Can a Psychedelic Trip Improve Your Mental Health?
For thousands of years, shamans have used hallucinogenic plants to help individuals overcome trauma and other difficulties. In the West, research into the potential healing power of entheogens, substances believed to elicit mystical experience, were halted in the middle of the last century. Now, the government is allowing a very limited and strictly controlled revival of research into the potential therapeutic use of psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms.”
According to a 2010 NY Times article, a researcher from N.Y.U. stated that, “under the influence of the hallucinogen, individuals transcend their primary identification with their bodies and experience ego-free states . . . and return with a new perspective and profound acceptance.” Clinical trials with terminal cancer patients had administered psilocybin in an effort to alleviate anxiety and fear of death. Results included a spiritual like experience, leading to understanding and peacefulness after one treatment. In other words, patients were more at peace and accepting of their impending death after the treatment.
Consider a few historical facts recently published in The New Yorker:
“Between 1953 and 1973, the federal government spent four million dollars to fund a hundred and sixteen studies of LSD, involving more than seventeen hundred subjects. Psychedelics were tested on alcoholics, people struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder, depressives, autistic children, schizophrenics, terminal cancer patients, and convicts, as well as on perfectly healthy artists and scientists (to study creativity) and divinity students (to study spirituality).”
No serious side effects were observed, but the early research studies were not designed well compared to today’s standards, and blind studies were problematic for the obvious reason that subjects were hallucinating or not. This remains an interesting situation for new studies also.
Associate professor of psychiatry at N.Y.U.’s medical school, Stephen Ross who currently directs the ongoing psilocybin trials said:
“I thought the first ten or twenty people were plants—that they must be faking it. They were saying things like ‘I understand love is the most powerful force on the planet,’ or ‘I had an encounter with my cancer, this black cloud of smoke.’ People who had been palpably scared of death—they lost their fear. The fact that a drug given once can have such an effect for so long is an unprecedented finding. We have never had anything like it in the psychiatric field.”
The New Yorker also reported that several other universities are currently researching the potential of psilocybin, including Johns Hopkins, Harbor-U.C.L.A. Medical Center, University of New Mexico, Imperial College London, and the University of Zurich.
Medicinal plants, including the psychedelics psilocybin, peyote, ayahuasca and ibogaine have been used therapeutically for countless centuries around the world. The potential to treat patients who are suffering should be further studied and support among medical experts is widespread. Approval for research can be complicated, time consuming and highly regulated, but more studies will increase understanding of the neurobiology involved in entheogenic treatment and answer safety concerns. Further research is needed.
Please note that experimental use of hallucinogenic substances without the benefit of a trained profession is never a wise decision and can be dangerous. Adverse effects are possible and not predictable, nor are the dosages well understood. It is important to understand that psilocybin mushrooms are not a safe drug for recreational use or self-medication.