Psychedelic drugs, formerly potential research subjects that were long consigned illegal for experimentation in dorm rooms, have been gradually finding their way back into the lab for a modernized 21st-century look.
The most frequently tested and prescribed treatments for mental health issues like depression and anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often include medication and therapy. Their effects are not always successful. However, researchers are finding a promising new potential for revolutionary mental health care for some patients, particularly those who are not reacting to these standard treatments.
You might be picturing the wild, chaotic Woodstock psychedelic golden days, but this isn't that. We're specifically referring to psychedelic-assisted treatment, which is carried out under the cautious supervision of a qualified clinician and involves the administration of a psychoactive substance to cause an altered state of consciousness in the patient. The concept of therapy is to help you consider the psychological causes of particular mental health problems.
Even though there is still much to understand about the possibilities of psychedelic therapy, what is known so far is encouraging, especially for people with severe PTSD and treatment-resistant depression.
What substances belong under the psychedelic category?
It's important to know which substances fall under the psychedelic category, like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin (the active chemical in magic mushrooms), methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, also known as ecstasy or molly), ketamine, mescaline, and ayahuasca (a natural mind-bending substance brewed from specific plants, which originated from Indigenous people in the Amazon Basin) and others.
Due to their great potential for abuse as well as the lack of any widely acknowledged medicinal uses, these substances are classified as Schedule I in the United States and are therefore banned at the federal level.
How does it work?
The precise dosage, the number of sessions required, and the method of psychedelic therapy will differ depending on a variety of factors at this time as clinicians are still assessing the efficacy of their therapies.
However, the majority of psychedelic therapy in clinical settings involves three stages.
Preliminary consultation is typically the first step to ensure you have no medical conditions that might make the psychedelic therapy problematic.
This is also an excellent time to talk about your personal history, as well as any objectives or worries you may have regarding psychedelic therapy.
The second stage includes ingesting the psychedelic drug. This usually happens through oral consumption, but depending on the drug it could also be nasally or intravenously. The qualified therapist is monitoring the patient.
Depending on the psychedelic kind and the treatment strategy, there are typically repeated sessions. For instance:
- There are typically three sessions required for MDMA-assisted treatment.
- A ketamine-assisted therapy regimen consists of one to twelve sessions.
- Usually, psilocybin and LSD-assisted therapy require two or more sessions.
The process of integration is the last stage, during which the client and the therapist collaborate to extract value from the psychedelic experiences. Integration of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy is crucial because it is the process that gives insight into psychedelic experiences.
Integration is the work that transforms an understanding from a conceptual to an actual state. This is the step where the beneficial effects and experiences that one had during the session are converted into long-lasting positive change for oneself.
What mental health conditions can be treated with psychedelic-assisted therapy?
Before former President Richard Nixon banned them with the Controlled Substances Act in the 1970s, scientists conducted a wealth of research during the 1950s and 1960s that both verified and suggested the therapeutic potential of psychedelic treatment.
There is an astounding therapeutic potential for a wide range of disorders and mental health issues:
- eating disorders
- excess alcohol use
- smoking cessation
- drug addiction
- accepting mortality.
In both clinical and nonclinical contexts, a variety of consciousness-altering psychedelic substances are now being implemented or studied for therapeutic purposes and their overall application.
Psilocybin (magic mushrooms), DMT, peyote, ayahuasca, and ibogaine are some psychedelic substances that are naturally produced from plants. Others are chemical psychedelic drugs, such as ketamine, MDMA, and LSD.
Here are some examples of possible applications for various psychedelic drugs.
MDMA psychedelic therapy
MDMA-assisted psychotherapy may be capable of relieving post-traumatic stress disorder for up to 4 years, according to numerous phase 3 clinical trials, which are conducted to determine whether a medication is effective.
MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD has also finally finished a phase 3 trial, which assesses if treatment is comparable to those already available.
After three treatments, 67 percent of the 90 individuals with severe posttraumatic stress disorder no longer met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis, and 88 percent of them experienced fewer PTSD symptoms.
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which sponsored the trial, claims that the outcomes might pave the way for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorization of MDMA-assisted therapy by 2023.
LSD psychedelic therapy
Dr. Albert Hofmann created the semi-synthetic drug LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) at the Sandoz pharmaceutical firm in Basel, Switzerland, in 1938.
LSD's potential therapeutic properties were soon acknowledged after Dr. Hofmann, who initially saw its effects in 1943. The serotonin neurotransmitter system was discovered in large part because of LSD.
Mental health conditions, both alcohol use disorder and anxiety in patients with terminal illnesses have been proven to be helped by LSD, a long-lasting, strong psychedelic that is thought to be the prototype for therapeutic psychedelics.
Psilocybin psychedelic therapy
The research carried out in pioneering academic institutions has shown signs that psilocybin, when taken with psychological assistance from particularly qualified therapists, is a safe and useful medication for people with mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental diseases.
Some types of mushrooms, popularly known as "magic mushrooms," contain the active component psilocybin. Read more about it here.
Esketamine psychedelic therapy
At the moment hallucinogenic medication used most frequently in psychedelic therapy is a version of ketamine. Numerous studies looking at its ability to treat depression and anxiety have found that it is effective in modest dosages, although its effects are temporary.
For instance,data from a reputable source reveals that treatment leads to a significant improvement in individuals with severe depression and that these improvements last, on average, for 6 to 8 weeks.
