[Psychedelics are making a comeback, and this time it may be more lasting and more mainstream than the last time around. According to a study conducted by neuroscientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, the use of psychedelic drugs is at its highest now, higher even than in the 1960ies and 70ies. Researchers are using psychedelic drugs to try and combat the symptoms of depression, anxiety, OCD and PTSD. ]
Back in the sixties, when Timothy Leary and others experimented with LSD and acid, the research quickly reached a dead end amidst fears of drug usage spiraling out of control.
Today, researchers around the globe are attempting a more serious approach that includes the controlled treatment of patients with ailments like PTSD, depression or alcohol and drug addiction. Drugs like ecstasy and LSD are used in small dosages and are integrated in psychotherapeutic work with the patients. Even so called "magic mushrooms" are being utilized. They are said to reset key brain circuits that play a role in depression.
A pioneer in the field is the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) in California, that has been battling regulators to approve research in the field for decades, and in the past has approached the Pentagon to work with active duty soldiers who suffer from PTSD. Maps is also cooperating with scientists in Israel, Europe and South America to expand the scope of research into the usage of other drugs. Their goal is to eventually make certain psychedelics legal for people with terminal and severe mental illnesses, similar to what happened with the medicinal use of marihuana.
British scientists reported that psilosybin, an active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”, reduces activity in the so called default mode network of the brain. The default mode network is a hot topic in the field of neuroscience and there are many theories about its function. Some researchers believe that it is responsible for the internal monologue we create about ourselves, and therefore shapes how we perceive ourselves.
People with depression, anxiety or other related symptoms, tend to form negative beliefs about themselves, which then becomes an aspect of the default mode network. With the help of MRI technologies, psychedelic drugs have shown to dissolve that troubled sense of self. Some people report near-mystical experiences which opens them up to a more positive outlook on life in general.
Experiments have shown that a single treatment with psilocybin can relieve severe anxiety, and has also been effective for addictions. Other drugs have helped with eating disorders, OCD, previously treatment resistant major depression, and smoking cessation.
In one MAPS sponsored study, there is pronounced optimism about the future of these treatments, especially the use of MDMA (also called ecstasy) and ayahuasca, a substance used in South American spiritual practices which contains the hallucinogen DMT.
The long-term study that included 19 chronic, treatment resistant patients with severe PTSD demonstrated a “sustained benefit over time, with no cases of subsequent drug abuse and no reports of neurocognitive decline”, the authors conclude. “These results indicate that there was a favorable long-term risk/benefit ratio for PTSD treatment with just a few doses of pure MDMA administered in a supportive setting, in conjunction with psychotherapy. Should further research validate our initial findings, we predict that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy will become an important treatment option for this very challenging clinical and public health problem.”
According to a study conducted by neuroscientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, 15 percent of tests subjects have stated to have used one of these drugs recently.
“Psychedelics are different from other drugs, in that they are not known to be physically harmful or cause addiction or compulsive use”, the study concludes. “Experts agree that psychedelics are less harmful than alcohol and most other recreational drugs, although psychedelics can elicit anxiety and confusion during the drug effects”.
At this point, psychedelics are only used in experimental treatments under rigorous supervision of clinical trials. The hope is to eventually make them legally available to clients of psychotherapeutic treatments.
Gerti Schoen is a writer and psychotherapist. In her spare time she enjoys learning, being in nature and around animals.