Never before had scientific research been put to such a halt as it did with psychedelic drugs such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin (magic mushrooms), mescaline, and ayahuasca. The counterculture of the 1960s painted a picture for these substances the U.S. government just couldn’t agree with. And since then, psychedelic drugs have seen a steady decline in street use while much more harmful substances, such as heroin and crack, have seen a rise.
However, in recent years, a new light has shone upon psychedelic drugs. Many small studies have been looking into these substances as a means of treating mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression. From what these studies have shown, it seems that – with the aid of psychotherapies – psychedelic may just be able to help people.
And lawmakers are taking note themselves. Denver, Colorado has just recently become the first place in America to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms.¹
Throughout this article, we’re going to take a deeper look into these studies to better understand this sprouting phenomenon.
Psilocybin as Cancer Therapy
When one is told they have cancer, there seems to be a need to treat the physical problem as much as possible. Yet, the emotional distress is often placed secondary and can be devastating in itself.
People who’re facing cancer – especially, those projected to not make it – are bound to develop a number of mental health issues. Most notably, anxiety from fear of death and depression from the inability to continue life.
Though it’s not often discussed, mental health issues as such WILL play a role in one’s physical health. For example, someone facing depression may eat less than they should and lose more weight than they can afford. When physical issues as such are taken into consideration with a disease like cancer, the stakes are raised.²
In 2016, two studies were conducted where 80 cancer patients were given a single dose of psilocybin. It was found that those who took the drug and went through psychotherapy ended up having a significant reduction in their depression and anxiety compared to those who received a placebo.³
Furthermore, the study concluded that this reduction was long-lasting. Up to 80% of the cancer patients felt relieved from mental health symptoms for up to 6 months.
Large Scale Research is in the Works
Still, until psychedelic drugs are approved for prescription use, the information above is nothing more than that – information. The purpose of research is to prove something and, through proving this, more research can follow. This cycle continues to grow and grow until the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is convinced a new drug (or, in this case, an old drug that’s been ignored) has prominant health benefits.
With that, psychedelic drugs as treatment for mental health need larger scale research. And an emerging study concerning MDMA – the active chemical in ecstasy – may be exactly what the scientific community needs.
Researchers believe MDMA may be able to help improve symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition where people re-experience feelings of past trauma.
Another study found that MDMA might also help within those struggling with both autism and social anxiety disorder (SAD). The research found that out of 12 adults facing both issues, a dose of MDMA along with psychotherapy made a significant reduction in their symptoms.⁴
“Social anxiety is prevalent in [adults with autism], and few treatment options have been shown to be effective,” pointed out Alicia Danforth of the Los Angeles BioMedical Research at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. “The postive effects of using MDMA and therapy lasted months, or even years, for most of the research volunteers.”
Due to these smaller studies, a larger study is in the works which would include 230 participants. If this study goes through and proves successful, there will be enough evidence for MDMA to be approved as a prescription drug.⁵
The Link Between Mental Illness and Spirituality
One study looked into people who had previously used psychedelic for recreational purposes. These participants made a strong note of their spirituality and how it all interconnected with their emotions.
Adele Lafrance, PhD, of Laurentian University, once noted, “This study reinforces the need for the psychological field to consider a larger role for spirituality in the context of mainstream treatment because spiritual growth and a connection to something greater than the self can be fostered.”⁶
Drugs like ayahuasca – the drink made from a plant indigenous people of South America use for religious tradition – have been known by reputation for their spiritual impact on the human brain. Yet, recent research also shows it might be to relieve symptoms of addiction, depression, and trauma (i.e. PTSD).
“We found that ayahuasca also fostered an increase in generosity, spiritual connection, and altruism,” noted Clancy Cvnar, PhD, with Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos.
As we continue to understand psychedelics impact on mental health, it’s almost vital we also consider spiritual ideas – such as a person’s religious views and perception of life after death (if any). These factors could play a substantial role in why they feel the way they do.
They could be the keys to understanding why somebody with depression has such negative emotions or why someone with anxiety is so paranoid. As mentioned above, the cancer patients didn’t feel these negative emotions until death became an almost certain factor.
With more research into psychedelic drugs that links spirituality and mental health, these substances may one day appear in your medical cabinet.
¹ Forbes: Denver Voters Approve Measures To Decriminalize Psychedelic Mushrooms: https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomangell/2019/05/08/denver-voters-approve-measure-to-decriminalize-psychedelic-mushrooms/
² National Institute of Mental Health: Chronic Illness & Mental Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/chronic-illness-mental-health/index.shtml
³ Live Science: ‘Magic Mushrooms’ Compound May Treat Depression in Cancer Patients: https://www.livescience.com/57049-magic-mushrooms-psilocybin-depression-cancer.html
⁴ MAPS: MDMA-Assisted Therapy for the Treatment of Social Anxiety in Austic Adults: https://maps.org/research/mdma/anxiety/autism
⁵ The New York Times: F.D.A. Agrees to New Trials for Ecstasy as Relief for PTSD Patients: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/29/us/ptsd-mdma-ecstasy.html
⁶ American Psychological Association: Can Psychedelic Drugs Heal? https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2018/08/psychedelic-drugs-heal