The use of psychedelics to treat mental and behavioral health issues like anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and addiction has been one of the most recent and possibly fruitful developments in the health sciences. Psychedelics like psilocybin and ibogaine were first investigated for the treatment of opiate addiction and alcoholism in the 1950s, but now, substances like MDMA, ketamine, and LSD have been added to a growing corpus of study. And although some academics are interested in MDMA, for example, as a tool to help individuals recover from traumatic events, others are invested in reviving more conventional uses of medicines with psychedelic qualities.
Since the 1960s, when psychedelic substances were utilized as a counterculture diversion from reality, the law has regarded them with suspicion. Since then, psychedelic drugs like LSD have been stigmatized. It’s still a common misconception that taking psychedelics causes users to lose control of themselves and become completely disconnected from reality. But recently, there has been a reevaluation of the possible advantages of psychedelics, and science is now giving it another look.
These medicines can break negative thought patterns and, through enhanced flexibility and openness to experience, aid the brain’s capacity to regulate emotions and moods, even though there is always a chance of having a “bad trip.”
History of Psychedelic Drugs
Drugs that induce hallucinations are not new. Numerous examples of where you can find them in nature include seeds, leaves, cacti, mushrooms, and trees. Others are produced synthetically in labs using substances that have had their chemical compositions changed to resemble those of hallucinogens. Psychedelics have been utilized by various cultures to promote mystical or spiritual experiences and to treat mental disease since ancient times, despite the fact that research on their medicinal applications is still in its infancy.
Aldous Huxley, an English novelist and philosopher who lived in the 20th century, famously experimented with mescaline and LSD under the guidance of psychiatrist Humphry Osmond, who favored its cautiously monitored usage as a cure for alcohol use disorder. Between the 1950s and the 1970s, a number of studies found that psychedelics had potential as treatments for addiction, anxiety, depression, and psychosomatic illnesses.
The Controlled Substances Act, implemented by the US Congress in 1970, designated LSD and other hallucinogens as having a high potential for abuse and no recognized medicinal value. The use of LSD was outlawed nationwide in 1986.
But as they look for novel approaches to treat mental illness, which affects almost one in five persons in the United States, researchers have recently rekindled their interest in psychedelics.
Types of Psychedelic Drugs
Smoking, snorting, injecting, and drinking psychedelic substances are common recreational usage methods. The majority of research studies, in contrast, use psychedelics in tablet form to guarantee their purity and to enable constant dosing, both of which are industry norms for clinical assessments of therapies and medications. Taking psychedelic substances orally is also a lot safer than smoking or injecting them.
Psilocybin, also known as “magic mushrooms,” is derived from certain mushrooms that can be found in South America, Mexico, and the United States. proper up arrow It is being investigated as a treatment for depression, cancer-related suffering, and various addictions. It is thought to be the psychedelic substance that has been the subject of the most research.
LSD (D-Lysergic Acid Diethylamide)
LSD, more commonly referred to as “acid,” is a clear or white substance derived from lysergic acid, which is present in a fungus that develops on grains like rye. LSD, like psilocybin, is being researched as a treatment for addiction, depression, and cancer-related stress.
Popular synthetic club drug MDMA, also known as “ecstasy” or “molly,” works as a stimulant and psychedelic. Researchers believe that MDMA could revolutionize the way that post-traumatic stress disorder is treated (PTSD).
Ketamine, also referred to as “special K” on the street, has traditionally been given intravenously to both humans and animals undergoing surgery. It has additionally been used as a date-rape drug in liquid, powder, or pill form. When secretly added to someone’s drink, it can make them more susceptible to sexual assault by causing confusion, memory loss, and other symptoms. 2019 saw the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approve esketamine, a ketamine nasal spray, as a treatment for treatment-resistant depression.
Peyote, a little cactus, contains mescaline naturally, but it can also be produced artificially. It is being researched as a potential treatment for illnesses like depression, anxiety, and others.
How Do Psychedelic Drugs Work in the Brain and Body
The drug class each psychedelic falls under determines how each one of these substances affects the brain and body. Serotonin is a brain chemical that controls mood, senses, sleep, hunger, sexual behavior, and other functions. Traditional hallucinogens like psilocybin, LSD, and peyote interfere with this chemical. Dissociative psychedelics, like ketamine, have an impact on the brain chemical glutamate, which controls how you perceive pain, feel, learn, remember, and react to your surroundings.
It is also worth knowing that the onset of hallucinogens is typically relatively gradual, but this varies from drug to drug and also relies on things like whether the drug is taken on an empty stomach. Although it takes roughly an hour for LSD to start working, it can linger for up to 12 hours before it starts to wear off. DMT, on the other hand, has a significantly faster onset and lasts only a short while.
Hallucinogens carry the risk of flashbacks or Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder, in addition to possibly causing mental health issues such substance-induced psychosis, substance-induced depression, and substance-induced anxiety disorder. Hallucinogens are dangerous for everyone, but those who have a history of psychosis, depression, or anxiety disorder should avoid using them since they run a larger chance of experiencing these negative long-term effects.
What the Research Has to Say About Psychedelic Medicine
The most advanced research on ketamine, a drug mostly used in the past to sedate horses, has shown that it is effective as an antidepressant. Ketamine has the ability to facilitate social contact and encourage a sense of detachment from one’s surroundings and self in low dosages. It is a potent medication for serious depression that is resistant to conventional forms of treatment, but its effects on other illnesses are still being studied. The substance was first used as an anesthetic by wounded soldiers in Viet Nam in the 1960s and subsequently entered mainstream medicine as a way for first responders to calm agitated patients in the ambulance.
According to a small study with 12 participants, patients with life-threatening illnesses who are apprehensive about their illnesses may experience decreased anxiety when receiving LSD-assisted psychotherapy, which is a combination intervention of therapy and medicine. These reductions in anxiety persisted, according to a follow-up study with patients conducted a year following therapy.
A single dose of LSD given during alcohol use disorder treatment programs was associated with a decline in alcohol usage, according to a study of six clinical trials involving 536 participants.
When given with psychological support, high-dose psilocybin improved symptoms and quality of life in a study by Johnson and colleagues of 51 patients with life-threatening cancer diagnoses who also had depression or anxiety. 80 percent of participants still exhibited clinically significant declines in anxiety and depressive mood at the end of six months.
In a subsequent, smaller study, Johnson and his team found that two doses of psilocybin administered along with supportive psychotherapy significantly decreased depressive symptoms in 15 adults with major depressive disorder (MDD) as compared to 12 adults in a waitlist control group. After four weeks of treatment, more than half of the study subjects were in remission.
The following are a some of the most typical psychedelic side effects:
Changing perception of time, such as the impression that time is moving slowly Concern or anxiety Speedy heartbeat Blood pressure increase Sporadic headaches Nausea Enhanced sensory events, such as perceiving colors that are brighter than typical.
Which Psychedelic Drugs Are FDA-Approved for Use?
For treatment-resistant depression, the FDA has approved the medication Spravato (esketamine). A medical expert administers it as a nasal spray.
Despite the fact that esketamine is a psychedelic drug, its prescribing information mentions hallucinogenic experiences as a side effect rather than the drug’s mechanism of action. Contrary to true psychedelic therapy, which encourages patients to pay attention to the changed state of consciousness and try to learn from it, with conventional esketamine use, people are instructed to ignore the psychedelic effects as a side effect.