Psychedelic Assisted Therapy – A Quick Guide
Psychedelic Assisted Therapy is the combination of two treatments:
- Psychedelics – use of plants and compounds that can induce hallucinations to treat certain mental health diagnoses, e.g. depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Talk Therapy – also known as psychotherapy, is used by mental health professionals to communicate with their patients. The aim of talk therapy is to help people identify issues that cause emotional distress.
Psychedelic Assisted Therapy – What is it?
Psychedelic-assisted therapy uses psychedelic plant compounds that can induce hallucinations to treat mental health issues like anxiety, depression, trauma, addiction, and PTSD. Examples of psychedelic plant compounds include LSD and psilocybin from “magic” mushrooms.
Sometimes psychedelics can be taken on their own, but research shows increased benefit when combined with other treatments, such as therapy.
Psychedelic Assisted Therapy- How does it work?
Most research on psychedelic assisted therapy has found an immediate improvement in mental health symptoms, often after a single dose. Symptom reduction is shown to remain for up to 12 months after just a couple of doses. This makes this type of treatment more beneficial than traditional medications that often take weeks to work or could only work for as long as a person takes them.
As research into the use of psychedelics for mental health conditions like anxiety
, trauma, and PTSD is still in its infancy, scientists do not know precisely how psychedelics work. However, based on early research, some potential ways they might work include:
- Psychedelic experiences: Intense and meaningful experiences under the influence of psychedelics may shift a person’s belief system or mindset, causing them to behave or think differently.
- Increased suggestibility: When using psychedelics, people may be more suggestible, making them more responsive to positive suggestions from a professional therapist or to the benefits of their own hallucinations.
Neurotransmitter changes: Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in the brain. Most mental health drugs act directly on neurotransmitters to change mood. Certain psychedelic drugs are also believed to act on neurotransmitters, changing the brain’s behaviour and improving mood.
Types of Psychedelics
Recently research has looked at psilocybin, a substance found in psychedelic mushrooms. However, there are other types of psychedelics that could be used as part of a therapeutic programme.
- Naturally occurring psilocybin or magic mushrooms are consumed for their hallucinogenic effects.
- Psilocybin is a psychedelic drug, which means it affects all the senses, altering a person’s thinking, emotions, and sense of time. Psychedelics can cause hallucinations, seeing or hearing things that do not exist or are distorted.
- When psilocybin is taken, the body converts it to psilocin, which is the chemical with psychoactive properties.
- A chemical found in several plants.
- Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, or LSD, is a synthetic chemical made from a substance found in ergot. Ergot is a fungus that infects rye.
- When small doses are taken, LSD can produce mild changes in perception, thought and mood. Larger doses may produce distortions and visual hallucinations.
- Found in the sassafras tree and known for its role in the drug Ecstasy
- Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, is an empathogen that increases an individual’s feeling of kindness and empathy and increases feelings of being connected to others and socially accepted.
MDMA is commonly known as ecstasy. However, some ecstasy pills sold may only have a small amount of MDMA or none at all.
Uses and Benefits
Terminal Illnesses – Facing a serious or deadly diagnosis can be scary, with high levels of anxiety about death itself or what might happen afterwards. A handful of studies have shown that psychedelic therapy may ease this existential fear, as well as depression and anxiety that accompany it.
Depression and Anxiety – Psychedelic assisted therapy may also ease symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD) – The psychedelic effects of hallucinogenic drugs may help ease the effects of trauma.
Addiction – An evolving body of research suggests that psychedelic therapy may help alleviate some symptoms of addiction. Addiction and other mental health symptoms, like depression, commonly occur together. By reducing other mental health symptoms, psychedelics make it easier to quit abusing substances.
Eating disorders – The psychedelic experiences a person has with psychedelic assisted therapy may shift their body image away from unhealthy thoughts, potentially easing symptoms of the eating disorder.
Psychedelic drugs can induce powerful changes in consciousness that may cause serious side effects. This makes taking any psychedelic in a controlled and safe space, with a trained professional or counselling, incredibly important. Effects may include:
- Cardiovascular issues
Psychedelic drugs can induce powerful and almost immediate psychological changes. Some research suggests changes can persist up to 12 months, offering hope to people struggling with serious mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, trauma, addiction and PTSD.
Psychedelics and psychedelics assisted therapy remains as an experimental treatment option and not something readily available at your local doctor’s office or therapist. Furthermore, researchers do not completely understand how they work, how to minimise the risk of side effects or how to predict who will get the best results.