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Can You Treat Mental Illness with Psychedelics?

psychedelic drugs could well be the future of mental illness treatment

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Hallucinogens can provide a treatment solution for mental disorders?

Most people associate psychoactive drugs with hippies from the 60s, with all night rave party goers, perhaps with music festivals like Burning Man, or with burnout slacker cult heroes from TV shows and movies (Remember Jeff Bridges’ line from The Big Lebowski? When asked what he does for “recreation,” he mumbles something about how he likes to “Bowl… drive around..       . [and enjoy] the occasional acid flashback…”).

In the not too distant future, however, hallucinogenic substances may be a go-to method for mental health professionals as they help their patients working through mental health issues such as social anxiety and grief to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

Like the majority of antidepressant medications, hallucinogens affect how the brain utilizes serotonin, the brain chemical relevant to memory, sleep, and mood. Different from antidepressants, however, hallucinogens appear to change how different parts of the brain communicate with one other – that may be why many individuals who have taken hallucinogens take away a “significantly altered sense of self,” not to mention an increased degree of “open-mindedness.”

Powerful tools

Psychoactive drugs are among the most powerful substances known, and can have potent effects on the central nervous system. Like any powerful tool, they can be either hazardous or of benefit. If they are administered properly and monitored, they have shown potential to be extremely beneficial.

Research into psychedelics

According to researchers, when combined appropriately with psychotherapy, psychedelics such as MDMA (ecstasy), LSD, psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”), and ayahuasca have been known to improve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Research continues to help us better understand the possible benefits of these substances, while psychologists help bring awareness to any possibly related cultural, ethical, and clinical questions associated with using them.

MDMA. Another study’s findings reflect that symptoms of social anxiety in autistic adults may be manageable with a combination of MDMA and psychotherapy. The results of the MDMA and psychotherapy treatments showed positive results for months, and even years in some cases, for the majority of the research subjects. Notably, social anxiety, which is common among autistic adults, has seen few if any effective treatment options.

LSD,  psilocybin, and ayahuasca. Research studies have also delved into how people coping with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders may benefit from psychotherapy coupled with monitored doses of LSD, psilocybin, and ayahuasca.

In one study, participants discussed past experiences with hallucinogens, in terms of their relationship with their emotions, and their spirituality. The use of psychedelics was reported by the vast majority of participants to be associated with greater levels of spirituality, leading to enhanced emotional stability, and subsequently fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, and disordered eating.

More on ayahuasca. Other research studies have indicated that the use of ayahuasca has shown increases in generosity, spiritual connection, and altruistic feelings; the use of ayahuasca has also been tied to the relief of depression along with mitigating addictive behaviors, as well as relieving stress for those dealing with trauma.

Other landmarks:

  • In December 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved plans for the third phase of a clinical trial testing MDMA in the treatment of PTSD. The study is expected to document the treatment experiences of over 200 people over the course of two to three years.
  • That same month, a research team at Johns Hopkins University released results of a study that tested psilocybin in a group of cancer patients who showed signs of depression and anxiety. High doses, around two to three times a typical recreational dosage, significantly reduced these symptoms, and four out of five continued on with significant overall decreases in depressed mood and anxiety six months later.
  • In studies of the effects of ketamine (also known as “Special K”) on severe depression, patients typically get ketamine either through an IV or a nasal mist about once a week, in a clinic under strict medical supervision. In some participants, ketamine can ease depressive symptoms in a matter of a few hours.

The times, they are a changin’

This new research coincides with a time when social and political attitudes toward drugs are shifting immensely.

The prevalent abuse of prescription opioid painkillers is framed more as a public health issue than as a law enforcement issue, and in the meantime, an increasing number of states are legalizing medical and even recreational marijuana.

Members of Congress asked the Drug Enforcement Administration to hold off on plans to make the herbal supplement kratom illegalscientists claim that kratom may be useful to treat addiction and chronic pain.

Researchers tell us that we are still “newcomers and amateurs” in our understanding of how hallucinogens may help. What all the studies are meant to help researchers understand is how permanent changes to the brain’s functioning may be, and how such changes might help those with depression, anxiety, and addiction.

There are currently hundreds of research projects underway, and to date, there is no known research that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has rejected or put the brakes on. Furthermore, the DEA has also been having talks with researchers and mental health professionals about streamlining the agency’s approval process.

Curious about better ways to address your own depression and/or anxiety? Both are treatable and manageable. If you or someone close to you need to talk to someone about mental health issues that seem overwhelming, we can help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.