To learn more about psychedelic therapy and medicine, check out Dr. Amy Price Neff’s recent appearance on FiftyForward TN’s Aging Well YouTube series.
Psychedelic drugs have a long and complex history. People have used them for a variety of purposes for centuries and in cultures all over the world. Though largely banned during the war on drugs due to concerns about their safety and potential for abuse, there has been a renewed interest in their possible therapeutic benefits in recent years. A growing body of research suggests that psychedelic therapy is effective at treating a variety of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and addiction. In many cases, it has been shown to be more effective than traditional treatments.
Learn more about psychedelics and psychedelic therapy and medicine in this post.
What are psychedelics?
Psychedelics are a class of drugs that alter consciousness. Humans have used them for centuries for religious and spiritual purposes, and in recent years, there has been a growing interest in their therapeutic benefits.
The mechanism by which psychedelics work is not fully understood, but it is thought that they may work by increasing connectivity between different parts of the brain. This increased connectivity may allow people to see their problems from a new perspective and to make lasting changes in their thinking and behavior. Psychedelics also appear to reopen avenues for learning that impact social and emotional states.
What is psychedelic therapy?
Psychedelic therapy is a type of psychotherapy that involves the use of psychedelic drugs, such as ketamine, psilocybin, MDMA, LSD, and ayahuasca, to treat mental health disorders. The drugs are typically administered in a controlled setting by a trained clinician, and the therapy is often combined with talk therapy.
Psychedelic therapy is still in its early stages of research, but it has shown great promise for treating mental health disorders. More research is needed to determine its long-term safety and efficacy, but it has the potential to be a breakthrough treatment for many people.
Which psychedelics are thought to have possible therapeutic benefits?
There are several psychedelic drugs that are currently being investigated for their potential healing benefits. Some of the most promising include:
Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms)
Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic that can be found in certain mushrooms. It is thought to work by increasing levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood, perception, and cognition. Psilocybin has been shown to be effective in treating depression, anxiety, and addiction in several clinical trials. It is also being studied for its potential to treat PTSD and cluster headaches.
Lysergic acid diethylamide is a synthetic substance that impacts a variety of neurotransmitters in the brain, particularly serotonin. It has been shown to be effective in several mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is believed that the altered state of consciousness induced by LSD could help individuals gain new perspectives on their thoughts and emotions, potentially leading to reduced symptoms. It also has evidence for effectiveness in enhanced creativity and problem-solving, addiction, and reduced fear and anxiety related to terminal illness.
MDMA (Ecstasy, Molly)
MDMA is a synthetic psychedelic that is also known as ecstasy. It is thought to work by increasing levels of serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that play a role in mood, pleasure, and learning. MDMA has been shown to be effective in treating PTSD in several clinical trials. It is also being studied for its potential to treat anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.
Ayahuasca (Ayahuasca Vine)
Ayahuasca is a plant-based psychedelic that is made from the ayahuasca vine and the chacruna shrub. It is thought to work by increasing levels of DMT, a naturally occurring psychedelic compound. Ayahuasca has been used for centuries in traditional healing ceremonies in South America. It is being studied for its potential to treat depression, anxiety, and addiction.
Ketamine (Special K)
Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic. It is thought to work by blocking the NMDA receptor, a type of receptor that plays a role in pain perception and memory. Ketamine has been shown to be effective in treating depression in several clinical trials. It is also being studied for its potential to treat anxiety, PTSD, and chronic pain.
*It is important to note that these drugs are still in the early stages of research, and more research is needed to determine their long-term safety and efficacy. However, the early results are promising, and psychedelic therapy may offer a new and effective way to treat a variety of mental health conditions.
What are some potential healing benefits of psychedelic therapy?
Psychedelic therapy has been shown to have several potential healing benefits, including:
- Effectiveness for treating a variety of mental health conditions: Psychedelic therapy has been shown to be effective in treating a variety of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addiction, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In some cases, psychedelic therapy has been shown to be more effective than traditional treatments.
