What Is Psychedelic Therapy?
Psychedelic therapy is a technique that involves the use of psychedelic substances to aid the therapeutic process. Hallucinogenic substances have been used in holistic medicine and for spiritual practices by various cultures for thousands of years.
Research on the use of psychedelics flourished during the 1950s and 1960s until such substances were made illegal in the United States. While psychedelic drugs such as LSD and psilocybin are still illegal in the U.S., they are believed to have the potential to treat a range of conditions including anxiety, depression, and addiction.
Over the last two decades, researchers have gotten approval from authorities to conduct trials on the use of these substances to treat various conditions. For example, researchers have found that psilocybin is not only safe but that it can produce significant positive effects on well-being.
Types of Psychedelic Therapy
There are a number of different types of substances that can have psychedelic effects. Some common psychedelic substance and their uses include:
Ayahuasca: This brew originating in South America is purported to help with addiction, anxiety, and depression. Possible side effects of Ayahuasca include serotonin syndrome and medication interactions.
LSD: Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) can lead to altered mood, perception, and consciousness. Potential uses include the treatment of addiction and anxiety.
Psilocybin: Like LSD, psilocybin alters consciousness, mood, and perceptions. It is being studied for its use in the treatment of addiction, anxiety, and depression.
MDMA (ecstasy): While not a classic psychedelic substance, MDMA (also known as ecstasy) is a drug that produces "psychedelic effects" including feelings of euphoria, altered perceptions, increased arousal, and increased sociability. Research suggests it has therapeutic potential in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Because there is no standardized method of administration and practice, individual practitioners have their own methods for administering psychedelic therapy. However, there are often a few common elements:
Administration of a low to moderate dose of a psychedelic drug
Supervision by a professional during the psychedelic experience
Repeating the psychedelic dose with one to two weeks between sessions
During a psychedelic session, factors known as set and setting are critical. Set refers to things such as mood and expectations. Setting refers to the environment where the session takes place and the relationship with the therapist. The goal is to be comfortable with the therapist and the room where the session will take place. It is also important for patients to go into the experience feeling calm and attentive.
After the psychedelic experience, the focus at the next step is a process known as integration. These psychotherapy sessions are designed to help the individual process, make sense of, and find meaning in the psychedelic experience.
What Psychedelic Therapy Can Help With
Researchers have uncovered a number of potential applications for psychedelic therapy. Studies have found that anxiety, depression, substance use, alcohol use, and PTSD may all respond positively to psychedelic-assisted treatments.
Anxiety and mood disorders: Psychedelics appear to have potential mood benefits that may be helpful in the treatment of depression. A 2016 randomized double-blind controlled trial found that psilocybin treatment led to significant reductions in anxiety and depression in patients undergoing cancer treatment.3
Alcohol and substance use disorders: Early research showed strong evidence that LSD could help in the recovery from substance use conditions.4 Some more recent evidence also supports the idea that psychedelic therapy holds promise as an addiction treatment.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Research also suggests that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy may be useful in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). MDMA is best known as the main ingredient in the club drug ecstasy (or molly), but it also has psychedelic effects that have been shown to be useful for severe forms of PTSD that have not responded to other forms of treatment.
Ga’brie’lle Fiorentino, PhD, MpsyD, MscD, CHt, CI
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