Written by Anusha Srinivasan '24
Edited by Surya Khatri '24
Across the world, scientists are exploring the potential of psychedelic medicine to advance treatment of mental health disorders. In the past few years, there have been surges in interest in substances like psilocybin from magic mushrooms and MDMA, also known as ecstacy, as therapeutic tools. Once considered taboo, these substances are being hailed as possible new treatments to the most detrimental mental health issues.
Research on psychedelic medicine centers around the effect of these substances on the human brain. These compounds are powerful, making changes to brain activity involved in emotion and cognition. It is these alterations that make psychedelics an enticing option for those suffering from mental health disorders. Currently, research on the subject indicates that psychedelics have the potential to help those suffering from addiction, depression, anxiety, and other disorders. In fact, one Johns Hopkins study found that treatment with two doses of psilocybin relieved depression symptoms in adults for up to four weeks . Another study by MAPS Public Benefit Corporation, a California biopharmaceutical company, found that MDMA was effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD .
Another exciting aspect of psychedelic-assisted therapy is its potential to treat addiction. While traditional addiction treatments often focus on managing withdrawal symptoms and cravings, these treatments usually do not address the underlying psychological and emotional factors that contribute to addiction. Psychedelic medicine has the potential to help individuals address these underlying issues and break this cycle of addiction .
The results of this research is promising and while many may be resistant to approving the use of such “taboo” drugs, the delivery of psychedelic-assisted therapies is more conservative than one might imagine. Psychedelic-assisted therapies are usually administered in very controlled setting under direct supervision of healthcare workers. A patient undergoes an extensive medical screening and preparatory process prior to receiving the psychedelic substance. During administration, the patient is monitored and guided by trained professionals so that they have a positive experience. The patient is also offered support to continue benefiting from the psychedelic-assisted therapy session as they return to their daily life .
However, it’s true that there are many concerns and challenges associated with the use of psychedelic medicine. Risk of adverse reactions and legality of the substances are two of the primary hurdles faced by patients and researchers. In some cases, these treatment sessions can cause symptoms like elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate, and increased body temperature. In more serious cases, those with a predisposition to psychotic disorders may experience an increased risk of psychosis when being treated with these substances .
Despite these challenges, the potential of psychedelic medicine to revolutionize mental health treatment cannot be overstated. In many cases, traditional medications and therapies for mental health disorders fall short, leaving patients with limited options and inadequate relief. Psychedelic medicine, however, seems to have the potential to treat mental health disorders at their root, surpassing a simply symptomatic approach. Many proponents of psychedelic medicine believe that these substances can help individuals gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their place in the world. They argue that these substances can promote self-awareness and realizations which lead to improved quality of life and long-term healing .
The potential of psychedelic medicine to revolutionize mental health treatment cannot be ignored. Of course, it is important that researchers continue to conduct rigorous studies on psychedelic medicine and for healthcare professionals to educate patients and the public on its potential benefits and risks. While there are still many hurdles to overcome, the promising results of recent studies and the growing interest in psychedelic-assisted therapy offer hope for a future where mental health disorders can be treated with more effective and holistic approaches. The psychedelic revolution is here, and soon patients will be one step closer to easing the burden of their mental health struggles.
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