Psychedelic Medicine – Hallucinogenic Healing

Psychedelic Medicine – Hallucinogenic Healing

Just when you thought the world couldn’t feel more upside down, when it comes to recreational drugs there is some beneficial, yet whacky, science going on.

Marijuana is currently a sought after medical treatment for many ailments, as well as becoming an acceptable relaxant alongside alcohol in several American states and various countries. With this drug coming out of the stigmatized shadows of the last seventy years or so, others are back under the microscope. Hallucinogenic drugs that were once used clinically and then became outlawed look as though they are back in the clinical setting yet again.

Mind Benders

For many, hallucinogenic drugs are scary and for good reason. While marijuana offers a calming, easygoing effect, hallucinogens create an overwhelming visual and auditory awareness that brings the mind to its outer edges often only experienced at the time of one’s death.

Doesn’t sound too appealing, however when applied under the care of a medical professional some studies are indicating beneficial health results when hallucinogens are used.

Dr Stephen Ross, director of addiction psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center describes how cancer patients participating in controlled studies reacted to psilocybin,

“They are defined by a sense of oneness – people feel that their separation between the personal ego and the outside world is sort of dissolved and they feel that they are part of some continuous energy or consciousness in the universe. Patients can feel sort of transported to a different dimension of reality, sort of like a waking dream.”

Street Drugs Turned Into Treatment Drugs

Scientific American reports on recreational drugs now being used in a clinical setting. This list briefly describes four hallucinogens, the effect each can have and some science regarding how these are being used to treat various ailments.

  • Psilocybin aka Magic Mushrooms – Produces feelings of transcendence and spirituality, visual hallucinations and distortions in time and perception. Being used to treat OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and anxiety. The New York University School Medicine is currently conducted the largest psychedelic study in forty years which examines how psilocybin helps reduce anxiety and depression in cancer patients.
  • LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) aka Acid- Intense hallucinations that include vibrant colors and geometric patterns, an altered sense of time and unusual perceptions. Being used treat alcoholism and anxiety. A 2012 analysis of studies from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s showed that alcoholics who took LSD had decreased rates of alcohol abuse which lasted for several months. LSD therapy is showing upwards of twenty-percent improvement in cancer patients struggling with anxiety.
  • Ketamine aka Special K – Anesthetic and painkiller that puts one in a detached, trancelike state for up to three hours. Higher doses can create hallucinations. Drug trials between 2013 and 2014 reported that those who took ketamine for stubborn depression were relieved in thirty to forty-five percent of patients. Unlike the other drugs which are on the highly illegal schedule one list, ketamine is a schedule three drug which makes it more probable to end up in mainstream applications faster.
  • MDMA (Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) aka Ecstasy – Feelings of euphoria and synesthesia (sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body). Also arouses feelings of intimacy and consecutiveness to others. By triggering neurons in the brain, MDMA enhances oxytocin release which can dampen fear and facilitate trust. MDMA is being targeted to help those struggling with PTSD so they can navigate painful emotions.

In the Safe Zone

Hallucinations on psychedelics requires time and guidance. If self-prescribed, for many, the experience can easily turn into a nightmare. This is why, in a clinical setting (often under the care of a psychotherapist) it can become a healing tool rather than a danger.

Albert Garcia-Romeu, Ph.D., a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University, told Healthline,

“It’s not the drugs themselves that are producing all these therapeutic benefits. It’s usually the drug experience in combination with supportive psychotherapy,”

Johns Hopkins University studied the use of psilocybin as a treatment for tobacco addiction which conclude that,

“This is the first study to provide preliminary data on the safety and feasibility of psilocybin as an adjunct to smoking cessation treatment…Results of the present pilot study also support the feasibility of the approach, as 80% of participants were abstinent at 6-month follow-up.”

Hands-on treatment is essential and whether using hallucinogens for smoking cessation or as an anti-depressant, being in a safe zone must be adhered to. 

As advocates of psychedelic treatment grow, the call for re-categorization is mounting. This means taking these drugs off a schedule list and transferring each status to a private or non-governmental agency without an anti-drug bias. Until this is done, only small trials will continue rather than being able to use these drugs for a more mainstream application.