Innovations in the mental health space seem to be shifting with societal changes. As society continues to evolve, stigmas are disappearing, and how we study and treat the mind adopts these changes. Today, mental health is more of a conversation than ever before. People are becoming more conscious of their mental health, including groups like the general male population.
While the fight to reinforce mental health as an important factor for everyone is far from over, inclusivity and open-mindedness in the mental health arena have led to some surprising results. One of these is the use of highly taboo substances like psychedelics to treat mental illness and mental health conditions. Two conditions that we can observe this with are depression and anxiety.
Depression and Anxiety
Depression and anxiety go hand in hand, though a person may have either of them, respectively. According to the CDC, depression relates to feelings of sadness experienced for an extended amount of time or interfere with everyday life and function. Causes of depression may vary widely but extend from genetic predisposition to it, stressful or traumatic life events, medical problems, or as a result of using drugs or alcohol.
On the other hand, anxiety is a persistent feeling of worry or fear that interferes with one’s daily activities. Anxiety expresses itself as several disorders, which include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, phobias, panic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
How They Relate to Psychedelics
Brain functions or activity in the neural circuits impact these types of disorders. Besides antidepressants and therapy, other alternatives, such as brain training, look promising. The approach, however, focuses on manipulating how the brain works in some capacity. This is how using mind-altering drugs to treat such disorders has come to be.
Psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin saw popularization in the United States around the 1960s. Once legal, they eventually became regarded as a taboo. Though cultures around the world use them as natural remedies, their place in mainstream culture, particularly medicine, remains unclear. However, efforts to bring these sorts of drugs to the forefront are happening.
Psilocybin for Treatment
Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic produced by more than 200 mushroom species from regions such as Europe, South America, Mexico, and the United States. The substance is hallucinogenic, and generally known as “magic mushrooms.” The effects can be both psychological and physical.
One study conducted by Johns Hopkins University examined the effects of dosing individuals that are suffering from life-threatening cancer for their anxiety related to the illness. The findings show that patients saw a decrease in depression and anxiety, many of which were after one single dose.
Another study investigated the use of psilocybin for depression when all other avenues of treatment had previously failed. Also known as treatment-resistant patients. There was a decrease in symptoms of depression after five weeks. Though the study was small, each patient tolerated the drug with ease. Further analysis of brain activity highlighted alterations in the area of the brain responsible for processing fear and stress.
Are Psychedelic Drugs Safe?
An interview with Roland Griffiths, the lead researcher for John Hopkin’s research on psilocybin, provided some information on what to make about the outcomes of the study. According to Griffiths, hallucinogens with no mind-altering effects are 100% safe.
However, he stated that the risk-management is possible if done in an appropriate clinical setting. When compared against alcohol, hallucinogens, such as psilocybin, are not physically toxic, making them already safer than other legal substances.
The drug causes a significant alteration of consciousness and therefore has the potential to negatively impact those with susceptibility to brain disorders such as schizophrenia. Recreational use of these drugs without medical supervision is one of the biggest risks. If not handled carefully, they have the potential to cause a user intense psychological trauma.
How Are They Used?
A mental healthcare professional may recommend psilocybin therapy, especially for treatment-resistant patients. Therapy involves the dosage of the drug under the supervision of a clinical therapist, followed by working through the sensations or alterations experienced.
This may be an intense experience but has worked for many as a breakthrough for behavioral and psychological adversities. Other drugs being used in this arena are LSD, cannabis, MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly), and ketamine. While each varies in risk and plausibility, they are used similarly in clinical settings to manage other psychological problems associated with depression and anxiety, such as PTSD and addiction.