Psychedelics for mental health treatments?! Believe us or not, this has been quite the buzz in the recent years. Many of us must have heard of names of some drugs, be it in movies, television shows, through friends or while reading an article on the internet. Drugs have been around for centuries, and have been in use for a variety of reasons such as recreational purposes and medical treatment.
A hot topic in recent years in the field of mental health has been the use of drugs in the treatment of mental health disorders, specifically the use of psychedelics to treat a wide range disorders.
What are psychedelics? Are they harmful? Does any research back its use? Let’s try to answer these common questions one by one.
What are Psychedelics?
Psychedelics are a class of drugs, also called serotonergic hallucinogens, which have the ability to change your perception, mood, emotions and alter your cognitive processes. Psychedelics alter your state of consciousness and make you perceive reality in a different, uncommon way.
A few psychedelics in use for years are:-
- Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD)
- N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT)
Are they harmful to consume?
Generally, psychedelics are considered physiologically safe to consume under restricted quantities, and don’t usually lead to addiction or dependence.
There is a preconceived notion that all drugs are harmful and bad for health, which is partially true due to the devastating effects of many drugs. However contrary to this popular belief, psychedelics are one of the safest classes of drugs. The physical risks of psychedelics such as LSD and psilocybin are essentially none, and this was also seen in animal trials
Experiments were conducted wherein animals self-administered psychedelic drugs, however they did not have the need to administer another dose, they simply ignored the option to redose themselves (Nichols, 2016).
However, having stated the safety of consuming psychedelics, it is also important to acknowledge the fact that psychedelics alter your state of consciousness, and change your perception and mood, which may cause you to behave irrationally, which may in turn have fatal consequences. Since the perception of the individual is altered, they may believe they possess superhuman abilities, and therefore may perform acts which can be injurious or fatal.
Hence it is not advised to consume psychedelics, especially if they are illegal in the region where you reside, since this can result in indulgence in unlawful activity and negative consequences.
Psychedelics and Mental Health Disorders
Use of psychedelics for the treatment of mental disorders was widely popular back in the 1950s-60s, however it was halted due to strong criticisms. The US Army and CIA used LSD as a truth serum, and it was further investigated by the US Army as a potential incapacitating agent, however, these attempts yielded no success.
LSD, a classical hallucinogen, acts in the distortion of sense of time and identity, alteration in depth and time perception, visual hallucinations, sense of euphoria or certainty, distorted perception of the size and shape of objects, movements, color, sounds, touch and body image and delusions (Liester, 2014).
LSD was also used to achieve behavioural and personality modifications, along with alleviating symptoms of psychiatric disorders.
It was observed that LSD, when given in the right dosage by a professional, helped in relieving cancer patients of pain, anxiety and depression. Other studies conducted with patients of terminal cancer also yielded successful and promising results.
Similar studies have been carried out for psilocybin, another hallucinogen. A study conducted by Marsh Chapel (1962) aimed at examining the experiences felt by mystics and those induced by psilocybin. It was observed that both the groups experienced indistinguishable experiences, and all of the psilocybin subjects felt that the experience had significantly affected their lives in a positive way and they expressed appreciation for having participated in the experiment (Doblin, 1991).
Due to such promising results and the long history of using hallucinogens for various purposes, many states in the US are in the process of legalising certain psychoactive drugs for medical and recreational purposes. Psychedelics-assisted psychotherapy can open the doors for the much needed treatment of various mental health disorders such as PTSD, alcohol-use disorder, anorexia nervosa, major depressive disorder, and many more.
Fuentes, J.J., Fonseca, F., Elices, M., Farré, M. & Torrens, M. (2020) Therapeutic Use of LSD in Psychiatry: A Systematic Review of Randomized-Controlled Clinical Trials. Front. Psychiatry 10:943. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00943
Nichols, D. E. (2016, April). Psychedelics. Pharmacological reviews. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4813425/?report=reader#__ffn_sectitle
Tullis, P. (2021, January 27). How ecstasy and psilocybin are shaking up psychiatry. Nature News. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00187-9