It’s time we wake up to the mental health benefits of psychedelics and here’s why.
“Based on the available evidence, we conclude that ayahuasca shows promise as a therapeutic tool by enhancing self-acceptance and allowing safe exposure to emotional events. We postulate that ayahuasca could be of use in the treatment of impulse-related, personality and substance use disorders and also in the handling of trauma.” Beckley Foundation.
Psychedelics have had a bad press since Nixon made them the reason for all things wrong in the world. In 1970, Nixon identified drug abuse as “public enemy number one in the United States.” He introduced the Controlled Substances Act, rendering psilocybin, mescaline, LSD and DMT illegal. The act ended all government-sanctioned psychedelic research that had been taking place since Albert Hoffman discovered LSD in 1943. Psychedelics became schedule 1 substances meaning that they had no medicinal purpose.
This brought about a massive stigma of psychedelics; unfortunately some people still believe that they are addictive, a road to ruin or that you will ‘tune in and drop out.’ Yet studies are beginning to show that we can use psychedelics, alongside psychotherapy, to treat addiction to substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and opioids. Psychedelics such as DMT and psilocybin can reveal to us the emotions that lie beneath the addictions; that which we are trying to mask. In unmasking the hidden deep emotions, and by bringing them to the surface, we can expose them and begin to work with them instead of numbing them and continuing to suffer. In psychotherapy alone this can sometimes take years to do.
Studies by MAPS for instance, have shown that after only three MDMA Assisted Psychotherapy sessions sufferers of PTSD had shown improvement of trauma symptoms. At a twelve month follow up an astonishing 68% of participants no longer met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis.
“I think that MDMA is a life-saving therapeutic tool for people such as myself, who are caught in addiction patterns that attempt to replicate nurturing & feeding of the self. Many addicts are simply incapable of self love. MDMA allows one to find this space inside the self. I found that it allowed me to release the defences & barriers that blocked me from connecting with & loving myself and others” Anonymous. Sufferer of an eating disorder as the result of childhood sexual abuse.
Psychedelics, often referred to as plant medicines in the therapeutic setting, have been used by indigenous cultures around the world for thousands of years and are still being used in ceremonies in South America with ayahuasca. Many Westerners will take part in the ceremonies as part of a spiritual awakening. Yet many more take part as a way to relive and relieve trauma memories. It’s important to note here that there will be therapeutic integration as part of these ceremonies and many people have come away lightened of their psychic burdens. Continuing with therapy after the ceremony is beneficial as way of processing emotions and trauma.
Dr Gabor Mate, physician, addiction specialist and therapist, has worked with addictive behaviour for many years. He believes that we are bio-psycho-social-spiritual beings; our minds and bodies are connected. He believes that we are the result of our environment, our biology and our spirituality; much the same belief that indigenous cultures around the world have had for thousands of years. When there is a dis-ease with any of those things then our whole being is affected and there is a loss of connection. Think about how early childhood trauma affects our health as adults; it is not just our minds that are affected by trauma but our physical and spiritual health.
The Adverse Childhood Experiences study.
What is it, and how do our ACES score affect addiction?
Gabor Mate attends ayahuasca ceremonies as a healer and in 2019 worked with The Temple of Light in Peru to guide participants in their healing during and after the ceremonies.
“I have witnessed people overcome addiction to substances, sexual compulsion and other self-harming behaviours. Some have found liberation from chronic shame or the mental fog of depression or anxiety.”
“In its proper ceremonial setting, under compassionate and experienced guidance, the plant — or, as tradition has it, the spirit of the plant — puts people in touch with their repressed pain and trauma, the very factors that drive all dysfunctional mind states.” Gabor Mate, taken from The profound power of an Amazonian plant — and the respect it demands, in www.theglobeandmail.com
There is also a re-emergence of psychedelic research through John Hopkins University, Imperial College and Beckley Foundation who are all looking into the effects of DMT, MDMA and psilocyn on our brains. The research focuses on how these medicines can further assist in healing our traumas, OCD, eating disorders and depression.
Findings have shown that psilocybin and DMT work on the default mode network (DMN)in the brain. The DMN is responsible for thoughts about ourselves and how we view ourselves. Increased DMN activity has been linked to the ruminative thoughts associated with depression, OCD and eating disorder type thinking. Brain scans have shown that there is a decrease of activity in the DMN when participants have been given psilocybin. This shows that the focus becomes less on the ‘self’ and that there is more of an integration, a oneness, with the world around them. The same decrease in DMN activity has been shown with the brains of meditators.
Psilocybin has been used for end of life care in cancer patients to large success. People with cancer are, understandably, filled with fear, anger, and existential distress. A 2016 study of people who were given a single dose of psilocybin had remarkable results. A five year follow up of the study by New York University (NYU) Grossman School of Medicine found that cancer patients are still benefiting from a one-time psilocybin-assisted therapy session. The findings show sustained reductions in anxiety, depression, hopelessness, demoralization, and death anxiety.
“I was given the psilocybin….I saw a large lump under my ribs. And it was not the cancer; it was my fear. I just screamed “fuck you! Who the fuck do you think you are? Get out!” It was my real fear and it went away. I banished it. I’m not afraid of cancer. I have not been since that experience. It’s been nine years since I was diagnosed and treated, so I’ve been in remission all that time. I was suffering terrible fear and anxiety for the two years before I had the psilocybin, and I just don’t think about it anymore…..I wish that this drug was available therapeutically” Dinah Bazar, from Revealing the Mind. The Promise of Psychedelics.
Use of psychedelics for depression, anxiety and trauma can sometimes mean taking one single dose to heal. Contrast that with spending a lifetime on medication.