What You Need to Know About Psychedelic Therapy

Psycholytic therapy is an emerging form of treatment for mental and emotional disorders that involves the use of psychedelic substances.

Combining talk therapy with the ingestion of psychedelics like psilocybin, DMT, ketamine, and MDMA, this approach is being explored in both clinical and nonclinical settings. While psychedelic therapy is relatively new in Western clinical practices, it has a long history of traditional use in Indigenous communities.

With the growing legalization of psychedelics and the need for innovative solutions to mental health problems, the popularity of psycholytic therapy is increasing.

Here we will explore the foundations, current developments, and potential impact of this intriguing therapeutic approach.

What is Psychedelic Therapy?

Psychedelic therapy, also known as psychedelic-assisted therapy, is a groundbreaking approach to treating mental disorders using psychedelic substances like psilocybin, MDMA, LSD, and ayahuasca.

Administered in controlled therapeutic settings, the therapy involves a single or a few sessions where patients wear eyeshades, listen to music, and focus on their psychedelic experience. The therapeutic team provides support and guidance throughout the session.

Psychedelic therapy aims to facilitate healing and personal growth by creating transformative experiences. While the evidence is still limited, early research shows promise in treating conditions such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Psycholytic therapy, a specific form of psychedelic therapy, uses lower to medium doses of psychedelics with the therapist present during the peak of the experience. Psychedelic therapy allows patients to explore their subconscious, gain insights, and promote personal change.

With the increasing recognition of mental health challenges and limitations of traditional approaches, psychedelic therapy is gaining popularity as an innovative solution.

What Does Psychedelic Therapy Look Like?

The therapy process includes selecting a qualified therapist who specializes in psychedelic therapy and preparatory sessions to explain the treatment and set intentions.

During the drug session, the patient lies down, with their eyes closed, while the therapist provides support if needed. Integration sessions follow the drug session, allowing the patient to process and incorporate the insights gained from the experience into their daily life.

It is important to ensure that psychedelic therapy is conducted safely and ethically, with a focus on individualized care and best practices.

Here is a guideline on how to talk to your Psychiatrist: Talking to Your Therapist About Psychedelics

History of Psychedelic Treatment

Psychedelic therapy has been around for a long time. People used substances made from plants and fungi for spiritual and medical purposes in prehistoric times. In the middle of the 20th century, a lot of research was done on how psychedelics could be used as medicine.

Over 1,000 clinical papers were published as a result. Concerns about illegal use and the counterculture movement, on the other hand, led to more rules and, in the late 20th century, the end of psychedelic research and therapy.

Even so, underground networks kept doing psychedelic therapy without permission. At the beginning of the 21st century, people became interested in psychedelic medicine again, which led to more clinical research.

New studies on their effects and therapeutic potential were made possible by changes in technology and attitudes about these substances. As of right now, there are a number of research centers around the world that study and treat people with psychedelic drugs like psilocybin, MDMA, ayahuasca, and LSD.

The goal of these centers is to learn more about how psychedelics can be used as medicine and how they work.

Application of Psychedelic Therapy

Psychedelic therapy has shown promise in a number of areas, but more study is needed to prove that it works and is safe. Here’s a quick rundown of the uses listed in the text:

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has looked into how MDMA-assisted counseling could be used to help people with PTSD. In phase 2 studies, there was a high rate of remission and few bad side effects. Phase 3 tests are being done to learn more about how well it works.

Depressive and anxiety disorders

The FDA has given approval for esketamine to be used intranasally with an oral antidepressant to treat major depressive disorder and sadness that does not respond to treatment. Psilocybin has been called a “breakthrough therapy” for sadness that doesn’t respond to other treatments.

This means that it could be a more effective therapy. Ayahuasca and psilocybin have been shown to help with anxiety and depression, but more study is needed.

Treatment-resistant depression (TRD)

Traditional solutions for depression, like antidepressants and talk therapy, might not work for everyone. Psychedelic treatment, especially with drugs like psilocybin and ketamine, has been shown to help people with TRD feel better quickly and in a big way.

These drugs can give people deep experiences that can help them see things in a new way and break out of negative thought patterns that can lead to sadness.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

OCD is a long-term, difficult disease that is marked by repetitive thoughts and actions. There are signs that psychedelic treatment can help make OCD symptoms less bad. For example, psilocybin-assisted therapy can improve a person’s cognitive flexibility and give them new ideas and perspectives, which could break the cycle of obsessions and compulsions.

Substance use disorders

Researchers have looked into how psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin could be used to help alcoholism and other kinds of addiction. Some study shows that psychedelics can help people who abuse alcohol and cut down on drug abuse in general.

But more well-designed studies are needed to fully understand the benefits to therapy, and some people have had bad reactions.

Terminal illness

Researchers have looked at how psychedelic therapy can help people with terminal illnesses deal with their anxiety, sadness, and fear of dying. When given in a counseling setting, research has shown that psychedelics can help these patients feel less anxious and depressed.

The healing benefits may come from patients having a “mystical experience.” More study is needed to find out how these experiences affect the body and make them more generalizable.

End-of-life distress

People who have a terminal disease often go through a lot of mental pain, such as anxiety, depression, existential pain, and fear of death. Psychedelic treatment, which uses drugs like psilocybin, has shown promise in easing the pain of dying.

It can help people face their own mortality, find meaning and connection, and feel less anxious and depressed. This can make the end of life more peaceful and important.

Reducing criminal behavior

Research shows that psychedelic drugs, like psilocybin, make people less likely to break the law. Studies have shown that people who have used psychedelics are less likely to commit physical crimes, larceny, theft, and other property crimes. These results show how psychedelic treatment could be used in prisons and hospitals.

