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Psilocybin for PTSD: A New Horizon in PTSD Treatment

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition stemming from exposure to trauma, marked by symptoms like intrusive memories, nightmares, and heightened emotional arousal.

While current PTSD treatments can’t offer a complete cure, they can help people with the condition manage their symptoms and even see them disappear entirely. This is where new psilocybin therapy comes in, designed to tackle the many different ways trauma affects people.

The surge in interest surrounding psychedelics reflects a significant exploration of novel therapeutic strategies, showing promise as a groundbreaking approach to addressing mental health issues. This increasing fascination with these substances signals a shift in societal perspectives, highlighting a growing openness to unconventional methods in the pursuit of mental well-being. 

What is PTSD? 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that emerges after exposure to a traumatic event, marked by intrusive memories, flashbacks, and heightened emotional distress, according to psychiatry.org. The three primary types of PTSD involve reliving the trauma, avoiding reminders, and experiencing increased arousal. 

Individuals grappling with PTSD may confront psychological challenges like anxiety and depression, coupled with physical symptoms such as insomnia and irritability, significantly impacting their mental health, relationships, and overall well-being. The persistent effects of PTSD can strain interpersonal connections, disrupt daily functioning, and contribute to a diminished sense of overall life satisfaction.

Current Treatment Options for PTSD and Why it isn’t Enough?

Current Treatment Options for PTSD and Why it isn't Enough?

Current treatment options for PTSD include cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), along with medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are commonly utilized to address PTSD symptoms. 

However, managing PTSD presents challenges due to the heterogeneous nature of the condition, as individuals may respond differently to various interventions. Limitations in treatment include potential medication side effects, the necessity for ongoing therapeutic support, and the variable effectiveness of interventions, highlighting the intricate nature of addressing post-traumatic stress disorder.

Psilocybin exhibits potential in treating or managing PTSD by potentially fostering neuroplasticity and aiding emotional processing, which may contribute to a decrease in symptom severity. 

Psilocybin-assisted Therapy for PTSD

Psilocybin, when consumed, undergoes conversion to psilocin in the body, primarily engaging serotonin receptors and resulting in altered perception, mood, and cognition. Emerging research suggests that under controlled conditions, psilocybin may offer therapeutic benefits, potentially alleviating symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD while promoting increased mindfulness and emotional well-being.

Psilocybin is thought to facilitate a therapeutic experience, allowing individuals to confront and process traumatic memories differently than traditional treatments.

Psilocybin Dosage for PTSD

The psychological effects of psilocybin last from 3 to 6 hours and are usually administered just a few times over the course of several months of evidence in the treatment of PTSD. A recent study has established that psilocybin can be safely administered to up to six participants simultaneously at doses of either 10mg or 25mg.

Approaches of psilocybin for PTSD

The five major approaches of psilocybin for PTSD include professional supervision, preparation and integration, customized dosage, set and setting, and therapeutic relationship.  

  • Professional Supervision: Psilocybin therapy is conducted in a controlled and supervised environment by experienced mental health professionals, prioritizing participant safety.
  • Preparation and Integration: Before psilocybin administration, participants undergo thorough preparation sessions to establish trust, set intentions, and address concerns. Integration sessions follow the psychedelic experience to help individuals apply insights to their daily lives.
  • Customized Dosages: Dosages are carefully tailored based on individual needs and sensitivities, aiming to optimize therapeutic benefits while minimizing potential risks.
  • Set and Setting: The therapy is comfortable, promoting safety and tranquillity. The setting is crucial for the overall experience and is carefully considered to enhance the therapy’s success.
  • Therapeutic Relationship: Trained therapists guide participants through the experience, fostering a strong therapeutic alliance. Their guidance helps individuals navigate challenging emotions and experiences, providing security and support. 

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How Psilocybin May Rewire the Traumatic Brain

How Psilocybin May Rewire the Traumatic Brain

Psilocybin may rewire the traumatic brain as it exhibits exciting potential in fostering neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to reorganize and establish new neural connections. Scientific investigations suggest that psilocybin may contribute to enhanced synaptic plasticity, facilitating the formation of fresh neural pathways and encouraging adaptive changes within the brain. 

This observed impact on neuroplasticity is closely linked to psilocybin’s ability to reshape perception and cognition, offering a distinctive perspective on the processing of trauma. While ongoing research is in its early stages, the exploration of psilocybin’s influence on neuroplasticity holds promise for innovative therapeutic strategies in addressing conditions related to trauma. 

Findings from Clinical Trials

Individuals grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often face severe challenges, including substance abuse and heightened suicide risks. Recent research, drawing on the National Comorbidity Survey, highlights a significant link between PTSD and suicide attempts.

