Psychedelics and Their Positive Correlation with Mental Health
By Katherine Brown – 000360536
Due to the propaganda and social stigma surrounding prohibited substances, many people are ignorant to the vast differences between psilocybin and chemical drugs. The content to follow will discuss the correlation between psychedelics, primarily psilocybin (also known to many as “magic mushrooms”) and improved mental health symptoms. This paper will describe the lack of negative, lasting physical and psychological effects. How psychedelics can be used as treatment for anxiety and depression, treatment for substance use disorders and addiction, as well as the effect that psychedelics have on a person’s mental health and well-being overall. The focus of this paper will be on psilocybin, although the use of other “classic” psychedelics (such as peyote, mescaline and LSD) will be mentioned as well.
To begin, a study was performed on patients with cancer of which consisted of 62% of the participating individuals in late-stage cancers which the participants received doses of psilocybin in a controlled, supervised setting. The types of cancers ranged from: breast cancer, reproductive cancers, digestive cancers, leukemia, lymphoma, or “miscellaneous.” All participants suffered from anxiety, with 90% meeting the criteria for adjustment disorders. Not to mention that significant symptoms of depression are present in 30-40% of patients with cancer in hospitalized settings. (Yearsley, C. 2017) Psychedelic plants have been used for millennia in celebrations, or for religious and healing purposes. Common uses for psychedelics include: “mystical” experiences, curiosity, and introspection. (Krebs, T. S., & Johansen, P. 2013) Growing studies link existential and spiritual wellbeing with an improved quality of life, and treatments with pharmaceutical drugs for adjustment disorders show high rates of relapse and significant side effects. (Yearsley, C. 2017) The controlled trial performed on these cancer patients had quite significant results as there were no serious adverse effects, and no medical intervention was needed. None of the participants exhibited compulsive or addictive behaviours with psilocybin. There were no cases of prolonged or lasting psychosis, hallucination or persisting perception disorder. The only notable physical side effects were light headaches, and some migraines.
Some of the participants were given a placebo as to measure the different outcomes. Of those who received psilocybin, 83% met the criteria for antidepressant response, with significant improvements in their attitudes towards death. Just over half of the participants said the experience was the “singular most spiritually significant experience of their lives”, while 70 and 87% respectively reported the experience as the most personally meaningful, and increased “satisfaction” in their overall wellbeing due to the experience. (Yearsley, C. 2017)
As for those who suffer from substance use disorders, there is often an underlying mental illness that the substance use is a symptom of. Emotional development can be extremely difficult while someone is abusing drugs.
Between 1999 and 2008 110 participants suffering from substance use disorders received 1-4 doses of psilocybin with most reporting that they experienced “profound changes in mood, perception, thought and self-experience” as influenced by their experience. Negative experiences were uncommon within the study, and a quarter of the participants reported improved relationships with others and only 7% reported negative changes which could be due to outside factors. Compared to when the participants received other psychoactive and often addictive drugs: those who were given psilocybin reported the experience as having had substantial personal meaning and spiritual significance. (Bogenschutz, M. P. 2017)
The current methods for addiction treatment are often ineffective as it seems that something different works for every individual, often taking multiple tries before there is success and even so, there is sadly a high relapse rate in individuals suffering from addiction.
A was study done examining the response rate to an “altered state of mind” using psilocybin as compared to a non-drug altered state of mind using hyperventilation and placebo. (Burdick, B. V., & Adinoff, B. 2013) There has been a fair amount of promising research regarding the use of psychedelics but due to their criminalization there has been a domino effect of social and political concerns. Studies show that psychedelics as treatment for substance abuse compared with the conventional forms show a lot less mental harm, and with a lower rate of relapse than the alternative.
Many of the controlled trials done on psychedelics ceased after the 1960s as they began to become associated with the “hippie” counterculture which let to their criminalization and near disappearance from scientific literature. (Burdick, B. V., & Adinoff, B. 2013) In fact only a single study on LSD, and five concurrent studies on psilocybin are available at ClinicalTrials.gov with the latter study focusing on the biology of psilocybin as well as its therapeutic value on illness-related anxiety, spirituality and addiction.
Despite the chemical differences between the classic psychedelics (mescaline, peyote, ayahuasca and dimethyltryptamine or ibogaine) their effects are incredibly similar in their clinical and subjective response. These experiences are gauged by changes in visuals, physical and mental perceptions. Visuals such as geometric patterning, body sensations, and cognitive effects like metaphysical experiences and psychological insights are some of the effects experienced while taking psilocybin. (Burdick, B. V., & Adinoff, B. 2013) There has been a growing analogue of evidence-based research showing psychedelics and their relevancy to the treatment of addiction, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and PTSD. Death-related anxiety is another as it has been widely reported that those to take psychedelics have developed a better outlook on death. Likely since many users report spiritual, metaphysical and introspective experiences. (Burdick, B. V., & Adinoff, B. 2013)
Psychedelics seem to have a positive effect on specific disorders, but also on mental health in a generalized sense. More than 30 million people in the US alone have taken LSD, psilocybin or mescaline. Classic psychedelics are not known to cause brain damage, or internal damage to the organs. They do not cause withdrawal symptoms, compulsive or addictive use, or even birth defects and genetic damage. (Krebs, T. S., & Johansen, P. 2013)
Psychedelics can, however cause a period of emotional turmoil and confusion during the immediate effects for some users, but such effects very rarely persist throughout the rest of the experience. They are not regarded to encourage violent or dangerous behaviour leading to death or suicide. Studies examining the effects of LSD and psilocybin are seen to cause significantly less harm than alcohol, tobacco and other recreational drugs.
