By Joseph Santiago

There are different plants and compounds with the ability to induce hallucinations. Today, people use these substances in treating several mental health issues like PTSD and depression. Many doctors use these compounds in different forms. Mescaline (peyote), LSD and psilocybin mushrooms are the most common for psychedelic therapy.

Different research work supports the potency of these psychedelics, especially in alleviating symptoms of mental conditions. However, the study of psychedelics in treating mental conditions is still new. Currently available research in this field remains unclear how these psychedelics work.

Some researchers believe that these substances alter the neurotransmitters in the brain to induce newer perspectives in people. Other researchers think it’s via an increase in suggestibility following an intake of these psychedelics. The result of this is also an increase in mental performance.

There’s a lot to learn about psychedelic therapy. Therefore, continue reading this review to know more about its potential benefit for different mental health disorders.

psychedelic therapy for mental health

What is Psychedelic Therapy

It is a form of therapy that focuses on using psychedelic plant compounds with hallucinogenic potentials. These compounds are psilocybin and LSD, which help treat mental health issues.

Doctors usually prescribe these compounds alone or sometimes in combination with other compounds. Regardless of how the doctor prescribes them, the goal is to increase their overall mental health.

How Does Psychedelic Therapy Work?

The conventional drugs for treating mental health conditions don’t act quickly or only act when the patient takes them. On the contrary, evidence from research work shows that psychedelic therapy offers rapid improvement, even after a single dose.

However, researchers don’t fully understand the exact mechanism of action. Here are some of the potential ways psychedelic therapy may work:

  • Neurotransmitter Changes: Psychedelic substances may act on the brain’s neurotransmitters to improve mood or change the brain’s behavior.
  • Psychedelic or Mystical Experience: Psychedelic compounds show the potential to cause people to behave or think differently.
  • Increased Suggestibility: Individuals using psychedelic compounds are more like to be suggestive.

Types of Drugs for Psychedelic Therapy

There are many drug options for psychedelic therapy, with psilocybin (a substance in magic mushrooms) being the most common. Other options include:

  • MDMA
  • LSD
  • Mescaline
  • DMT

There are also different types of psychedelic therapy, even though it remains an experimental form of treatment. The different types are:

  • Guided therapy teaches a person to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of psychedelic “high.”
  • Psychedelics alone: a person only take a psychedelic drug with no adjuvant
  • Drug-assisted therapy: a person takes psychedelic drugs with adjuvants

Therapeutic Benefits of Psychedelic Therapy

Here’s a review of some of the potential health benefits of using psychedelic therapy for different mental health conditions:

Depression and Anxiety

Other research evidence shows that psychedelic therapy is effective for depression and anxiety. These studies also support that psychedelic therapy eases the symptoms of both conditions.

But what does research work have to say about these therapeutic benefits of psychedelic therapy?

  • 2020 review: More than 20 past studies on psychedelic drugs and therapy for depression and anxiety. The review shows that more than 65% of available studies show the ability of psychedelics to reduce anxiety. Although there were only a few of this research, most had flaws in their methodology.
  •  2021 study: Over 160 people claiming to have different psychedelic experiences. According to these participants, there was a significant decrease in stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms. This improvement was after taking a psychedelic substance. The study also suggests that the participants had less frequent rumination and more compassion.

A common thing with the two studies is that they were primarily based on self-reporting. Therefore, these findings are not sufficient to conclude that psychedelic experiences can improve mental health conditions. The studies only support a mechanism of mental health improvement via reducing negative symptoms.

Terminal Illnesses

It’s a scary thing to face a severe diagnosis, and it becomes worse if such a person has anxiety. A couple of studies show that psychedelic therapy can reduce depression and anxiety due to fear of death from the severe diagnosis.

Here’s are the different reports from previous research:

  • study on about 30 cancer patients with depression or anxiety: Psilocybin was helpful in reducing the feeling of cancer-related hopelessness, dread, and anxiety. The effects were immediate, and improvement was constant, even after six months of psychedelic therapy.
  • Another similar study of over 50 cancer patients had similar results. The aim of the study was to administer a placebo or psilocybin to these patients and note the effects of both substances. There was a significant improvement in relationships and mood for the psilocybin group.

There were claims from participants of the two studies, and this was mainly about a spiritualistic or mystical experience. This further supports the role of mystical experiences in psychedelic therapy.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

There are mixed results from research on claims that psychedelic drugs can alleviate the effects of trauma.

  • 2020 systematic review: The review was on five ketamine studies and four MDMA studies on trauma treatment. There was little evidence to support the effect of ketamine alone, but higher in therapy with ketamine and psychotherapy. However, researchers were able to provide evidence to support the effectiveness of MDMA.
  • 2020 study: The study was majorly on gay male survivors with a moody feeling after the AIDS pandemic. After administering psilocybin to these participants, there was a significant improvement in their negative symptoms.

Addiction

There are different research claims suggesting that psychedelic therapy can help alleviate symptoms of addiction. The claims support addiction treatment and the management of depression in addiction victims. This is because improving other mental health symptoms can make it easy for people to stop abusing substances.

In a proof-of-concept study, the treatment approach for alcohol addiction victims was psychotherapy, together with psilocybin. After a few weeks of this therapy, there was a significant improvement, as the participants were no longer drinking much.

Another study also supports that psilocybin has the potential to help addiction victims to quit smoking. The study had 15 volunteers, of which taking psilocybin alongside different cognitive-behavioral therapy was helpful, and they could easily quit smoking.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Even though only a few studies on the effects of psychedelic therapy on OCD, a 2016 study was investigating the efficacy, tolerability, and safety of psilocybin in patients with OCD gave promising results. The participants of this study all had a significant reduction in their OCD symptoms after taking psilocybin.

Although there’s a need for further research to verify this claim, currently available evidence shows that patients with OCD can benefit from psychedelic therapy.

Eating Disorders

There is also evidence showing that psychedelic therapy can improve symptoms of eating disorders. A systematic review of different reports on psychedelic therapy for eating disorders reveals that the participants were inspired to eat more and embrace healthy habits.

One fascinating fact is that many people who are one eating disorder or the other also have symptoms of mental health disorders, but psychedelic therapy can improve these symptoms.

Potential Risks

There are also studies showing the potential for psychedelic therapy to induce a significant change in the level of consciousness, which can present different side effects. The potential side effects may include any of the following:

  • Cardiovascular issues: Reports from different studies also show that these psychedelics can cause an increase in blood pressure. This may not be a good thing for people with heart disease or a history of heart disease.
  • Fear: There is also evidence suggesting that people who take psychedelics tend to hallucinate things that cause them to fear. In some cases, they start to believe that they will die, and with this, there’s a greater chance of trauma.
  • Psychosis: There is also a potential for these psychedelics to induce psychosis in people who take them excessively.

Despite these potential risks, several studies still did not record any adverse reaction, showing that psychedelics can effectively improve different disorders without leaving any negative impact.

Conclusion

There are several benefits of psychedelic therapy with further research evidence. These benefits are mostly immediate and offer significant psychological changes. Research also suggests that these psychological changes can last a while, which is excellent for people with mental health conditions.

The brighter side of it is that the interest in psychedelic therapy is on the increase. There is more research, and psychedelics are becoming easily accessible today.

There’s a lot to learn, but we provide different ways to get the correct information.

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