You may have heard: We’re in what’s been dubbed “the psychedelic renaissance.” The scientific dossier on mind-expanding drugs has been reopened, building upon a body of research dug out from under decades of stigma, fear, and prohibition. Psychedelics are being studied for their potential to address hard-to-treat mental health conditions, like PTSD, treatment-resistant depression, anxiety, and even opioid addiction.
If we’ve learned anything from interviewing psychiatrists and psychedelic researchers over the past few years, it’s two things: 1) Psychedelics have incredible potential as therapeutic agents, and 2) they are not something you should approach lightly—they require a great deal of care and expertise and support to have those desired therapeutic effects. They can leave you vulnerable and have the potential for serious (and in rare cases fatal) harm. If you’re considering any experimental healing experience, you should consult your own medical team and understand the risks before proceeding. And for anything involving psychedelics, verify the legal status, as psychedelics are illegal in many countries and unregulated in others.
Psychedelics and Healing
What role can psychedelics play in psychotherapy?
For a good primer on potential applications, listen to this podcast with psychologist Alex Belser, a clinical research fellow at Yale and an adjunct instructor in the Department of Applied Psychology at NYU, who has been involved in some fascinating studies looking at the potential intersection of psychotherapy and psychedelics. He talks with us about the many different ways psychedelics are being used to treat depression, anxiety, and addiction.
For three decades, Rick Doblin, PhD, has been working in human connection. Doblin is the founder and executive director of the legendary Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). And he’s known for pushing forward critical research to explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelic experiences. But that’s only a piece of it. In a conversation on The goop Podcast, Doblin shares his perspective on our potential to heal ourselves and on the different pathways that we can open up to process traumas and wrongs done to us—and by us. He explains the significance of changing our relationship to our memories, getting in touch with our unconscious, and learning to forgive ourselves when it’s hardest.
Could psychedelics change therapy?
Emily Williams, MD, is a resident psychiatrist at UCSF and trained MDMA-assisted psychotherapist working with MAPS, the nonprofit pharmaceutical research organization leading the way on MDMA research. In ongoing studies, patients take MDMA while participating in tailored psychotherapy sessions. MDMA is thought to enhance the efficacy of psychotherapy by reducing the fear response and strengthening the sense of trust between patient and therapist. “MDMA seems to bring about an internal awareness that even painful feelings that arise are important to the therapeutic process,” says Williams. “Many people describe the experience of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as ‘years of therapy in one day.’”
What is the latest research on psychedelics?
We’ve rounded up five of the most interesting recent studies on psychedelics. And we’ve also collected clinical trials that are recruiting people to study the therapeutic uses of psychedelics.
Where can I find psychedelic-assisted treatments?
With the help of doctors and researchers we trust, we’ve put together a list of a few psychedelic-assisted therapy centers. (If you’re considering a treatment, check with your doctor first.)
Psychedelics and the Spiritual Experience
What’s the role of mystical experience in a therapeutic setting?
“The mystical experience in and of itself seems to be predictive of a positive therapeutic outcome,” says UCLA’s Charles Grob, one of America’s leading clinical researchers in the field of psychedelic-assisted therapy. We interviewed him for a primer on MDMA, psilocybin, and ayahuasca, as well as the science and shamanism of psychedelics. In order to fully understand these compounds, he says, we need to understand their anthropological contexts. Certain psychedelics—ayahuasca and psilocybin included—come from shamanic traditions. And Grob argues that understanding their ritual use is vital to understanding the drugs themselves.
Psychedelics and Depression
Can ketamine be a tool in treating depression?
Psychiatrist Steven Levine joined us on The goop Podcast for a conversation about ketamine-facilitated therapy for depression. He is quick to point out that ketamine is not a cure. But for a growing number of people, he says, it could be a tool that allows them to break through what has previously felt like impenetrable darkness. Beyond ketamine, Levine believes we are on the cusp of more major frontiers that will change the way we think about and address depression.
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Psychedelics and Addiction
What do we know about ibogaine treatment for opioid addiction?
Ibogaine is a psychedelic compound derived from the bark of a shrub native to western central Africa. It’s a Schedule I drug in the United States, which means it’s considered illicit and has no official medicinal value. It is legal in Mexico, Canada, and other countries around the world, but without big pharma stepping in to fund clinical trials, it has little chance of becoming a viable protocol in the US. We interviewed ibogaine researcher Deborah Mash, PhD, in 2016 about how ibogaine can block the acute signs of opiate withdrawal.
Anthropologist Thomas Kingsley Brown, PhD, a researcher with MAPS, has been visiting ibogaine clinics in other countries since 2009, when he started interviewing patients who had undergone ibogaine treatment for opioid addiction. He talked to us about the patient experiences he recorded: their addiction stories, their ibogaine trip, and their lives after treatment. These interviews bring to life not only the pain and despair of opioid addiction but also accounts of hope and second chances.
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Psychedelics and Trauma
What is ketamine-facilitated psychotherapy, and what is its potential for healing trauma?
When abused, ketamine can be a source of great harm. In hospitals, it is an anesthetic (this was the original use of ketamine) and a necessary salve for incredible pain. And increasingly, in therapeutic contexts, ketamine is considered a promising treatment for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and trauma. In his practice, Harvard-trained psychiatrist Will Siu has found that low doses of ketamine administered in conjunction with psychotherapy are effective. He walks us through what ketamine is, what a ketamine-facilitated therapy session is like, and why he thinks his patients have had success with it.
For more with Siu, listen to his conversation on The goop Podcast, where he takes us through his experiences with loneliness and depression—both personally and as a clinician—and shares paths toward healing and connection, including what he’s learned from psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.