In a sample study done on 130,152 individuals with 21,979 reporting a lifetime use of psychedelics found that the respondents with lifetime use were more likely to have had used all classes of illicit drugs, and had experienced at least more than one traumatic event. (Krebs, T. S., & Johansen, P. 2013) Psychedelic users had higher rates of mental health issues to which they had adjusted. Lifetime psilocybin users had strongly connected with lower rates of impairment mental health treatment, psychiatric prescriptions and specifically lower rates of panic attacks with females having the lowest rate of psychotic symptom. Lifetime use of mescaline/peyote was associated with a lower rate of medication needed, and not seeking mental health treatment while lifetime psychedelic use overall was strongly associated with a lack of the seven psychiatric symptoms. (Krebs, T. S., & Johansen, P. 2013)
Lastly, a study was done to test the hypothesis that psilocybin grants access to the personal memories and emotions by comparing “subjective neural responses” to “positive autobiographical memories with both psilocybin and placebos. (Carhart-Harris, R. L., Leech, R., Williams, T. M., Erritzoe, D., Abbasi, N., Bargiotas, T., & … Nutt, D. J. 2012) Participants were given intravenous doses of lab synthesized psilocybin. The ratings of memory, and vividness were significantly higher with those who had taken psilocybin and there was a positive connection between vividness and subjective-well being found after follow up. These results do imply that psilocybin may be useful in psychotherapy either as a tool to recall dormant memories, and to reverse negative cognitive biases. (Carhart-Harris, R. L., Leech, R., Williams, T. M., Erritzoe, D., Abbasi, N., Bargiotas, T., & … Nutt, D. J. 2012)
In the 1960s, psychedelics were used to lower psychological defenses and to encourage introspection, however the term “lowering of defences” was thought to be a decrease in emotional control. There are many reports of individuals re-living an event under psychedelics, and brain scans performed on participants showed a significant connection between “emotion” scores and “vividness.” Once the data had returned and was complete, it was found that reports of “well-being” were significantly higher in those who had taken psilocybin as opposed to placebos. Brain scans showed more activity in the bilateral auditory cortex (the area of the brain that interprets music, speech and other sounds), the somatosensory complex (which interprets all of the senses), the superior parietal cortex (which controls spatial awareness), and even the entire visual processing center. (Carhart-Harris, R. L., Leech, R., Williams, T. M., Erritzoe, D., Abbasi, N., Bargiotas, T., & … Nutt, D. J. 2012)
To conclude, the “war on drugs” and criminalization of psychedelics has made it somewhat of a taboo topic despite its use globally for thousands of years. New information on the topic is either sparse, or has to be done illegally so it can take some time for it to come out due to the safety and freedom of those involved. However, the studies done have been promising. It can be said with certainty that psychedelics are not for everyone, as some of those who take them experience emotional turmoil and confusion or even a small percentage with psychosis. It has to do with a person’s frame of mind, and other factors that aren’t yet known due to the fact that it is illegal and clinical testing is limited.
There is very promising research to show that physically: psychedelics will not harm an individual, and that any mental side effects are short lived. However, the majority of the participants in the studies listed appear to have had incredibly enlightening, spiritual, and personally profound experiences while taking psilocybin, and other psychedelics. They have been used to improve the lives of cancer patients, and to those suffering from mental illness and addiction: aiding in their outlooks on life, and to find a sense of peace.
Bogenschutz, M. P. (2017). Innovative Strategies for Addressing Substance Use Disorders: The Classic Hallucinogens. Psychiatric Times, 34(4), 1-7. (2)
Burdick, B. V., & Adinoff, B. 2013. A proposal to evaluate mechanistic efficacy of hallucinogens in addiction treatment. The American Journal Of Drug And Alcohol Abuse, 39(5), 291-297. doi:10.3109/00952990.2013.811513 (5)
Carhart-Harris, R. L., Leech, R., Williams, T. M., Erritzoe, D., Abbasi, N., Bargiotas, T., & … Nutt, D. J. (2012). Implications for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy: functional magnetic resonance imaging study with psilocybin. The British Journal Of Psychiatry: The Journal Of Mental Science, 200(3), 238-244. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.111.103309 (4)
Krebs, T. S., & Johansen, P. (2013). Psychedelics and Mental Health: A Population Study. Plos ONE, 8(8), 1-9. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063972 (3)
Yearsley, C. (2017). Psilocybin Reduces Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression in Patients with Cancer in Two Clinical Trials. Herbalgram, (114), 38-42. (1)