Psychedelics as Therapeutics

Reid Robison, MD, MBA
Published on: January 25, 2021

Psychedelics are a needed addition to the field of healing, especially for patients who have not had as much success with other options. Join Dr. Reid Robison as we learn about the potential impact of psychedelics on patients and on the field.


Psychedelic medicine is here, and as a psychiatrist, I think it’s long overdue. We are in the midst of a mental health crisis, with over a million lives lost in the world each year to suicide. This is especially tragic, because depression is treatable, even if the individual can’t see a way out at the time. About 1 in every 8 Americans takes an antidepressant medication every day, but this hasn’t lowered our depression rates—these meds don’t work that well for too many people, and modern life is just making things worse. We’re evolutionarily adapted for the stone age, but we’re living out our lives in a sedentary, indoor, screen-addicted modern age, and that doesn’t sit well with our souls.

However, suffering can be a stimulus for change, and there is an undeniable light emanating from the human spirit, fighting to come alive. Over the past several years we have witnessed a psychedelic renaissance, and there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that a number of psychedelic compounds hold strong therapeutic potential to catalyze and accelerate the healing process for a wide array of mental health conditions (Duman, 2011; Hysek, 2014; Jerome, 2020).

What are Psychedelics?

The term psychedelic comes from the Greek language and means “to wander in the mind.” These medicines, coupled with the right set, setting, and therapeutic approach, provide a break from everyday patterns and ease the process of cultivating higher levels of self-awareness, so you can really honor what it is you need in order to thrive in this life.

Our life experiences, and the meaning we attach to them, can give rise to negative and overwhelming psychological, emotional, and physical symptoms. Whether it be a traumatic childhood experience, or troubling socioeconomic factors, patterns are laid down early in our lives – often in the bosom of the family – that continue to influence our emotions and behaviors for years to come, unknown to our conscious awareness.

Psychedelics help the individual gain a clearer perspective on their mental patterns and belief systems. The psychotherapy component helps the client process the insights gained during the experience, which supports the integration of these insights into day-to-day life and leads to lasting symptom relief (Ly, 2018).  I have witnessed, time and time again, psychedelic therapy clients who have been able to process old traumas or problematic patterns which had been holding them back for most of their lives.

A Whole New Way to See Your Self

A psychedelic journey is not easy work, and psychedelics are definitely not for everyone. There is also a big difference between recreational drug use and therapeutic/ceremonial use. But I am convinced that for many people, these exceedingly safe tools can be a much needed, if not lifesaving, catalyst for healing, particularly in those who have had difficulty finding and maintaining relief through other forms of treatment.

References

Duman, R. S., Li, N., Liu, R. J., Duric, V., & Aghajanian, G. (2012). Signaling pathways underlying the rapid antidepressant actions of ketamine. Neuropharmacology, 62(1), 35–41

Hysek, C. M., Schmid, Y., Simmler, L. D., Domes, G., Heinrichs, M., Eisenegger, C., Preller, K. H., Quednow, B. B., & Liechti, M. E. (2014). MDMA enhances emotional empathy and prosocial behavior. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 9(11), 1645–1652.

Jerome, L., Feduccia, A. A., Wang, J. B., Hamilton, S., Yazar-Klosinski, B., Emerson, A., Mithoefer, M. C., & Doblin, R. (2020). Long-term follow-up outcomes of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for treatment of PTSD: a longitudinal pooled analysis of six phase 2 trials. Psychopharmacology, 237(8), 2485–2497.

Ly, C., Greb, A. C., Cameron, L. P., Wong, J. M., Barragan, E. V., Wilson, P. C., Burbach, K. F., Soltanzadeh Zarandi, S., Sood, A., Paddy, M. R., Duim, W. C., Dennis, M. Y., McAllister, A. K., Ori-McKenney, K. M., Gray, J. A., & Olson, D. E. (2018). Psychedelics Promote Structural and Functional Neural Plasticity. Cell reports, 23(11), 3170–3182.

Image credit Daniil Silantiev

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