If the phrase “psychedelic therapy” conjures up images of 1960s hippies, you’re not far off. Sprawled across bean bags with headphones strapped to their heads, they were the pioneers of psychedelic drugs.
The use of psychedelics in therapeutic settings is not a new idea. It’s been around for decades. LSD was first used to help treat terminal cancer patients and alcoholics in the 1950s and 1960s.
These studies were ultimately shut down due to political turmoil and insufficient funding. Psychedelics are gaining popularity again, with success in therapy as recently as 2017.
Today, psychedelic therapy is emerging as a legitimate medical practice. Many therapists are exploring psychedelic treatment to help patients with mental health issues.
As they become more mainstream though, it’s important to understand how these therapies can help treat mental illness.
New methods of applying psychedelics to aid in the therapeutic process have emerged. Updates and redesigns on older protocols have made them a better fit for modern needs. Treatments that were never available outside of research settings have become mainstream.
Many of these therapies fall under the umbrella term “integrative psychedelic therapy.” IPT was also known as “MAPS-approved”.
In this context, “integrative” means that they combine traditional methods with newer techniques. “Psychedelic” refers to substances like LSD and psilocybin. “Therapy” refers to treatment through guided sessions with a trained therapist.
Psilocybin is of course the active ingredient in magic mushrooms.
What Is Psychedelic Therapy
There are two main categories for psychedelic-assisted therapy: classic psychedelics and non-classic psychedelics.
Classic psychedelics, such as LSD, psilocybin, DMT, mescaline (or peyote cactus), and ayahuasca, are those found in nature. These substances, used for decades, have shown success in treating mental health conditions.
Classic psychedelics can help people with PTSD by providing perspective on traumatic experiences. They also show promise as an effective treatment for depression. Psychedelics reduce symptoms like anxiety and sadness. According to researchers, classic psychedelics are not addictive.
Non-classic psychedelics include MDMA (Ecstasy) and ketamine. These treatments are hallucinogenic, but they do not qualify as psychedelics. There is a lot of research underway to establish the benefits of these treatments.
Besides their varying chemical compositions, each type offers different benefits. One thing they do have in common: They stimulate the production of serotonin and dopamine. These are essential hormones in the fight against many mental illnesses.
Types Of Psychedelic Therapy
There are several different types of psychedelic therapy. Each option involves the use of psychedelic drugs in a therapeutic setting.
We’ve broken down each type of psychedelic-assisted therapy below. Get a better understanding of what they’re used for and how they work:
Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy (MAP)
A mental health treatment that uses the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs.
The main benefits of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy include:
- Help with overcoming addiction and co-occurring disorders like depression and anxiety
- Improved moods
- Enhanced creativity and problem-solving skills
It shows promise in helping patients break free from the shackles of their past. Proven to be effective in treating many conditions, long-term treatment with MAP can help keep symptoms at bay.
Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy (KAP)
A form of psychedelic-assisted therapy, KAP uses ketamine as a tool to create positive changes in the brain and behavior. It can help people to find relief from symptoms such as chronic sadness and fear.
The treatment also helps PTSD patients overcome past traumas. It helps them process their memories in an environment free from fear or anxiety.
The benefits of KAP include:
- A rapid reduction in symptoms like depression or anxiety
- Less chance of relapse than traditional treatment methods
A low dose of ketamine is administered through a drip while the patient sits comfortably in a relaxed setting. Patients will experience an altered state of consciousness called disassociation. This allows them to explore their memories without the usual triggers that cause distress.
In this safe space, patients can discuss their memories openly with their therapist. There is no need to worry about judgment or shame.
MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy (MAPS)
This is a revolutionary treatment that uses the drug MDMA to help people heal from their trauma. MDMA is also known as Molly or Ecstasy. The drug is taken in a controlled setting. The patient will be supervised by medical professionals. They will also receive psychotherapy from a trained therapist during the treatment.
The use of MDMA for PTSD is still in its early phases of research. Many professionals have reported it to be an effective treatment.
This can mean a reduced frequency of flashbacks to traumatic events. Even long-term remission from symptoms like anxiety or depression has been noted.
If you’re interested in this type of therapy, here’s what you can expect:
- MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is given in two phases one week apart. During this time, you’ll meet with your therapist daily for three hours at a time. You’ll continue with daily sessions until the end of phase two (when you take another dose of MDMA).
- You may also receive other forms of therapy during this period. Talk therapy or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) are good supplemental therapies. Your doctor or therapist will make recommendations based on your mental health history.
- During these sessions, you’ll need to journal your experiences.
Psychedelic Integration Therapy (PIT)
This is the integration of psychedelic drugs into a patient’s treatment plan.
PIT involves two parts.
The first part happens before and during your psychedelic journey. The other part happens after you take your trip and for several months afterward.
Before your treatment, you will meet with your therapist several times. This is so that you can prepare for what’s coming next.
Talk to your therapist about ways to help you process emotions or memories that may come up. Journaling or art therapy classes are a happy way to bring healing.
The benefits of PIT include:
- A greater sense of self-compassion and self-acceptance.
- A deeper understanding of the problematic behaviors that led to psychedelic use.
- The underlying issues that continue to impact you.
- Improved relationships with family members, friends, and significant others.
- Lessened cravings for alcohol or other drugs.
Long-term Benefits of Psychedelic Therapy
Psychedelic therapy is effective because, in part, it helps people to gain a better understanding of their struggles.
It also allows patients an opportunity to make connections with those around them. These connections are often with others who are struggling with similar issues. This helps to reduce feelings of isolation and hopelessness.
The long-term benefits of psychedelic therapy are still being studied, but early results are promising.
In 2017, the Journal of Psychopharmacology reported that positive results were being documented two years after treatment with psilocybin.
66% of participants reported an increase in their quality of life. 56% said they had improved relationships with others.
In 2015 researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine published a paper. Their research showed that participants who received psilocybin experienced less anxiety and depression in the week after taking it.
Those effects remained for at least 14 months after treatment.
What to Expect During Psychedelic Therapy
If you are thinking about participating in psychedelic therapy, you may be wondering what to expect.
The first step in psychedelic therapy is determining whether it’s right for you. Some people are not good candidates for this type of therapy. People with a history of psychotic disorders may not qualify.
Once screened and approved for psychedelic therapy, your therapist will give you the drug in an office setting. Your team will monitor your reaction and make sure everything is going well. Your dosages will be very small at first and increase gradually as needed over time.
You might experience some side effects during this time. These include nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, dizziness, and headaches. These symptoms should go away within a few hours after taking the drug.
In some cases, there are serious side effects like seizures or heart problems. Patients may need medical attention right away.
Psychedelic Therapy, Explained
Psychedelic therapy is a hot new topic. Unpacking how best to use it to treat specific mental health problems is still very much a work in progress.
The substances that are most effective, their appropriate dosages, and the ideal combination of them with other forms of therapy are all unknown at this point. But with the growing number of studies investigating the applications of psychedelic drugs in therapy, we’re starting to gain a deeper understanding of how they can be used to treat mental health disorders.
And though these types of therapy are not for everyone, many people stand to benefit from them. It will be interesting to see whether psychedelic therapy continues to grow as an industry going into the future.
The next time you or a loved one has a serious issue or mental health diagnosis, try exploring psychedelic therapies as a possible solution.
Contact us to learn more about using psychedelics responsibly and effectively as an alternative mental health treatment.