Ecstasy, mushrooms, and LSD aren't usually associated with peak mental stability—more often, they're used to take you out of your right mind, to far-away places filled with talking flowers and swirls of color in the sky. But if recent research is any indication, some hallucinogenic drugs may soon be following cannabis' lead from music-festival fringe into medically legitimate territory, thanks to their ability to soothe hard-to-treat psychiatric conditions.
In her just-released book, Blue Dreams, author and former clinical psychologist Lauren Slater dives deep into a series of studies to explain how psychedelics are being tested to treat PTSD, anxiety, addiction, depression, and autism, as well as to assist late-stage cancer patients in accepting the end of life. Scientists and doctors have been studying the medical uses of these drugs for decades, while high-achieving professionals have more recently started (illegally) microdosing LSD to enhance their cognitive performance and improve their mental health. But only recently has the research into these substances gotten more serious and conclusive.
“There will come a time, sooner than later, when these drugs are legalized,” Slater says. “It’s amazing how they really work.” In fact, Slater predicts that the FDA will approve MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD by 2021, which is promising news for people suffering from that debilitating condition.
Slater predicts that the FDA will approve MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD by 2021.
So what is it about psychedelics that can give mental health a boost? According to Slater, MDMA (AKA Ecstasy or Molly) and psilocybin (found in "magic" mushrooms) give users vivid hallucinations, euphoric feelings, and deeper self-awareness—your brain functions with less constraint while on these types of drugs. “This openness of interaction and connections is what helps patients have these breakthroughs,” she says.
In one recent study that Slater describes in her book, MDMA was given to PTSD patients and the findings were overwhelmingly positive. “Patients with severe PTSD actually recovered,” Slater explains. “Before the MDMA treatments, these patients were devastated by their pasts and unable to function. But after [being] given the drug, they were able to talk freely about their experiences while under the influence, and once the MDMA wore off, they no longer felt nearly as much trauma.”
It's important to note that psychedelic drugs are still very much illegal. Studies have shown reduced anxiety and depression in clinical settings, but that doesn't mean you should embark upon a trip with no thought of potential consequences. As Slater points out, much of the reason why hallucinogens have a positive effect in medical settings is because of they aren’t just “thrown in the punch bowl at a party.”
“The doctors that are experimenting with these drugs emphasize what they call the set and setting," she says. Patients are prepped for weeks before the drug is actually administered in order to ensure they're clear about why they’re taking it and what they want to get out of the experience. Drug doses are closely managed and the setting is also extremely considered, from the music played to the comfort of the sofas. No detail is overlooked. “Since the environment is so controlled, most patients don’t have bad experiences—either on the drug or once it wears off—and the effects last,” Slater explains.
So take note: Although Molly and 'shrooms haven't attained home-remedy status, they may indeed be rolling into the mental health professional's toolkit in the not-so-distant future.
Mental health treatment's evolving in more ways than one. Talk therapy is being reimagined with a tech-driven twist, while some doctors may soon be prescribing anti-inflammatory diets to manage depression.
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