- Reduction of negative thinking patterns and increased self-awareness: Psychedelic therapy can help to reduce negative thinking patterns, such as rumination and catastrophizing. This can lead to a more positive outlook and a decrease in symptoms of depression and anxiety. Psychedelic therapy can also help to increase self-awareness, which can lead to a better understanding of oneself and one’s problems. This can be helpful in making positive changes in one’s life.
- Lasting positive changes in mood, outlook, and behavior: Psychedelic therapy has been shown to lead to lasting positive changes in mood, outlook, and behavior. This can include a decrease in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions, as well as an increase in self-esteem, optimism, and motivation.
*It is important to note that the research on psychedelic therapy is still in its early stages, and more research is needed to confirm these benefits and to determine the long-term safety and efficacy of psychedelic therapy. However, early research suggests that it has the potential to be a powerful and effective treatment for some mental health disorders.
What are the potential risks of psychedelic therapy?
Psychedelic therapy is a relatively new field of research, and there is still much that we do not know about the risks and benefits of this type of treatment. However, some of the potential risks of psychedelic therapy include:
- Anxiety, fear, and confusion: Psychedelics can sometimes cause unpleasant side effects, such as anxiety, fear, and confusion. These side effects can be more intense in people with certain mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders or schizophrenia.
- Psychosis: In rare cases, psychedelic therapy can trigger psychosis, a mental health condition that can cause hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thinking. People with a family history of psychosis are at increased risk for this side effect.
- Addiction: Psychedelics are not considered to be addictive in the same way that other drugs, such as alcohol or cocaine, are addictive. However, there is some evidence that psychedelics can be habit-forming in some people.
- Interaction with other medications: Psychedelics can interact with other medications, so it is important to tell your doctor about all the medications you are taking before undergoing psychedelic therapy.
- Trauma: Psychedelic therapy can sometimes bring up difficult or traumatic memories. If you are considering psychedelic therapy, it is important to see a specialized clinician who is experienced in working with people who have experienced trauma.
*It is important to note that the risks of psychedelic therapy are generally considered to be low. In clinical trials, the most common side effects of psychedelic therapy have been anxiety, fear, and confusion. These side effects have typically been mild and have resolved on their own within a few hours. There have been no reports of serious side effects or deaths in clinical trials of psychedelic therapy.
How does psychedelic therapy work?
The mechanism by which psychedelic therapy works is not fully understood, but it is thought to involve changes in brain connectivity and function. Psychedelics can also help to reduce negative thinking patterns and increase self-awareness.
Here are some of the possible ways that psychedelic therapy works:
- Increased connectivity between brain regions: Psychedelics have been shown to increase connectivity between different brain regions, which may help to improve mood, outlook, and behavior.
- Reduced activity in the default mode network: The default mode network is a network of brain regions that are active when we are not focused on anything in particular. Psychedelics have been shown to reduce activity in this network, which may help to increase focus and attention.
- Increased neuroplasticity: Psychedelics have been shown to increase neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to change and adapt. This may help to create new neural pathways and connections, which can lead to lasting positive changes in mental health.
- Reduced negative thinking patterns: Psychedelics can help to reduce negative thinking patterns, such as rumination and catastrophizing. This can lead to a more positive outlook and a decrease in symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Increased self-awareness: Psychedelics can help to increase self-awareness, which can lead to a better understanding of oneself and one’s problems. This can be helpful in making positive changes in one’s life.
*It is important to note that the mechanism by which psychedelic therapy works is still being studied, and there is no single explanation that can account for all the observed effects. However, the research that has been conducted so far suggests that psychedelic therapy has the potential to be a powerful and effective treatment for some mental health disorders.
What is on the horizon for psychedelic therapy
The field of psychedelic therapy is still in its early stages, but it is rapidly growing. It is likely that psychedelic therapy will become more widely available in the coming years. As more research is conducted, we will learn more about the potential benefits and risks of psychedelic therapy. This will help to ensure that this growing field is used safely and effectively to help people with mental health conditions.