Studies on psilocybin suggest its potential to stimulate nerve cell regrowth in brain regions tied to emotion and memory. A 2013 University of South Florida study indicates that psilocybin promotes neurogenesis in the hippocampus, potentially disrupting the traumatic cycles seen in PTSD patients.

Positive Outcomes in Terminally Ill Patients

Dr. Stephen Ross’s study at NYU Langone focused on terminally ill cancer patients. A single psilocybin treatment swiftly alleviated distress in 80% of subjects enduring over six months of suffering. Participants noted improved quality of life, increased engagement in external activities, enhanced relationships, and better work performance.

Study Design and Implications

The study involved a randomized treatment approach, with patients unaware of the sequence. Results indicate a potential breakthrough in treating psychological distress, suggesting psilocybin’s applicability to less extreme conditions.

Read more: Latest Research on Psilocybin for Depression

Considerations and Potential Risks

The potential risks of psilocybin for PTSD could be the induction of intense and unpredictable psychological reactions, the exacerbation of pre-existing mental health conditions, and the chance of adverse interactions with other medications. Non-medical contexts with unstandardized dosages and uncontrolled settings may further elevate the risks, compromising the overall safety of psilocybin therapy for PTSD. 

Using psilocybin for PTSD in a secure environment requires careful planning and consideration. Begin with a conservative dose, ensure the presence of a reliable and experienced guide, and establish a serene and comfortable setting to mitigate potential risks and optimize the therapeutic aspects of the psychedelic encounter. 

Future of Psilocybin and PTSD Treatment

Future of Psilocybin and PTSD Treatment

The future potential use of psilocybin in chronic PTSD treatment presents a dual landscape of promise and challenge. Scientific studies indicate that psilocybin, a psychoactive compound found in certain mushrooms, could offer therapeutic benefits by inducing profound psychological experiences that may help alleviate PTSD symptoms. 

However, the path to incorporating psilocybin into mainstream PTSD treatment faces hurdles such as navigating regulatory constraints and addressing societal attitudes towards psychedelic substances. Moreover, rigorous clinical trials are imperative to establish a solid understanding of the optimal dosages and long-term effects, ensuring the safe and effective integration of psilocybin into conventional mental health care approaches.

Find out the latest results of clinical trials on Psilocybin for treating OCD: Are Psilocybin Able to Treat OCD?

FAQs

What psychedelic is used for PTSD?

MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) and psilocybin are psychedelics used for PTSD. 

What is the best medication for PTSD?

The best medication for PTSD is SSRIs (serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as sertraline and paroxetine. You can also consider SNRI (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) such as venlafaxine. 

Yes, psilocybin-assisted therapy for trauma is legal in Canada. 

Final Thoughts

Psilocybin for treating PTSD reveals a promising and innovative approach that holds potential for individuals grappling with the profound impacts of trauma. The introspective experiences induced by the psychedelic compound present an intriguing avenue for fostering more profound understanding and healing.

While continued research is crucial to establish both efficacy and safety, early findings suggest that psilocybin-assisted therapy could emerge as a transformative and hopeful frontier in the treatment of PTSD.

Sources

  • Reviewing the Potential of Psychedelics for the Treatment of PTSD by (2020 Jun) Erwin Krediet, Tijmen Bostoen, Joost Breeksema, Annette van Schagen, Torsten Passie, and Eric Vermetten
  • Australia to prescribe MDMA and psilocybin for PTSD and depression in world first. by (2023 Jun) Rich Haridy
  • Psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD in UK armed forces veterans: A feasibility study protocol, by (2023 Dec) Natasha Biscoe, Amanda Bonson, Max Slavin, Walter Busuttil, Deirdre MacManus, Andrew Cox, Dominic Murphy
  • Study protocol of an open-label proof-of-concept trial examining the safety and clinical efficacy of psilocybin-assisted therapy for veterans with PTSD by Alan K Davis, Adam W Levin, Paul B Nagib1,3, Stacey B Armstrong, Rafaelle L Lancelotta
  • Augmenting rTMS With Psilocybin-Assisted Psychotherapy (PAP) for PTSD: A Proof-of-Concept Study Design by (2023 Jun) Basant Pradhan, Ankit Rana, Edward Goldschmidt III, Anthony Rostain
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By Rachel Grey

I’m Rachel Grey, a Ph.D. psychologist specializing in psychedelic therapy with psilocybin and natural plant medicines. I obtained my doctorate from the University of Toronto, where I immersed myself in the study of these transformative therapies. With over 10 years of experience, let’s embark on transformative journeys of healing, growth, and self-discovery as we explore the power of psychedelic therapy together.

Updated on January 12, 2024