The Magic Mind – A Look Into Psychedelic Therapy

Humans have been using mind-altering substances known as ‘psychedelics’ or ‘magic mushrooms’ for millennia. Mushroom-shaped stones have been discovered in several countries dating as far back as 500 B.C., pointing to the use of hallucinogenics. LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) was first synthesized in 1938 from a fungi that grows on wheat and rye. British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond first coined the term ‘psychedelic’ in the 1950s based on the Greek for ‘mind-manifesting’ in a letter he wrote to Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World. Psychedelic drugs are a type of hallucinogen, meaning they create altered states of consciousness. While commonly associated with hippies, the American Psychological Association has proposed that they may have beneficial properties for disorders such as social anxiety and depression, especially since they are not known to be physiologically dangerous or cause addiction.

The therapeutic potential of LSD was uncovered shortly after its discovery. It was said to uncover parts of the unconscious brain like peeling skin from an onion, aiding with treating trauma and other issues. For nearly three decades, psychedelic therapy showed promising results with many emerging studies, books, and research. Following psychedelics’ rising popularity, much of the public believed that these drugs were only good for inducing psychosis. LSD and other psychedelic drugs were thus banned for political reasons because of their recreational use in the 1960s.

Trials and research have recently resumed, allowing us to better understand the potential benefits of hallucinogenic drugs. It’s important to note that the therapeutic usage of these drugs differs significantly from their recreational uses; several factors affect the outcome of the experience. In other words, there is a big difference between taking drugs recreationally and therapeutically. In a calm clinical setting, there is no risk of tampering as can happen to drugs obtained on the street. The dosage is calculated for each individual so that the session’s intensity is under control and mental goals are set. Screening procedures occur before these treatments and studies, ruling out any candidates that may be unfit because of pre-existing psychosis, physical limitations, and other factors. Like any other drug or treatment, this therapy has risks and benefits that physicians and patients must carefully consider.

Mental illnesses and trauma can be associated with thought and behavioural patterns that are deeply engrained in our minds, causing us to view the world in a biased manner. It is believed that psychedelics work by loosening these patterns that have been reinforced and making way for new, more beneficial ones. Some people claim that one session of psychedelic therapy is comparable to months of talk therapy. Parts of the brain that did not “communicate” with each other previously can now connect and interact.

When discussing psychedelic therapy, regular doses or (macrodoses) which commonly induce hallucinations are often the focus of the discussion. On the other hand, microdosing occurs when a much smaller dose than is needed for a complete “trip” is taken. Although many people claim microdosing has elevated their moods and improved their lives, further studies with larger sample sizes must be conducted to allow for more conclusive analysis. In the future, microdosing could eventually make psychedelic therapy more accessible as it does not usually require a controlled setting and can be self-administered.

New research and advancements are being made every day concerning how we can use psychedelics to treat several mental illnesses, substance abuse, and much more. Although psychedelic therapy has been legal in Canada since January of 2022, it is challenging to access; you must have a life-threatening or treatment-resistant disorder to qualify. A doctor must apply and wait for acceptance before prescribing psychedelics. Hearing about possible new treatments for tough-to-treat disorders brings hope for better care in the mental health world.

Welcome to the psychedelic research renaissance!

–Julianna De Pascale
From Share&Care Summer 2023
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