These discoveries prompted the creation of the medication Spravato. Although the F.D.A. permits ketamine to be administered as a sedative, the psychedelic drug can be prescribed for treatment-resistant depression at a certified doctor's office or a clinic.
Even though esketamine appears to contain a molecular element of ketamine, the FDA claims that the two medications are not equal.
Path of legalization for therapeutic use and research centers
A new generation of academics and investors has been fascinated by a buzz of interest, which has led to some understandable skepticism over claims that could seem a bit good to be true. The oldest research university in the United States, Johns Hopkins University, however, launched a center for psychedelic research two years ago, making it the very first of its kind and possibly the biggest in the world.
The center like many others has begun its work and aims to apply the highest standards of scientific methodology to a sector that many believe has drifted uncomfortably near to mysticism and that has depended mainly on subjective reporting. The research on psychedelic-assisted therapy appears to be moving forward thanks to early, encouraging results.
What do we think is the most secure method of getting psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy?
There are still many obstacles to overcome, but you do have some options.
1. Join the clinical trials
Participation in a clinical trial is one of the safest methods to try psychedelic-assisted treatment, whether you're investigating Lsd, psilocybin, MDMA, or other drugs. This is because the trials are carried out before, during, and after the psychedelic experience under the supervision of qualified physicians in a safe, controlled environment.
However, enrolling in one of the following clinical trials doesn't guarantee admission. At the moment, the market is competitive in certain places. Additionally, you must fulfill stringent requirements to be a trial participant. These requirements may include adhering to all research rules and regulations, making time commitments, and much more. The details around enrolling highly depend on the country of your residence.
The requirements you would need to fulfill to take part in trials run by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a based non-profit research organization that looks into the therapeutic uses of psychedelics and marijuana.
Ask your physician or counselor about any local studies they may be aware of if you want to locate a clinical trial close to you. You may focus your search on the specific psychedelic therapy and psychological condition you're looking for as well as the area in which you're interested. Additionally, seek recognized medical facilities and academic institutions with psychedelic research groups.
2. Consider medical tourism
Thanks to their liberal laws on psychoactive substances, Jamaica and the Holland are, unsurprisingly, the top destinations, but new possibilities are now emerging in Canada, Mexico, and the US. These experiences combine traditional health practices of therapy with psychedelic experiences in order to promote holistic recovery.
The psychedelic retreat Earth Awareness in the Netherlands takes visitors on three- or five-day journeys using legal psilocybin truffles. In order to increase scientific understanding of the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, they collaborate alongside with a research scientists of the University College London.
A PHRI-trained integration therapy is a complementary and necessary aspect in this type of medical tourism.
3. If you've already experimented with psychedelics, think about integration therapy.
Let's assume that you have previously experienced psychoactive substances on your own or at the retreat, in whatever form. The good news is that there are therapists that specialize in helping people who have taken these substances on their own and felt the need to analyze the situation and the sentiments it brought to the surface.
This sort of treatment is formally known as psychedelic harm reduction and integration(PHRI). (PHRI). Although many therapists assist patients in processing their psychedelic experience, official guidelines on how to do so are lacking, until 2021 research published in Frontiers in Psychology offers a possible framework.
The authors of the paper state that your therapist should assist you in processing emotions like worry, fear, or depression that surfaced during or following your experience. In essence, they need to skillfully lead you through sensations of vulnerability, heightened sensibility, and other thoughts that surface.
Consider a PHRI-trained integration therapist while searching for one. You should feel comfortable discussing your psychedelic journey with therapists who have received training from the PHRI because their approach is founded on harm-reduction therapy rather than abstinence-based methods.
To evaluate if they may be a good fit for your particular needs and preferences, you may also want to find out more information about their knowledge of or experience with psychedelic-assisted therapy. You may also want to find out more information about their background and credentials, treatment philosophy, and involvement in cultural competency.
In the safe environment of a clinical study, psychedelic therapy is being carefully examined for a purpose. Your physical and mental safety as well as the efficiency of the assisted therapy itself depend on receiving the right dosage of psychedelic drugs and working with your situation with a qualified clinician.
There is no quality assurance for the treatments being used outside of settings that have received medical approval, and those who deliver these drugs in an unsafe manner are not held accountable.
4. Consult your doctor to see if ketamine could be an option.
If you are a resident of US or UK you have a possibility of having ketamine as an option. The injectable anesthetic ketamine has historically been employed for momentary sedation and anesthesia.
However, because of its hallucinogenic and dissociative effects, it has been included in other experimental psychedelic therapy studies in the field of mental health.
In 2019, the FDA approved esketamine for depression that had not responded to therapy. It is intended to be used in combination with antidepressants and is presently the only kind of ketamine that the FDA has approved for the treatment of a mental health problem.
There are stringent rules around the use of esketamine since it can sedate users, impair judgment, and lead to overuse. It must be used under the supervision of a doctor. Ketamine is given for off-label uses because it is not a Schedule I substance, for example, for the treatment of PTSD, depression and anxiety, and other mental health issues.
Even while there is still much to understand about the possibilities of psychedelic therapy, the discovered data so far is encouraging. Especially for people with severe PTSD, depression, and anxiety.
To increase access and chances for study, campaigners and lobbyists are seeking to legalize several psychedelic drugs. Keep an eye out since regulations around these therapy alternatives change frequently.
Vivien Freeflow · 2/3/2023