Imagine this you are in the doctor’s office wanting treatment for your mental illness and they tell you that there’s this new treatment on the market that’s showing great results and doesn’t require you taking a pill once a day. You’re curious about it and it’s then that they mention it’s it called psilocybin or magic mushrooms, you give it a go and to your surprise it works. While this may seem, farfetched this could be a reality in the not too distant future. With the Australian government recently investing $15 million in grants to research the benefits of not just magic mushrooms but also ketamine and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (also known as ecstasy, molly or MDMA) being investigated as well.
While it can be easy to think of these psychedelic drugs as bad as there is a huge stigma surrounding them (along with those who use them), they weren’t always party drugs.
Treating mental illness with psychedelic drugs is nothing new and in the 1940s Lysergic Acid Diethylamide better known as LSD was discovered and showed promise in treating various mental illnesses. However, in 1960 due to its abuse LSD was outlawed along with various other psychedelic substances and the research was put on hold. In the 1990s and early 2000s research started up again looking into the use of psychedelic substances. With research showing promise that psychedelic substances could help those with mental illnesses. Only now has research ramped up, as more and more people suffer with mental illnesses and there being a need and a want for new treatment options other than typical antidepressants.
While it can’t be said exactly how these drugs work in the brain it’s speculated that they work by resetting the neurotransmitters in the brain and having an immediate antidepressant effect which helps people get out of a fog. Research also suggests that they allow a period of neuroplasticity where parts of the brain that may resist ideas are more open, and the brain is overall more receptive to treatment. They may also cause a mystical experience allowing the person to have a new perspective on life. Of course, none of this can be said for certain and more investigation and research needs to be done to fully understand how people are impacted by taking psychedelic drugs.
There are many types of psychedelic therapy currently being researched these include the following:
- Drug assisted therapy – this is standard psychotherapy (talking to a psychologist) alongside psychedelics.
- Psychedelics alone – this is just taking the drug and having no intervention.
- Guided therapy – this is when someone guides the patient through the drug high offering them suggestions and helping the person remain calm.
Regardless of the type of therapy used, these drug trips are done under close supervision in a safe setting with qualified professionals who can help if anything goes wrong and can also make the patient feel safe and secure. In many of these trials the room where the drugs are administered, and the trip is carried out has just as much thought put into it as administering the drug. This includes making the room feels safe and welcoming and not at all like a clinic.
It's unsure how often a person will need psychedelic therapy, whether it’s a one off once a month or an annual treatment. With many variables needing to be looked at and it really being up to the individual and their mental illness. Many studies looked at patients doing 1 – 2 rounds of treatment and with that being more than enough to see positive results and long-term impact with some people even feeling completely cured of their depression.
Currently psychedelic drug therapy is being investigated treating the following mental illnesses:
- Anxiety and depression – especially drug resistant depression.
- Eating disorders
Of course, with any treatment there are risks and while many people won’t experience side effects with psychedelics there are some major risks currently being investigated:
- Psychosis – in some people they are prone to develop drug induced psychosis.
- Fear – some people may hallucinate things that cause them to be scared and may even cause trauma and flashbacks.
- Cardiovascular issues – psychedelics can elevate heart rate and blood pressure.
It’s worth noting that because of the risk’s psychosis and hallucination, psychedelics are currently not being looked at regarding treating schizophrenia. As there are a lot more risks of these happening compared to other mental illnesses.
While the research into psychedelics for treating mental illness are still relatively new, the studies are showing some promise with many hoping in the next few years’ treatments using psychedelics will be offered at least on a case by case if not a mainstream basis. Having a mental illness can be debilitating and any new treatment that may offer hope to people especially those who have exhausted all current treatment options is always welcomed. It’s definitely something to look out for in the coming years and it will be interesting to see how it takes shape as more research is completed.
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