Welcome to Advice From the Trenches, a monthly feature on NRI NOW.
In this month’s column, writer Cathren Housley addresses a question on the latest research regarding psychedelics and their use in therapy.
Housley uses practical knowledge and wisdom from the school of hard-knocks, combined with advice counseling for medical problems from a chiropractic physician and medical doctor to answer your burning questions.
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I couldn’t believe it when my daughter told me, but I looked it up online and it’s true – scientists are actually using psychedelic drugs to treat patients with psychiatric disorders!
I did acid twice back in the 60s as a teen, but from what I experienced, it seems like tripping would drive someone who already had mental problems over the edge! How is it supposed to make traumatized or depressed people better?
I don’t think scientists are talking about dropping acid at a rock concert, Thor. There’s years of solid research behind the those headlines you’re seeing in the media.
The DEA thinks like you do – they’ve long classified psychedelics as Schedule I controlled substances, which means that they have no therapeutic value whatsoever and a high potential for abuse. But there’s a rather large difference between recreational use and controlled medical use, so when the FDA added their approval for studies, limited and highly controlled research was resumed about 20 years ago. Findings were so promising that in 2017, the FDA designated psychedelics as a, “breakthrough therapy,” for PTSD, then in 2018 they gave the nod to psilocybin as a breakthrough for treatment-resistant depression.
A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine compared psychedelics with SSRIs, the prescription drugs that most doctors prescribe to treat depression. Results showed that psilocybin was as effective, after only two doses, as antidepressants, which have to be taken sometimes for weeks before improvement is seen. But keep in mind, patients don’t just trip out – doses are highly controlled and supervision is mandatory.
I asked my friend, Juan Verde, about his experience with psychedelics. Juan has lived with MS for many years now, and has a first hand grasp of the therapeutic benefits to be gained from responsible use.
I’ll start off with this –
1. Don’t do psychedelics unless you are in a safe place. A calm forest or familiar room is a safe setting. A huge crowded event full of out of control energy is not.
2. If your head isn’t in a good place to begin with, do not ever try psychedelics alone. Do them with a trusted friend, therapist, or guide, and use micro-doses only. Know what you’re taking.
3. Some people should very definitely not do psychedelics.
4. If you do psychedelics, it will change you forever, so do not take it lightly.
5. Don’t do it too often. Remember it’s a powerful life-changing drug.
The founder of AA, Bill Wilson, got sober after taking a guided LSD trip with a psychiatrist. Wilson fought hard as AA was being formed to include having one guided LSD trip as part of the steps in the program, but lost the battle. He believed it could help people see things a little differently.
Timothy Leary messed up the psychedelic scene for everybody. At the same time that Leary was telling everyone to drop acid and, “turn on and tune out,” there were 10 or 15 research groups around the country conducting studies. Every single one was shut down after Leary, because he brought such negative attention to LSD. They were turning their own Phd students on to acid at Harvard, and that was the end of it.
Researchers hate Leary. It’s only now that after 40 years of being shut down that research has started up again.
Even though it’s different, and less mellow than mushrooms, you learn a lot about your brain on acid. Every time I did it, it made me realize new things, inspired me to do more music, reach out to more people. It was a cumulative effect that stayed with me, but I think a person’s ability to hold onto the results varies.
Psychedelics were a great teacher for having MS. You learn to live with the moment and deal with whatever comes along – Be Here Now. I just went with it when I was diagnosed with MS, it was another thing to deal with.
But I don’t think that everyone will have a revelation and mind change. Psychedelics are very much dependent on the person and the presence or absence of a guide.
For recent news from Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School visit https://hls.harvard.edu/today/reassessing-psychedelics/
As originally published in Motif Magazine.