Imagine a medicine that helps people process distressing memories and sparks behavioural changes, rather than suppressing trauma and symptoms. Such remedies could soon be available for millions of people suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The psychedelics are paving the way for a new frontier in psychiatry.
Patients in Canada, Israel, and the US who were treated with MDMA along with care from a therapist had a greater chance of resolving PTSD months later than those in the placebo group. This was according to an advanced phase study published in Nature in May. Researchers concluded that the results, which were similar to six previous-stage trials, made MDMA therapy a promising breakthrough therapy. It is possible that MDMA therapy will be approved by the US regulators for certain treatments in 2023. This could also apply to psilocybin which is the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. A small study published by Johns Hopkins University last year suggested that MDMA therapy could be four times as effective as traditional antidepressants.
It could be said that psychedelics are gaining popularity. In a historic move for psychedelics ever since the war on drugs began in the 1970s and the first time that federal funding has been granted to the USA for a study of psilocybin, to treat tobacco addiction. This was after pressure from lawmakers including Alexandria OcasioCortez. This is a remarkable turnaround in the history of hallucinogenic drugs. They were considered taboo even ten years ago in many academic fields and halls that held power. However, the intellectual justification behind the war against drugs has become more untenable and hundreds of millions have been invested in psychedelic drug research. Dr David Luke, cofounder and director of Breaking Convention's psychedelic consciousness conference says that psychedelics can be used to study the brain and mind. This is a hot topic, with about a dozen research centers at top universities around the globe.
The scientific and academic enthusiasm for psychedelics is growing amid frustration at the slow progress in psychiatry. Luke asserts that it has not advanced as a medical field in decades and that many psychiatrists have experienced great frustration. He says that there are a number of tools that can be used to treat the causes and not just the symptoms. Psychedelics could make psychiatry as useful as the microscope made for biology. They treat commonalities and can potentially even prevent the occurrence of mental illness.
Research efforts were held in check by unfounded claims that psychedelics have no medical uses. Perhaps more accurately, there was concern that the drugs could encourage people to rebel. Dennis McKenna (ethnopharmacologist, author) says that psychedelics do not pose a danger. They can give you dangerous ideas. This was the main reason there was an overreaction and clampdown. It was because of the Vietnam war, which was turbulent, that psychedelics gave rise to dangerous ideas.
All this was part of the mind-bending experience that psychedelics offer. Cultural shifts in western culture have led to an increase in their use. After thousands of years of use in Siberia, Mexico, and the Amazon, hallucinogens have been legalized for recreational and spiritual purposes over the past decade.
This is the first genuine religious experience that I have ever had. Pop icon Sting said it recently. Miley Cyrus and Lindsay Lohan have also shared stories about their experiences at plant medicine ceremonies. After his viral lockdown workouts, Joe Wicks, a UK fitness icon, announced his plans to travel to the Amazon to consume the hallucinogenic healing medicine Ayahuasca. Chris Martin, Coldplay's frontman, has shared his amazing experience with magic mushrooms. This gave me the confirmation that I need about my feelings about the universe. Public declarations of psychedelic usage are becoming more popular.
Markets are now racing to profit from the altered states. Illustration: Lisa Sheehan
Rick Perry, a former governor of Texas, is a self-described anti-drug person who was once very prominent in Texas. He believes that psychedelics could transform the lives and well-being of veterans with severe PTSD. These veterans are constantly on guard for danger, unable sleep, and have a tendency to act self-destructively. He said that all of this can be done in a clinical setting to save many lives. He was referring to individuals he knows who have traveled from the US for psychedelic treatments. A state bill was passed to speed up the study of psychedelics with his support.
Psychedelic medicine can transform society's view of mental health treatment. Representative Alex Dominguez (a Democrat who sponsored this bill) said in a statement that research was the first step towards realising that transformation. It is said that Texas is the most powerful state in the nation when it comes to addressing the nation's mental health crisis. I hope they look again to Texas as a leader.
The society's attitude to mental health will be changed by psychedelics
How could mood music for hallucinogens change so rapidly? After groundbreaking research into DMT, the so-called God molecule, researchers were able to unlock the door and provide promising data that led to paradigm shifts.
It is becoming more common for ceremonies with ayahuasca to be held from London to Sydney. The Unio de Vegetal Church in the USA and some Santo Daime churches have been granted legal rights to use DMT-containing brews for religious purposes over the past 15 year. This is because their belief system is so central. Native American Church has around 250,000 members. In 1994, the US legalized mescaline-containing peyote to be used as a sacrament. Decriminalize Nature, which believes that humans have an inalienable right of developing their own relationships with natural plants, convinced US authorities in half-a dozen cities, including Washington DC to decriminalise plant medicines in May. The Californian Senate passed earlier this year a bill that legalized the sharing and possession of psychedelics. Oregon has already voted decriminalizing possession of personal amounts. Psilocybin therapy is licensed, and the state health department has been charged with training first responders in psychedelic harm minimization.
