Psychedelic therapy refers to the use of psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin, MDMA, and ketamine to treat medical conditions. It is a mode of holistic treatment that has been used for thousands of years but fell out of favor in the 1970s when the Drugs and Substance Act outlawed hallucinogenic substances. Recently, many countries have allowed researchers to explore and rediscover its potential and we are now witnessing pockets of "psychedelic revival" in different parts of the world.

What Are the Benefits of Psychedelic Therapy?

Psychedelics offer numerous positive benefits, but it is important to note that some of these benefits can be subjective or interpreted differently by different users. For example, while some users may be thrilled by a K-hole experience, others may be completely petrified. Here are some of the benefits that are associated with psychedelic therapy:

Relaxation

Mood enhancement

Extroversion

Euphoria

Spiritual enlightenment

Intense emotions

Introspection

Visual and sensual distortions

Hallucinations

 

Psychedelic Therapy Research

Most of the new research evidence on the therapeutic potential of psychedelics is pre-clinical, though a few clinical studies are underway. So far, psychedelics have shown potential in the following areas: 

Anxiety and Depressive Disorders

Psychedelics have shown potential in the treatment of anxiety and depressive disorders. A recent meta-analysis published in 2021 reviewed 1591 records sourced from MEDLINE and Web of Science—nine clinical trials qualified for the inclusion criteria. The researchers found that psilocybin, ayahuasca, and LSD produced rapid and sustained positive improvements in anxiety and depression levels. The researchers also found that multiple doses of psychedelics were more effective than a single dose. 

Substance Use Disorders 

Psychedelics have also shown potential in the treatment of substance use disorders. One study that was carried out in 2015 investigated the potential of psilocybin in treating alcohol abuse disorder. The results revealed that psilocybin reduces alcohol cravings and increases abstinence with no significant adverse events. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Psychedelic use for the treatment of PTSD is currently under investigation. Researchers are looking into the potential of ketamine in combination with psychotherapy in managing treatment-resistant depression. MDMA use in PTSD is promising. A recent 2021 study demonstrated that MDMA significantly reduces PTSD symptoms. This was a placebo-controlled study involving 90 participants who have PTSD. 67% of the participants who received MDMA therapy had a marked reduction in symptoms at 18 weeks and no longer met the criteria for PTSD. 

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Researchers are looking into the potential of psilocybin in OCD therapy. A 2006 study investigating the safety and efficacy of psilocybin in treating OCD found that psilocybin administration in clinical settings resulted in a decrease in core symptoms of OCD. 

Can Psychedelic Therapy Help With Pain?

Psychedelics have potential in the management of pain, as research is now revealing. The potential of ketamine in treating complex regional pain syndrome is under investigation. Other potential areas under investigation include phantom limb pain and cluster headaches. Yale University is sponsoring a study to investigate the potential of psilocybin in the treatment of cluster headaches.

History of Psychedelic Therapy

The term "psychedelic" was coined by psychiatrist Osmond who served in World War II. Osmond and another psychiatrist by the name of Smythies are credited as the initiators of psychedelic therapy. In the 1950s, they began to offer LSD to their patients who were suffering from alcoholism. Their first study involved two alcoholic patients who were both offered 200 micrograms of LSD once. While one stopped drinking immediately, the other one quit after six months. Ten years later, they had treated about 2,000 alcoholics with LSD and reported a 40-45% success rate.

Things to Consider Before Starting on Psychedelic Therapy

Psychedelics are generally regarded as safe and well-tolerated at appropriate dosages. While they may offer numerous therapeutic benefits, they can result in adverse complications, dependence, or even addiction if not used as they should. 

Things to consider before embarking on psychedelic therapy:

  • Know the correct dosage, so you don't overdo it.
  • Don't self-medicate; consult a trained psychedelic therapist.
  • Don't purchase psychedelics off the streets; they may be contaminated and, therefore, unsafe.
  • Consume psychedelics in safe settings, in the company of people that you trust. 
  • Consider the use of supplements to prevent a nasty hangover.
  • Consider microdosing to minimize adverse effects. 
  • Do not mix psychedelics with pharmaceuticals unless medically approved.

Psychedelics are hallucinogenic and can easily result in a bad trip which can be scary for new users. Their use can also result in long-term personality changes. 

Psychedelics Used in Psychedelic Therapy

Several psychedelics have shown potential in psychedelic therapy. They include the following:

Ketamine

Ketamine has shown potential in the treatment of pain, PTSD, OCD, and treatment-resistant depression. 

LSD 

LSD has shown potential in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and alcohol abuse disorder.

