Psychedelic therapy is a form of psychotherapy that utilizes the effects of psychedelic substances to treat mental health conditions. The term “psychedelic” refers to a class of psychoactive substances that produce altered states of consciousness, sometimes referred to as “trips.” Some psychedelic substances come from plants such as Psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms), Ayahuasca, Peyote, and DMT. Additionally, there are chemical compounds such as MDMA, Ketamine, and LSD that have psychedelic properties. Although psychedelic therapy has been around for centuries among indigenous communities, it has only recently gained momentum in Western medicine among researchers, clinicians, and the public.
Psychedelic therapy involves administering a carefully measured dose of a psychedelic substance to a patient in a supportive therapeutic environment, with the goal of inducing a profound, transformative experience. Psychedelic therapy is often given in conjunction with psychotherapy. Many patients who have utilized this type of therapy describe it as increasing a sense of connectedness, altered perception of time and space, as well as heightening emotions. The experience is now thought by some in the medical field to facilitate emotional healing and insight, leading to positive changes in a patient’s mental health.
Three Steps of Psychedelic Therapy
During this stage the client will consult with the psychedelic care team to explore if there are any contraindications to beginning treatment. If the client is approved, the care team then explores client goals and provides psycho-education about treatment and how many sessions are recommended.
Client ingests the psychedelic substance in the presence of a trained therapist. Therapists are present to ensure safety and gain additional medical assistance if necessary.
After the “trip,” the client and therapist will explore the client’s experiences—the meanings of these psychedelic occurrences and how to integrate them into the client’s life.
Who It Has Shown to Benefit
With increased interest in psychedelic therapy comes more funding and opportunity for research. While studies exploring the effectiveness of this type of treatment are relatively new, there have already been promising results in the treatment of various mental health conditions.
Addiction: Research has now been conducted on the effectiveness of psychedelic assisted therapy on substance abuse disorders. One study done by NYU’s School of Medicine showed an 83% reduction in alcohol use by “heavy drinkers” after two doses of Psilocybin (magic mushrooms).
Depression: A study conducted in 2018 exploring the impact of Psilocybin on treatment resistant depression found that 67% of participants had a clinical response and 42% experienced full remission.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Clinical trials have demonstrated that psychedelic therapy, particularly with MDMA, can be effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD and facilitating emotional healing in individuals who have experienced trauma.
Legality and Risk
While research is showing promising findings regarding potential benefits of psychedelics, there are still risks. Psychedelic substances can in some clients produce experiences ranging from distressing to psychosis or mania. Individuals with mental health issues and trauma histories are most at risk. This is an unfortunate paradigm, as these are the individuals who may benefit most from this type of treatment.
Another concern of psychedelic usage is the lack of current regulation. Psychedelic drugs are not FDA regulated and in fact are illegal in most contexts. Therefore, research is still fairly new regarding the full range of risks. The Untied States has now begun to loosen restrictions on the use of psychedelic substances in clinical settings, allowing researchers to conduct studies on their therapeutic potential and risks.
I do not believe you can look at this topic without looking at the controversy surrounding it. Psychedelic drugs have been long deemed illicit and dangerous. It is understandable that many practitioners and clients alike have skepticisms and concern about their use. While more research should be done, current findings show the potential that psychedelic assisted therapy may be another tool in combatting mental illness.