Psychedelic-assisted therapy is a type of psychotherapy that uses psychedelic drugs to enhance the therapeutic process. Psychedelics are a class of drugs that have psychoactive properties and alter a person’s perception, mood, and cognitive state. Psilocybin, MDMA, and ketamine are some of the most well-known substances being used in psychedelic-assisted therapy today.
Ketamine therapy is currently legal in the U.S., with ketamine therapy clinics spread throughout the country. Whereas psilocybin and MDMA therapies are not yet FDA-approved, they are both showing encouraging results as treatments for a variety of mental health conditions. So much so, that the FDA is expected to approve them within the next two years.
How Does Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Work?
Psychedelic-assisted therapy is often done in conjunction with traditional talk therapy. The therapist will help the patient prepare for the experience and then provide support during and after the session.
A prospective article, published in the Frontiers in Pharmacology, explains that therapy sessions including psychedelics “are generally accompanied by drug-free sessions before and/or after drug sessions, usually called preparatory and integrative psychotherapy, respectively.”
“During drug effects, patients are continuously monitored and supported by trained mental health professionals following available guidelines. Generally patients listen to instrumental evocative music and are encouraged to stay introspective (with eyeshades) and open to feelings, attentive to thoughts and memories, being free to engage in psychotherapy at any time.”
The aim of psychedelic-assisted therapy is to help patients break out of negative thought patterns and explore new ways of thinking about their problems. The psychoactive properties of these different substances are what allow for improvements in cognition and perception.
What Does Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Help With?
Psychedelic-assisted therapy has been shown to be effective in treating conditions like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction. One of the advantages of psychedelic-assisted therapy is that it can produce long-lasting results after just a few sessions. This is in contrast to traditional therapies like pharmaceutical medications or talk therapy, which often requires continuous treatment to maintain results.
Ketamine is one of the most studied psychedelics in relation to mental health. Ketamine is effective in treating treatment-resistant depression and suicidal ideation. MDMA is showing promise as a treatment for PTSD. Psilocybin is being used to treat addictions to opioids, alcohol, and other substance use disorders. These are just a few of many entheogens that have the potential to improve mental health conditions.
The Journal of Psychoactive Drugs published an analysis of placebo-controlled trials of psychedelic-assisted therapy. Researchers analyzed nine different clinical trials of psychedelic-assisted therapy published since 1994. Their analysis concluded that,
“Overall, analyses support the efficacy of psychedelic-assisted therapy across four mental health conditions – post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety/depression associated with a life-threatening illness, unipolar depression, and social anxiety among autistic adults.”
Given the wide range of maladies that psychedelic medicines may impact, it can be easy to see why the FDA is defining psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA to be breakthrough therapies. Multiple clinical trials of these alternative therapy options are providing encouraging results and concrete scientific evidence. With the rise of mental-health crises around the world, it only seems fair that we continue to explore new therapeutic options that may improve the lives of people suffering.