- Psychedelic therapy can help treatment-resistant depression sufferers
- It helps people deal better with suppressed emotions and can reduce suicidal thoughts
- However, it should be used in conjuction with psychotherapy for lasting results
Psychedelics like magic mushrooms and LSD aren't just for parties – they're also useful in the treatment of severe depression.
One aspect of depression is experiential avoidance, which is when someone avoids processing unpleasant thoughts and emotions by ignoring them.
Psychedelics can make depression sufferers psychologically more flexible by helping them to process these emotions.
In two studies published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, researchers analysed whether psychedelics could actually help a patient better deal with suppressed emotions, thereby reducing depression severity and suicidal thoughts.
According to the researchers, depression sufferers can be quite resistant to current therapies, and they also question the effectiveness of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Recreational vs. ceremonial
The first study involved 104 online participants expressing interest in using psychedelics recreationally, largely in the form of magic mushrooms and LSD.
The second study focused on psychedelics used in ceremonies, with an experienced facilitator helping the participants through the process. This involved 254 participants who mostly used magic mushrooms and ayahuasca, a South American substance that has been used in traditional shamanic practices for centuries.
In both studies, participants' mental health was assessed in terms of experiential avoidance, depression severity and suicidal thoughts right after their first dose, two weeks later, and finally, a month later.
They found that there was a sustained decrease depression severity and suicidal thoughts in both studies, up to a month after taking their dose. Participants were also more psychologically flexible and able to process their emotions.
Their research also confirmed a link between being able to better experience emotions and a decrease in depressive feelings and thoughts.
As one of their participants told them: "Afterwards, I allowed myself to experience everything, even sadness. Now I know how to deal with my feelings rather than repress them.”
Used with psychotherapy
While the studies are limited by sample size; lack of control groups, randomisation and placebos; and reliance on self-reporting by subjects, the researchers believe these findings indicate that psychedelic therapy in conjunction with psychotherapy can help depression sufferers who repress their emotions.
"Identifying such underlying mechanisms is important for a number of reasons, including that it might improve our overall understanding of psychopathology...; optimise therapeutic outcomes and choice of treatment for clients; as well as guide treatment development, refinement and delivery," write the authors.
While previous studies have shown some promise for the use of psychedelics in therapy, there have also been some downsides not mentioned in this study. A study on rodents found that while it helped anxiety and depression, it may also slow metabolism, cause weight gain, and lead to a loss of brain cells.
Having "life-changing" experiences or "psychedelic peaks" is also not guaranteed – and when self-medicating (without professional supervision), the experience can be harrowing, with hallucinations, paranoia and other distressing experiences.
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