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5 medical conditions psychedelics may be able to help treat

April 27, 2020

Have you heard about the movement to decriminalize psychedelics, also known as entheogenic plants? With the help of a grassroots organization called Decriminalize Nature, Denver, Colorado, and Oakland and Santa Cruz in California have all decriminalized entheogenic plants to various degrees, and it’s not just because people are interested in tripping balls—the therapeutic potentials of entheogenic plants are immense. 

In addition to showing promise in helping with chronic pain, psychedelics may help many mental health conditions, including substance dependency, PTSD, depression, anxiety, and OCD. 

And this help can be lasting, with one study reporting them to have “positive long-term mental health consequences, rather than daily neurochemical corrections in brain dysfunctions,” meaning they may help treat conditions better than pharmaceuticals. 

They can work quickly, too. The same study also found that psilocybin and LSD only took two administrations, while ibogaine—from iboga, a West African shrub—showed promise in being effective in just a single administration. In a country where 1 in 5 of us need treatment for a mental health issue, the potential for healing is profound. 

Below are some therapeutic potentials of psychedelics and the conditions they may be able to help treat.

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Substance dependency

It’s a beautiful irony that plants lumped into the dangerous drugs pile are now being used to curtail addiction to substances, and entheogens join cannabis in this exciting therapeutic approach. 

This research article about LSD, peyote, ibogaine, and ayahuasca says their effectiveness is due to their interaction with neurotransmitter pathways strongly linked to addiction and reward, saying, “These substances help assist recovery from drug dependency through a variety of therapeutic mechanisms, including a notable ‘after-glow’ effect that in part reflects their action on the serotonin neurotransmitter system.”

It goes on to say that “Serotonin has been long recognized as central to the psychedelics’ well-known phenomenological, physical, emotional and cognitive dynamics.” Because depressed serotonin levels tend to be found in addict populations, these serotonin-based dynamics can be very helpful in aiding substance cessation.

Related
How to Use Cannabis to Reduce Opioid Dependence

PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition that causes symptoms like trauma flashbacks and panic attacks, not uncommonly to the point where people have problems living a regular life. Because the process of psychotherapy can trigger PTSD symptoms, a new approach to treatment is warranted.

Though it’s yet to be included in the passed legislation to decriminalize psychedelics, MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) has shown a lot of promise in aiding relief from symptoms of PTSD. 

This review article from 2016 looks at several studies, concluding that “MDMA appears to facilitate the recall of traumatic memories without the user feeling overwhelmed by the negative effect that usually accompanies such memories.” And, it only took 2-3 sessions when combined with psychotherapy, according to the article.

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Cannabis and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Depression and anxiety

Depression and anxiety affect millions of people in the US. As this review article points out, psilocybin and MDMA can result in “substantial and sustained improvement among people with treatment-resistant depression and anxiety.” 

The article notes that this idea is nothing new, and “During the 1950s and early 1960s, research sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health demonstrated potential for drugs of this class to markedly alleviate depression and existential suffering among people with cancer.”

The article goes on to say that psilocybin and LSD provide a “reframing of experience and relationship to others and the world,” and the results of safely administered psychedelics tended to be, “a state of wonder, conceptual frame shift, expanded capacity for love, and an intensified sense of connection. Patients living with medical conditions that had robbed them of hope or reason to live may experience a transformative shift in perspective and experience of inherent meaning, value, and worth.”

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OCD

Obsessive compulsive disorder is characterized by obsessive thoughts and fears that lead to compulsive behaviors. It’s commonly complicated by issues like delusions, suicidal thoughts, and panic, among others. 

This study found clinically administered psilocybin to be associated with “symptomatic reduction of OCD symptoms in subjects with treatment-resistant OCD.” 

The study also found, incidentally (and interestingly), that “5 [out of 9] of the subjects readily described their experiences as very psychologically and spiritually enriching. Four subjects reported during HD [high dose] profound positive transcendental experiences such as exploration of other planets, visiting past life reincarnations, and interacting with deities.” (Hey, bonus.)

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Chronic pain

Studies on chronic pain generally aren’t impressive, but anecdotal evidence that psychedelics can help ease chronic pain is abundant, especially when microdosing—so much so that researchers conducted this study on the self-reported benefits of microdosing. It states that “The current survey demonstrates that self-medication with MDP [microdosed psychedelics] was experienced to be more effective compared to conventional treatment in case of anxiety, ADHD/ADD, and physiological disorders such as pain.” 

And changa—a blend that includes DMT-infused materials and ayahuasca plant—was found to be promising in this study, which focuses on the analgesic (pain-killing) effects: “The case reported here suggests that changa can produce a long-lasting analgesic effect, involving a combination of mood-enhancing effects; other psychological factors; an interaction with several neurotransmitter systems; and anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and plasticity-promoting actions. Remarkably, changa could offer pain treatment that targets multiple monoamine neurotransmitters.”

Related
How cannabis relieves different types of pain

As with cannabis, there’s much research to be done on these exciting potential modes of natural healing. Hopefully the movement to decriminalize will help solidify this work in coming years—helping to, quite literally, stop the madness. (If you’re interested in getting decriminalization rolling in your community, reach out to Decriminalize Nature.)

In conclusion, we’ll end with an inspiring quote from this 2018 study: “If neglect, trauma, childhood adversities, poverty, abuse, and deprivation—i.e., mental injuries—can have lasting negative consequences for mental health, it is also logically plausible that positive, cathartic experiences, sometimes of the mystical type, reliably achieved in PAP [psychedelic-assisted-psychotherapy], can induce long lasting positive mental health outcomes.”

Meg Hartley's Bio Image
Meg Hartley

Meg Hartley is an Alaska-grown writer who lives and loves in Long Beach, California. Check out more of her work via HowILostAllMyF-cks.com and by following her on the socials, @howilostallmyfs.

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