Methods of Psychedelic-assisted Psychotherapy

Psychedelic therapy involves the use of moderate-to-high doses of psychedelic drugs, such as psilocybin or ayahuasca, in a therapeutic setting. Patients have introspective experiences while lying down and listening to music, guided by a therapeutic team.

Transcendental or peak experiences play a significant role in long-term therapeutic effects. Some studies combine psychedelic therapy with cognitive behavioral therapy or motivational enhancement therapy.

Psycholytic therapy uses lower-to-medium doses of psychedelics, with therapists present during peak experiences. Other variations include approaches using different substances or techniques like hypnosis.

The goal of psychedelic therapy is to provide a safe space for exploring emotions, reframing thoughts, and fostering personal growth.

Types of Psychedelic Drugs

In psychedelic therapy, various drugs can be used, and psilocybin, which is found in psychedelic mushrooms, has been the focus of recent research. The 6 main types of psychedelic drugs include:

1. Psilocybin mushrooms

Sometimes known as magic mushrooms, are a polyphyletic informal group of fungi that contain psilocybin, which when consumed converts to psilocin. Psilocybe, Panaeolus, Inocybe, Pluteus, Gymnopilus, and Pholiotina are some of the biological genera that include psilocybin mushrooms.

2. LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide)

LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), sometimes known colloquially as acid, is a powerful hallucinogenic substance. Typical side effects include increased intensity of thoughts, emotions, and sensory experience. LSD produces mostly mental, visual, and aural hallucinations at sufficiently high doses. It is a chemical found in several plants and is known for its hallucinogenic properties.

3. DMT (Dimethyltryptamine)

It is a chemical that can be found in certain plants and is known for its powerful psychedelic effects. N, N-Dimethyltryptamine is a substituted tryptamine found in many plants and animals, including humans, and is both a tryptamine derivative and structural analog. DMT is a hallucinogenic chemical that is manufactured for ritual reasons by numerous civilizations as an entheogen.

4. MDMA (3,4-Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine

3,4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine is an empathogen-entactogen, psychostimulant, and psychedelic amphetamine substance that is mostly used recreationally. MDA is primarily a serotonin-norepinephrine-dopamine releasing agent in terms of pharmacology.

It is a chemical derived from the sassafras tree and is famous for its association with the recreational drug Ecstasy. In recent years, it has gained attention for its potential therapeutic applications, particularly in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

5. Ketamine

Ketamine, a dissociative anesthetic, has been used for centuries in psychedelic therapy and is now being explored as a treatment for depression. Low doses of ketamine have shown effectiveness in improving severe depression, with results lasting 6 to 8 weeks.

This has led to the development of Spravato, a nasal spray containing ketamine. Intravenous administration is considered more effective and cost-efficient. Ketamine holds promise as a therapeutic option for depression, but proper medical supervision is necessary.

6. Mescaline

Mescaline, also known as mescalin, is a naturally occurring psychedelic protoalkaloid of the substituted phenethylamine family, with hallucinogenic properties akin to LSD and psilocybin. It is a naturally occurring psychedelic substance found in some cacti, most notably the peyote cactus.

These substances can induce altered states of consciousness and have been studied in the context of psychedelic therapy for their potential therapeutic benefits.

Risks and Side Effects

There are 7 potential risks and side effects of taking psychedelic therapy:

1. Psychosis

People with previous illnesses that can lead to psychosis may be more susceptible to experiencing the break from reality known as psychosis. Before beginning psychedelic therapy, the patient’s mental condition should be carefully taken into account.

2. Negative Psychological Reactions

Anxiety, panic, and paranoid symptoms can result from using psychedelics. Sometimes people may experience a “bad trip” marked by acute anxiety and a fear of losing control. When considering psychedelic therapy, psychological stability and well-being should be taken into account.

3. Possible Personality Changes

Psychedelic drugs may be able to cause long-term personality changes, according to certain studies. For instance, psilocybin therapy has been linked to rises in openness and extroversion. These results suggest that psilocybin-assisted therapy may increase a person’s openness and willingness to try new things.

4. Fear

Psychedelic-induced hallucinations can occasionally result in great terror, making people think they are going to die, or triggering trauma and flashbacks. In psychedelic therapeutic settings, the possibility for frightening experiences should be acknowledged and addressed.

5. Dangers of Self-Treatment

It can be dangerous to use psychedelics for self-treatment. It can result in psychological risks including having an unpleasant trip and the possibility of drug interactions. Additionally, street drugs frequently contain unidentified and potentially dangerous ingredients. Therefore, when thinking about psychedelic therapy, it is imperative to seek appropriate medical supervision and refrain from self-treatment.

6. Cardiovascular issues

For those who have a history of heart illness, psychedelic drugs provide a risk since they have the potential to increase blood pressure and heart rate. Before experimenting with psychedelics, such people should talk to a healthcare professional about their medical history.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, psychedelic therapy is emerging as a promising avenue for mental health treatment in Canada, offering a unique and potentially transformative approach. The benefits of this therapy extend beyond symptom alleviation, as it promotes introspection, emotional breakthroughs, and a sense of connection to oneself and others.

However, it is crucial to emphasize the importance of safe and responsible use of psychedelics. These substances should only be administered in a clinical setting under the supervision of trained professionals. Rigorous screening, appropriate dosing, and adequate psychological support are paramount to ensure a positive and safe experience.

As research in the field progresses, it is essential to maintain open dialogue, destigmatize psychedelic therapy, and advocate for its integration into mainstream mental healthcare. By doing so, we can unlock the full potential of these powerful tools, offering hope and healing to individuals who have previously found limited relief through conventional treatments.

Author Microdosify

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 February 7, 2022
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