MDMA

MDMA has shown potential in treating PTSD, anxiety, depression, substance use disorders, and eating disorders. 

Psilocybin

Psilocybin, which is the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, has shown potential in treating depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, OCD, and cluster headaches.

Mescaline 

Mescaline has shown potential in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse disorders. 

DMT 

DMT comes in two forms: N, N-DMT and 5-MeO-DMT. The therapeutic potential of both compounds is under investigation, and N, N-DMT has been implicated in the management of chronic inflammatory conditions, while 5-MeO-DMT has been effective in the management of depression and anxiety.

How Is Psychedelic Therapy Conducted?

Psychedelic therapy is usually conducted in clinical settings known as psychedelic clinics under the supervision of a trained psychedelic therapist. Most therapists belong to the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (Maps), which creates awareness and sets standards for psychedelic therapy. However, individual therapists can set their techniques and methods. 

Psychedelic therapy often starts with designing and implementing a conducive setting that allows the therapist to build a relationship with the patient. Once an appropriate setting has been put in place, most therapists will include the following phases:

Consultation

The therapist assesses the patient to ensure that they have no contraindications to this form of treatment. This is also the time to discuss the goals, expectations, and risks involved. 

Ingestion 

The therapist administers psychedelic treatment, which may be in the form of orals or injectables. This may be done in multiple sessions.

Integration

This is the final phase where the therapist works with the patient to make meaning of the psychedelic experience. 

Psychedelic Clinics

Psychedelic clinics are proliferating in the US. The UK has the AWAKN clinic in Bristol, and the Canadian city of Toronto boasts three psychedelic therapy clinics

Ketamine Clinics

Ketamine clinics offer ketamine for off-label uses. This means providing ketamine for indications that may not be approved for ketamine treatment by the FDA, such as pain management and treatment-resistant depression. Ketamine clinics are available in the US, UK, EU, Canada, and there is even a center for ketamine therapy in Kyiv, Ukraine. 

Chances are, if you will be interested in participating in one of these treatments, you might be able to do so in your country or in a country close to you.

Psychedelic Legality 

While psychedelics may not be as popular as cannabis, perceptions seem to be gradually changing, even though their use remains illegal in most countries, including the US, UK, and Canada. However, many countries are open to psychedelic research which is gaining momentum and revealing immense potential, especially in mental health. 

Some countries have even moved to decriminalize psychedelic therapy, while others, such as Canada, have okayed psilocybin therapy for severe medical conditions. A groundswell in psychedelic advocacy could see psychedelics following the same path as marijuana. How long this will take is not clear just yet. 

In the US, psychedelics are classified under schedule 1, which means they are illegal to produce, distribute, or consume. However, individual states such as Oregon and the District of Columbia have decriminalized psychedelics. Some cities in California have passed resolutions to prevent resources from being spent on enforcing penalties for the possession and use of psychedelic plants. Denver, in Colorado, has also decriminalized psilocybin.

Psychedelic therapy is not yet legal in the UK, but talks about legalizing psilocybin are underway. Health Canada recently exempted 36 individuals and allowed them to use psilocybin for severe depression related to a terminal diagnosis. 

Risks and Dangers of Psychedelic Therapy

The use of psychedelics offered under the supervision of a trained therapist is generally safe. However, outside of a clinical setting, psychedelics may present some risks, including the following: 

  • Psilocybin and MDMA may cause elevated blood pressure and headaches
  • Psychosis in people who are genetically predisposed to it
  • Ibogaine is associated with cardiac arrhythmias
  • LSD is associated with Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD)
  • Personality change or mental breakdown

Microdosing Psychedelics

Microdosing is the practice of consuming sub-hallucinogenic doses of a psychedelic substance to minimize adverse effects. Research in this area is still in its infancy, but preliminary reports suggest that microdosing psychedelics could improve mental health

How to Find the Right Psychedelic Partner

When looking for psychedelic therapy, finding the right partner is critical. You can find a qualified psychedelic therapist by searching through the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Substances database. You can also ask questions and raise concerns through the association. Most therapists will allow you to schedule a consultation to learn more about the therapist and their techniques.

Conclusion

While psychedelics are mostly considered illegal in the US, UK, EU, and Canada, most of these countries have approved psychedelic research. This research suggests that psychedelic therapy is effective in managing anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD, and substance abuse disorders. Researchers are also looking into the potential of psychedelics in the management of certain pain conditions. Psychedelic therapy is usually administered in psychedelic clinics under the supervision of a trained psychedelic therapist. In such a setting, psychedelic therapy is generally safe. If you think that you will benefit from this kind of therapy, finding a qualified therapist to walk you through the process is advisable.