Is psychedelic therapy right for you?
If you are considering psychedelic therapy, it is important to talk to a doctor or therapist who is experienced in this type of treatment. They can help you determine if psychedelic therapy is right for you and can provide you with more information about the risks and benefits.
Psychedelic Therapy at MindStream
Dr. Price Neff became interested in psychedelic medicine because of the data, which indicate psychedelic medicine and therapy are more effective than traditional psychopharmacology in many instances. Since we treat mental health conditions at MindStream, information like this requires us to either change our practice (get additional training, for instance) or refer out for these therapies and educate clients accordingly. Dr. Price Neff trained for a year with the Integrative Psychiatry Institute, in both psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy and ketamine prescribing, and has participated in conferences with Big Tent Ketamine and educated her peers about psychedelics at the Integrative Oncology Working Group. She is now actively working to organize a group of professionals assisting patients and caregivers facing end-of-life and severe chronic illness using psychedelic medicine.
Psychedelics & Legislation
Legislation in the U.S. is increasingly being introduced to decriminalize and/or legalize the use of psychedelic drugs for therapeutic purposes. However, it may be difficult to understand exactly what that means. Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions to help clarify:
- What does legalization mean? According to the ACLU Washington’s website, “Legalization is the act of permitting by law use of a substance. In the drug policy context, the term “legalization” gets used in different ways. Generally, though, it implies some type of legal supply, from prescriptions to regulated cannabis shops. People can use the substance without worry of being convicted or fined. Limits can still be set on its use. For instance, the law may require you to be a certain age to use the substance and the government can still limit the amount a person can carry or possess, such as is the case with prescription drugs. Suppliers may need a license to sell the substance, like with cannabis or alcohol. In 2012, Washington became one of the first U.S. states to legalize recreational use of marijuana and to allow recreational marijuana sales. Both the use and sale of the substance are permissible under legalization.”
- What does decriminalization mean? According to the ACLU Washington’s website, “Decriminalization is the act of removing criminal sanctions against certain activities, including possession of drugs for personal use. The substance is still prohibited generally, but the repercussions for being found in possession of the substance are no longer criminal. Instead of incarceration, those found in possession of drugs could get redirected to services and have the drug seized. The production and sale of the decriminalized drug is still illegal.”
- How do we work with people who are choosing to take things that aren’t legal? At MindStream, we don’t recommend or prescribe things that aren’t legal. But, we do help patients who are planning on using psychedelics to have the safest experience possible.
If you are interested in learning more about psychedelic therapy, you should speak with a clinician with specialized training and experience in psychedelic therapy. Here are a few additional resources.
- MAPS: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to the research and development of psychedelic therapy.
- The Zendo Project: The Zendo Project is a non-profit organization that provides support for people who are undergoing psychedelic therapy, typically present at festivals and participating in harm or risk reduction efforts.
- Fireside Project: A psychedelic peer support hotline for needs before, during, or after a psychedelic experience
- Psychedelics in Recovery: A 12-step program-based online resource with access to local groups.
To learn more about the healing power of psychedelics, check out Dr. Amy Price Neff’s recent appearance on this episode of FiftyForward TN’s Aging Well YouTube series.
About Dr. Amy Price Neff
Dr. Price Neff is board certified in Integrative Medicine by the American Board of Integrative Medicine. A board-certified Family Medicine doctor, she is also fellowship trained in psychedelic medicine and psychiatric medicine. Additionally, she has studied Ayurvedic Medicine, as well as deep inquiries into the microbiome, cancer metabolism, nutrition, mindfulness, medications and the mind, autoimmunity, and the clinical questions that come up in daily practice. For the team at MindStream, the excitement that comes from continuous learning is one of the most precious fuels for practice. Learn more about Dr. Neff and the MindStream team.