights.
Potential benefits of psychedelics in treating mental health conditions
The potential benefits of psychedelics in treating mental health conditions include accelerated and intense therapeutic experience of traumatic memories, altered perception to draw insights from the old memories, neuroplasticity, rapid and sustainable relief from major depressive disorders, reduced PTSD symptoms, and improved mental well-being.
The example use cases of psychedelics in treating mental health conditions are the following:
- Treatment-Resistant Depression: Ketamine therapy produced rapid relief in people suffering from treatment-resistant depression, according to an analytical study published by Robert H Howland.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder: MDMA-assisted psychotherapy helped in reducing severe PTSD symptoms in 67% of participants in the group that took MDMA-assisted therapy. This result was observed after 18 weeks.
- Addictions: Psilocybin-assisted therapy helped participants addicted to alcohol to reduce their addiction, according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry. Participants reported a 9.7% rate of heavy drinking days, much less than their previous rate.
- Distress in Life-Threatening Illness: Psilocybin can reduce anxiety and depression in people suffering from life-threatening diseases, such as cancer, according to a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. Over 70% of participants gave credit to psilocybin-assisted therapy for the positive changes in their life.
- Eating Disorder Recovery: MDMA-assisted therapy resulted in significantly reduced eating disorder symptoms compared to placebo and traditional therapy, according to a clinical trial study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.
Concerns about the safety of psychedelics
There are various concerns about the safety of psychedelics, including general safety, potential psychological concerns, physical health concerns due to a specific psychedelic drug that is used, and ethical and legal concerns. Some of the potential psychological and physical health concerns are given below:
- People are trying to self-medicate themselves without any medical supervision or trained therapists. According to HealthLine, the issue of self-medicating in people has been rising since 2020.
- MDMA can cause short-term high blood pressure, an increase in heart rate, and increased body temperature. These effects are short-term and usually fade away.
- Psilocybin can cause light headaches and increased blood pressure temporarily.
- Psychedelics can increase the risk of psychosis in people who have psychotic disorders.
- LSD can lead to HPPD (hallucinogen persisting perception disorder). HPPD refers to the condition of getting intense flashbacks and hallucinations.
Health Canada’s stance on psychedelic therapy
Health Canada recognizes the increased demand in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy (PAP) and its potential benefits for patients, but also acknowledges the possible risks. Health Canada is open to scientific inquiry into PAP and is willing to consider authorizations for its use under the Special Access Program (SAP) on a case-by-case basis.
In the context of a medical emergency, the sale of a psychedelic drug authorized through the SAP is considered exempt from the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR). However, Health Canada is not making a broad statement about the safety, efficacy, or quality of psychedelic drugs.
Health Canada requires that patients provide informed consent before participating in any PAP research or clinical trials. Health Canada is supportive of scientific inquiry into PAP and is working to develop a regulatory framework for its use in clinical practice. In addition, these medications can assist people in conquering their fears and can provide a deeper, more meaningful experience within the human mind, fostering positive spiritual experience.
Health Canada is also committed to protecting public health and safety and is working to raise awareness of the potential risks and benefits of PAP so that patients can make informed decisions about whether or not to participate in PAP research or clinical trials.
What the future holds for psychedelics in medicine?
Psychedelics in medicine and therapeutic sessions can be legalized in the future. The United States FDA has shown its interest in studies involving psychedelic drugs and given breakthrough therapy designation to psychedelic studies focused on psilocybin-assisted therapy for major depressive disorder and MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD.
Since MDMA-assisted therapy has shown promising results in treating PTSD symptoms, MDMA-assisted therapy can become a standard procedure for treating PTSD in the future. It may require a few more clinical trials on a large sample to prove its efficacy.
Psilocybin-assisted therapy is another candidate method that can be accepted as a standard treatment for treating major depressive disorder, addictions, anxiety, and depression in patients with life-threatening mental illnesses.
Is there evidence for using psychedelics medicinally?
Yes, there is much evidence for using psychedelics medicinally, such as clinical studies focused on psilocybin-assisted therapy for treating alcohol addiction, published in JAMA Psychiatry.
What are psychedelics used to treat?
The psychedelics are used to treat various mental health issues, including major depressive disorders, PTSD, anxiety, addiction, and treatment-resistant depression.
What is psychedelic psychiatry?
Psychedelic psychiatry refers to the use of psychedelics in psychiatry to treat mental or psychiatric issues, such as anxiety, major depressive disorders, PTSD, treatment-resistant depression, and addiction. The psychedelics are given to the patient under the supervision of a trained therapist.
Are psychedelics better than antidepressants?
Yes, psychedelics are better than antidepressants, and many studies have shown evidence that psychedelics have better efficacy than antidepressants. A study done by Robin Carhart-Harris showed that 2 doses of psilocybin produced better antidepressant effects than daily doses of escitalopram over 6 weeks.
Do psychedelics help mental health?
Yes, psychedelics help mental health, as shown by multiple clinical trial studies focused on psychedelics in therapeutic settings.
What is the future of psychedelics in psychiatry?
The future of psychedelics in psychiatry includes the legalization of various psychedelics for medicinal use and allowing psychedelics-assisted therapy for various mental health issues.
Related Article: Talking to Your Therapist About Psychedelics
Doctors are changing their minds about psychedelics because of the positive effects produced by psychedelic drugs on people suffering from various mental health and psychological issues, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, treatment-resistant depression, major depressive disorders, and addictions.
Recent research and psychedelic studies conducted by Johns Hopkins, including trials involving psychedelic medicine for treating addiction, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorders, have demonstrated that psychedelics are effective in addressing these psychiatric conditions.
Researchers have used five main psychedelics, including psilocybin, LSD, MDMA, ketamine, and Ayahuasca, in their research. Each has its use cases; for instance, psilocybin was used for treating major depressive disorder and addictions, and MDMA was found helpful in treating PTSD.
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