Federally, psychedelic therapy has yet to be defined, but it's being explored.
In 2022, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) held a workshop to discuss hallucinogens and their potential role in healthcare. It was suggested that these drugs may have effects on perception of the exterior world and an individual’s concept of their role within it,”and that they can “influence mood, stress management, memory, and social functioning.”
In addition, a meta-analysis published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs revealed that psychedelic-assisted therapy is more effective than placebo at treating anxiety and depression among people with life-threatening illnesses like cancer. It was found that up to 80% of the participants experienced significant reductions in anxiety and depression symptoms, and the effects lasted for several months.
As these results demonstrate, psychedelic therapy has the potential to provide lasting relief for patients with challenging mental health conditions.
In recent studies, there is scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness and safety of psychedelic substances in therapeutic settings. As a result, clinical trials and studies exploring the potential of psychedelic therapy are increasingly conducted, particularly for conditions that are notoriously difficult to treat with traditional therapies and medications. In treatment for mental health conditions, psychedelic therapy can potentially improve the lives of many patients.
In this article, we explore psychedelics, their therapeutic uses, the benefits of psychedelic therapy, and the current legal aspects associated with it.
What Are Psychedelics?
The psychedelic family of drugs has the ability to alter the perception, mood, and cognitive processes of individuals. This term is derived from two Greek words: "psyche," meaning mind, and "deloun," meaning to show A variety of effects can occur, from altered perceptions to altered sensory experiences.
Many cultures have used psychedelics for spiritual, religious, and medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Researchers have suggested that these substances may be therapeutic for several mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
There are many types of psychoactive drugs, such as:
LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide)
Psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms)
Mescaline (found in peyote cactus).
Psychedelics fall into two categories: classic and dissociative.
“Classic” psychedelics consist of psychoactive drugs, including psilocybin (from a mushroom of the genus Psilocybe), LSD (synthesized in the lab from another fungus), and ayahuasca (a traditional plant-based psychoactive brew of two plants). Based on a recent proposal published in March 2023 in Psychedelic Medicine on the definition of psychedelics, other derivative drugs such as ketamine and MDMA are considered "hallucinogenic agents" (or nonclassic psychedelics) since they share similar pathways in the brain and induce similar effects.
There is a tendency to lump classic and non-classic psychedelics together when discussing their use in medicine and therapy. The NIH, for example, used the term "psychedelics," irrespective of substance ttype, when describing its workshop. According to the Psychedelic Medical Association, some of the most common psychedelics include DMT, ayahuasca, ketamine, LSD, MDMA, and psilocybin.
Both classes of psychedelics have shown promise in the treatment of mental disorders, regardless of their mechanisms of action. It is necessary to continue researching psychedelics in clinical settings to better understand their therapeutic potential.
What is Psychedelic Therapy?
A psychedelic therapy is a psychological technique for treating mental health issues with psychedelic substances.
As part of psychedelic therapy, psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”), ketamine, or MDMA are used as psychedelic substances. In spite of this, the legal landscape is complex, and more research is needed.
A number of benefits can be obtained from psychedelic therapy, including:
Treatment-resistant depression. MDMA and psilocybin are in late-stage clinical trials for the treatment of treatment-resistant depression, and ketamine is already FDA-approved for treatment-resistant depression.
PTSD. In addition to MDMA, psilocybin is being investigated as a possible treatment for PTSD.
Addiction. The psychedelic drug psilocybin has shown promise as a treatment for alcohol and tobacco dependence, while ibogaine and 5-MeO-DMT have also been studied as potential treatments.
Life-threatening illness. When people with cancer or other life-threatening illnesses receive psilocybin-assisted therapy, anxiety and depression may be reduced.
Eating disorders. Although more research is needed, psychedelic therapy may be helpful for eating disorders as well.
There is ongoing research on psychedelic therapy's potential benefits and risks. Clinical trials are the only legal way to try psychedelic therapy using psilocybin or MDMA in most of the country.
Medical experts, such as doctors, can offer the best information and care. And, please note that this information does not constitute medical advice or diagnosis.
How Psychedelic Therapy Works
In psychedelic therapy, hallucinogenic drugs are controlledly administered. A trained therapist usually administers psychedelic therapy in a safe and supportive environment.
In order to produce neuromodulatory changes in synaptic efficacy, the drugs bind to serotonergic 5-HT2A receptors. In the brain, this can have profound effects on hierarchical communication.
To put it another way, by encouraging the formation of new connections within neurons, psychedelics appear to work. Additionally, they may alter the entire brain for a limited period of time, relieving negative emotions clouding the mind.
In psychedelic therapy, some well-known psychedelic substances have been used, including:
In addition to altering brain chemistry, the drugs also promote neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to make new connections. Positive changes can result from this, including:
A greater sense of self-awareness.
Reduction of negative thoughts.
Emotional regulation and mood improvement.
An increase in empathy and compassion.
A sense of spiritual connection.
Safety and Side Effects
There are some side effects associated with psychedelic therapy, including anxiety, nausea, and hallucinations. In most cases, these side effects are mild and go away on their own. Psychedelic therapy, however, is generally considered safe.
If you're considering psychedelic therapy, speak with a doctor to determine if it's right for you.
There are a number of risks associated with psychedelic therapy, including:
Raising blood pressure and heart rate. It is possible to raise blood pressure and heart rate with psilocybin and ketamine.
Not recommended for people with heart conditions. A person with heart conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, or arrhythmias, shouldn't take these drugs.
Where is Psychedelic Therapy Legal in 2023?
In most parts of the world, including the United States and many European countries, psychedelic therapy is still illegal as of 2023. Psychedelic therapy, however, has recently gained acceptance as a legitimate medicine.
Psychedelic therapy has become legal in some countries in recent years, which has been a significant development. Australia, for instance, made global headlines in 2021 when it legalized MDMA and psilocybin use in clinical settings for the first time. Researchers determined that these substances were effective in treating conditions such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Oregon began accepting applications for psychedelic therapy licensure in 2023. As part of the Oregon Psilocybin Services Act, Ballot Measure 109 was passed by Oregon voters in 2020. Psychedelic prodrugs, such as psilocybin, can now be manufactured, delivered, and administered under this act.
There have also been movements in other places, such as California and Washington D.C., to decriminalize the possession of psychedelic substances for personal use, including psilocybin and ayahuasca. Although these measures do not legalize the use of these substances in clinical settings, they do represent a shift towards psychedelic therapy becoming more accepted.
There is a growing body of evidence indicating that psychoedelic therapy is an effective treatment for depression, anxiety, addiction, and trauma. To enhance the therapeutic experience, psychedelic substances are used in combination with psychotherapy to induce altered states of consciousness. The effects of these substances increase self-awareness, growth, and wellness by altering perception and mood.
Under the expert guidance of trained professionals, psychedelic therapy is safe and effective, despite the risks of adverse psychological reactions. The preliminary evidence suggests that psychedelic therapy may be useful for treating mental health conditions, particularly for those who have failed to respond to traditional therapies.
However, there is still much research to be done to fully understand the potential benefits and risks of psychedelic therapy.