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Psychedelic Therapy: How Does it Work, Its Types & What are the Benefits of Psychedelic Therapy

What is Psychedelic Therapy?

Psychedelic therapy is a type of psychiatric practice that involves giving a psychedelic substance during the psychotherapeutic process. Plants and compounds such as psilocybin mushroom, LSD, and Mescaline are used as psychedelic substances, which induce hallucinations and help in the treatment of mental health conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Psychedelics being used in the treatment is a new concept and has many researchers suggesting that they can help people in symptoms, especially when other methods fail. How they work is still not known but it is believed that they might reset the brain by altering neurotransmitter levels and induce a new perspective on life by giving a mystical experience or giving a person a new way to think.(1) They also increase suggestibility making a person think or be open to more ideas.

Doctors often prescribe it along with other treatments such as other therapy and other treatment forms. The goal of this treatment is to increase the success of the traditional treatment.

How Does Psychedelic Therapy Work?

It is found that traditional therapies take a long time to bring in improvement in a person or they may be effective as long as the person is taking them. Psychedelic therapy is known to bring in an immediate improvement and most often with a single dose.

The psychedelic drugs do not work similarly for everyone and therefore, how they work cannot be known. Some ways they can be though to work include:

  • Mystic And Psychedelic Experience: Under the influence of psychedelics the mindset of the person may shift, making them behave or think differently.
  • Increase Suggestibility: Using psychedelics may increase suggestibility making a person more responsive to positive suggestions from the therapist.
  • Neurotransmitter Changes: Many mental health drugs cause neurotransmitters to change the mood. The psychedelic drugs may act on neurotransmitters and change the brain’s behavior and mood.

Types of Psychedelic Therapies

Different types of drugs are used for psychedelic therapies. The most common research is on psilocybin a substance found in psychedelic mushrooms.

Some other drug options include LSD, DMT, MDMA, and Mescaline.(2)

Psychedelic therapy remains an experimental treatment and can be accessed by people via clinical trials. Some types of psychedelic therapy include:

  • Drug Assisted Therapy: This is when traditional treatments are provided along with psychedelic treatment.
  • Psychedelics Alone: Only psychedelic treatment is given alone with no other treatment.
  • Guided Therapy: In some psychedelic treatment forms, a person guides a person through the psychedelic high and offers suggestions regarding therapeutics, and helps him remain calm.

Benefits of Psychedelic Treatment

Psychedelic therapy has some potential health benefits.

Terminal Illness

Getting a deadly diagnosis can be very scary and makes a person anxious. Psychedelic therapy may help in easing the dread of illness and also lessen the anxiety and depression that accompany along.

A study was done on 29 people with cancer who were also suffering from anxiety and depression because of the disease. A few were given psilocybin mushrooms and others placebo. It was observed that psilocybin reduced anxiety, hopelessness, and dread after the dose and after 6.5 months the group receiving psilocybin continued with depression and anxiety.(3)

Another study was done in 2016. It was also done on cancer patients and had a similar conclusion.(4) In it the participants were given psilocybin or placebo-like low dose of psilocybin. Significant improvement was noted in the group that received a high dose of psilocybin.

In both the studies the participants involved reported mystical and spiritualistic experiences.

Helps with Depression and Anxiety

Psychedelic therapy helps in easing the symptoms of depression and anxiety. A review of 24 prior studies on the psychedelic drug reported that 65% of studies showed a reduction in anxiety.(5)

A study done in 2021 reported a reduction in stress, depression, and anxiety by the subject involved.(6) The participants also showed greater compassion and less frequent rumination.

The studies performed relied on self-reporting and therefore it can be concluded that the psychedelic experiences may affect mental health by making the subjects feel greater self-compassion and less obsession with negative thoughts.

Helps in Post-Traumatic Stress

The hallucinogen effect of psychedelics may help in easing the stress post-trauma.

A review looked at four MDMA studies and five ketamine studies for trauma treatment. Moderate evidence supporting the effectiveness of MDMA was observed.(7)

A study was done in 2020 on the gay male survivors of the AIDS pandemic who were demoralized. The participants attended 8-10 group therapy sessions and were given psilocybin. In 3 months they observed a reduction in the symptoms of demoralization.(8)

Help in Eating Disorder

The mystical and psychedelic experience that a person has with psychedelic drugs helps in shifting their body image away from unhealthy thoughts and easing eating disorders.

A 2020 review reported that the people who underwent psychedelic therapy for eating disorders reported encouragement in adopting healthier habits.(9) The therapy may also help in easing other symptoms related to the disorder.

Risks of Psychedelic Therapy

Psychedelic drugs may bring in changes in the consciousness and may lead to the following effects:

  • Psychosis: It is a break from reality which is more likely in people with conditions that are known to cause psychosis.
  • Fear: Some people get hallucinations of things that terrify them and make them believe that they are dying.
  • Cardiovascular Issues: The psychedelic drugs can elevate the blood pressure and heart rate and also increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Although the existing research is quite promising there is still a lot to know about psychedelic therapy. Such treatment options evolve each week, so be sure to known about more related health benefits soon.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:March 4, 2022

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