With new laws and media coverage, there is an increase in interest about the benefits of psychedelic substances for mental health. Psychedelic therapy is a therapeutic method that utilizes hallucinogenic and psychedelic substances.
Psychedelic substances include the recreational drugs LSD and psilocybin, found in hallucinogenic mushrooms. While these substances are still illegal in the U.S. and much of the world, there is interest in their use for the treatment of some mental health conditions. I mean, who knew that those tabs you ate at a music festival during your freshman year could actually have made you resilient to the stress of the upcoming semester!
How Does Psychedelic Therapy Work?
While there is no standardized method of psychedelic treatment, there are studies that show techniques that may have contributed to the reduction of mental health symptoms. Psychedelic therapy involves low to moderate doses of a psychedelic substance with the supervision of a mental health professional (as well as other researchers or medical professionals in some of the studies).
During a psychedelic therapy session, it is important for the therapist to establish positive set and setting. The term “Set,” refers to “mindset.” This means that clear expectations should be established, and the mood should be positive. Setting is the environment and situation where the therapeutic session will occur. This means that the room should be comfortable, and the therapist and the client or study participant should be comfortable with one another.
After the initial psychedelic experience and session, the next process is integration. This session or sessions will help the participant find meaning and growth resulting from the psychedelic experience and therapy.
What Psychedelic Therapy May Treat
While there is still some disagreement on the nature of the benefits of psychedelic therapy, there are some areas where it could potentially be useful.
One study found that psychedelics, specifically psilocybin, could help to reduce anxiety and depression. The study focused on those who were in the middle of treatment for cancer. There is also evidence that LSD could be helpful for some individuals suffering from substance use disorders including alcoholism. Studies also show that MDMA, also known as ecstasy or molly, may be useful in the treatment of PTSD.
Benefits of Psychedelic Therapy
The benefits of psychedelic therapy are likely at least partially brought forth by the impact that psychedelics have on serotonin, which influences mood among other aspects of mental health. Psychedelic substances can cause feelings of relaxation and euphoria. They can also help with social interaction, self-examination, and offer meaningful or spiritual experiences. Furthermore, many of the benefits could last even after the substance has completely worn off.
Downsides to Psychedelic Therapy
While psychedelic therapy offers a lot of potential and may be effective for many mental health disorders, there are also some things to keep in mind that could be downsides depending on the situation.
These types of substances can alter perception and lead to hallucinations that could be disturbing. They can make it difficult to distinguish reality, time, and emotions. When these types of psychedelics are used in a therapeutic setting, the professional may be able to help the participant understand and rationalize those feelings and experiences.
There is also a risk of negative experiences and some concern over changes in personality after consuming psychedelics. Also, with the rise in media coverage of psychedelic use in therapy, there may also be a rise in self-treatment.
It is also important to note that there may be a connection between psychedelic use and the onset of mental illness. While some experts believe that this is only because the use of psychedelic substances and the onset of mental illnesses generally occur around the same age, others believe that these types of substances contribute to mental illness.
Finally, since the effects of psychedelics can mimic schizophrenia or psychosis, there is some concern about the onset of these disorders or the use of psychedelics by those who have experienced psychosis or symptoms associated with schizophrenia.
What Substances May Be Beneficial for Psychedelic Therapy?
There are a few different substances that could be useful in the treatment of mental health conditions. While each one offers its own unique set of effects, more studies need to be completed on many of them in order to determine whether the benefits outweigh any possible risks.
Psilocybin is the hallucinogenic compound that is in psychedelic or “magic” mushrooms. It offers some potential in the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders. There is also some evidence that is could be beneficial for obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction.
LSD is another option that is longer-lasting than psilocybin. LSD may help with addiction and anxiety. It is also often considered the standard to base other substances on when comparing different studies or treatments.
Another one is ketamine, which is the most-studied psychedelic substance when it comes to mental health and therapy. Low doses of ketamine may be helpful in the treatment of depression and those benefits could be long-lasting.
Finally, MDMA may be beneficial in treating PTSD and the benefits could last up to 4 years after the psychedelic therapy sessions. Research shows that the benefits could be profound and MDMA reduced symptoms in well over half of the participant in a phase three trial.
While more studies are needed and there are still legal issues surrounding psychedelic therapy, the potential benefits and completed studies show some promising effects. Psychedelics may help to foster social connections, improve empathy, and offer introspective though processes that could help in the treatment of many mental health disorders including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance use disorder.