There are increasing numbers of clinical trials that have shown promising results for those at high risk of developing psychological problems. The Lancet published a study last year that found that high levels of psilocybin can significantly lower depressive symptoms and improve anxiety over long periods. This is likely due to the stimulation of communication between often disconnected parts of your brain. It results in a greater state of consciousness and a better ability to process emotions.
Vote of approval: Former Texas Governor Rick Perry believes psychedelics could transform the lives and circumstances of veterans with severe PTSD. Shawn Thew/EPA
Stephen Ross, a New York University psychiatrist, explained to the New Yorker that it is a rare finding that a drug can have such a lasting effect when given once. He cited a 2016 study that set the foundation for future research. It is a remarkable finding that psychedelics can have such a long-lasting effect on the brain, unlike other drugs. This allows people to let go of old beliefs and memories and opens them up to new ideas and mental states. They allow the brain to reset itself and rewire itself. This is far more than just reducing symptoms or causing severe side effects. This makes psychedelic therapy a revolutionary treatment for OCD and addiction, as well as a variety of other conditions that are resistant to treatment. Scientists at the University of So Paulo have also shown that ayahuasca, a combination of Amazonian shrubs, significantly lowers the severity of depression.
Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, credited her inspiration for her campaign strategy. This has helped to bring environmental issues to the forefront in the UK.
Luke says that there is increasing evidence to suggest that psychedelics can increase our connection with nature. This is even when they are administered in a controlled environment. Positive changes can also be seen in attitudes and ecological behavior. He found that a majority of those who had used psychedelics said that they had become more conscious of the environment and had increased their gardening. As their compassion increased, users were found to be more active in environmental activism. He says that the world is currently facing a mass extinction event that is man-made and extremely fast. This will be the biggest in many years. We need all the tools we have, even psychedelics.
Peak practice: Joe Wicks, a fitness guru, has stated that he will visit Amazon to try the hallucinogenic healing medicine Ayahuasca. Photograph: Ken McKay/ITV/REX/Shutterstock
Markets are responding to the huge potential profits that can be made from the new consciousness. The wheels of capitalism are in full swing, just as they are with renewable energy. The rise of psychedelics is causing serious disruption in the multi-billion-pound wellness, pharmaceutical, and alcohol markets. After a maiden delivery in early this year, magic mushrooms have been legalized to be imported into the USA for research purposes. High-street dispensaries selling psychedelic drugs have started to open in Canada, despite them being illegally sold. Brazen sellers claim that there is enough research to show the drugs are safe. However, disrupters want to consolidate their positions in the pharmaceutical psychedelics industry.
Treat your own disease. The mushroom can help you see the truth
Compass, a mental health company, was the first to receive a patent for synthetic pilocybin in 2020. The patent was later extended to two more in March for oral psilocybin depressant treatment. However, it is being criticized for an alleged intellectual land grab that could hinder scientific research and limit competition. According to a patent tracker, 37 more patents are under review by US authorities. 66 have been granted. Before they began investigating its effectiveness, one company had even patent LSD for eating disorders.
Franoise Bourzat is a Mazatec-based trainer of psychedelic guide practitioners and coauthor of Consciousness Medicine. She has a dim view on how capital is trying to monopolise traditional wisdom traditions that have been passed down for thousands of years. Money speaks. This tsunami will not stop. She urges us to emphasize the importance of mutuality, social justice and accessibility, as well as the sacredness of our work. She argues that companies should support education and healthcare in indigenous communities given the potential profit they will make.
Lindsay Lohan is a star attraction. She has shared her experience at a plant medicine ceremony. Robert Kamau/GC Images
She is also concerned about the delivery of psilocybin and other psychedelics. Bourzat is an Oregon advisor on facilitator training. This work is not rooted in medical treatment. The Mazatec people in Mexico use the mushroom to connect with the divine, and for curing tensions and other physical ailments. They believe that the mushroom is connected to a spiritual blockage. This means that there is a lack of energy in the body or the heart. This is probably a sound conclusion.
Even though many of the medications (though not magic mushrooms which are easy to grow and fairly ubiquitous) are limited resources, they are already facing serious pressure.
Overharvesting and patenting is a dark paradox, given that psychedelics can be used to create more compassionate and enlightened states. Bourzat explained that medicine's purpose is to give us a deeper, deeper, and more complete experience of our inner functioning. This includes our emotional functioning, physical functioning, spiritual functioning, relational functioning, and relationship with the land. The mushroom brings it all to you, like: This is your disease. You can treat it by yourself. The mushroom can help you see the truth.
There is a concern among psychedelic advocates that the treatment could lead to a deprioritization of the human element of care. This could happen through prescriptions or sterile environments. Patients can chart their development using apps, which are not connected with anyone. A mainstream medicalized approach is reducing the importance of human support. Bourzat states that this work should be done in relationships.
McKenna also agrees with McKenna that the pharmaceutical industry should not ignore the history and culture of psychedelic use, especially if access is restricted to the sick. McKenna believes that everyone should have access to them and not only in private settings, as is the case with recently approved Ketamine. This is the most well-known psychonaut.