Hallucinogenic treatments involve the use of hallucinogenic substances as part of the healing process. Psychedelics have been around for millennia, and various cultures have used the drugs as plant medicines that promote spiritual insights.
Before psychedelic substances became illegal in the USA, studies on the drugs blossomed between the 1950s and 1960s. Although many of these substances (like LSD) are currently still illegal, it is thought that they may possess therapeutic properties. Researchers believe that hallucinogens may potentially treat mood-related disorders, as well as addiction.
In recent times, scientists have been approved to conduct experiments that will test the effectiveness of psychedelics on psychological conditions. As it stands, emerging research has revealed a host of therapeutic advantages. When hallucinogens are used in a laboratory setting, the drugs were found to produce long-lasting and notable behavioral and psychological changes.
The History of Hallucinogens
Cultures around the globe have been using psychedelics for millennia, primarily for spiritual purposes. However, hallucinogenic plants and seeds have only entered the scientific arena within the last two decades. Research only began after the discovery of the psychedelic properties found within LSD (acid) in the 1940s.
After this, scientists started to explore the possibilities of psychedelic substances as part of the therapeutic process. By the 1950s and throughout the 1960s, hallucinogenic compounds (particularly those found in acid and magic mushrooms) were researched for their potential to treat psychological conditions, including alcoholism.
Hallucinogens were administered to thousands of patients, and scientists published extensive findings on the potential usages and effects. Unfortunately, studies came to a standstill in 1970, after the USA passed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The law classified hallucinogens such as LSD as schedule 1 substances, meaning that they were found to have a high potential for addiction or abuse. Additionally, schedule 1 substances are not believed to hold any medicinal properties whatsoever. After the act was passed, most psychedelics became illegal.
In spite of this, selected scientists continued to research the therapeutic possibilities of hallucinogens, and in recent years we have seen an increased interest in the field. This was sparked in 2006 after researchers were approved to administer psilocybin (magic mushrooms) to patient-participants. It was found that the substance was not only safe but therapeutically beneficial.
The Effects of Hallucinogens
Although hallucinogens have been found to hold the potential for treating psychological conditions, it is worth noting that these substances are potent and can cause significantly mind-altering impacts.
Hallucinogens are thought to work by impacting the neural circuits that carry the chemical serotonin. A few of the effects of hallucinogens are listed as follows:
- Sensations of tranquillity
- Distorted Perspectives
- Spiritual Insights
- Distorted sense of time
- Heightened emotions
These effects are symptoms of drug-induced psychosis, which according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, affect an individual’s capacity to communicate, think logically, or perceive reality rationally.
It is common for users of hallucinogens to experience mystical or spiritual thoughts and emotions. Users typically describe the experience to enhance emotions such as joy, peace, unity, and compassion.
Hallucinogens have a physical effect on the human body as well. After ingesting a psychedelic a user might experience an increase in blood pressure or heart rate. They may also sweat, feel anxious or nauseous, or experience a range of other effects that differ from substance to substance.
It is important to note that a psychedelic experience is wildly unpredictable, and varies based on a number of factors. These include the dosage, the person’s character and emotional state of being, as well as the surrounding environment for the trip.
Hallucinogens are not only rainbows and butterflies, but can actually cause users to have a bad trip. Bad trips cause people to feel terrified, anxious and paranoid.
There are various types of psychedelics, and the most common hallucinogens are listed below:
It is thought that LSD may potentially treat anxiety and addictions. The drug leads to an altered state of consciousness causing changes in mood and perception.
Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms)
In the same way that LSD alters the state of consciousness, so too do magic mushrooms. Psilocybin is currently being researched for it’s potential role in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and addiction.
Ayahuasca is a South American drink, believed to assist in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and addiction. Potential side effects include interactions between medicines or serotonin syndrome.
Although not typically known to be a hallucinogen, ecstasy causes psychedelic effects. These include euphoric sensations, enhanced arousal, altered perceptions, and enhanced sociability. Studies indicate that the drug has potential in the therapeutic treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Research has revealed numerous possibilities in terms of using psychedelics as part of the therapeutic process. Scientists have discovered that patients with depression, anxiety, addiction or PTSD may benefit from hallucinogenic psychotherapy.
It is thought that hallucinogens might be beneficial for depression and anxiety. One 2016 double-blind test revealed that treatments utilizing magic mushrooms lead to considerable relief for patients suffering from anxiety, depression, or those undergoing chemotherapy.
The therapeutic psilocybin treatment was also reported to enhance the quality of life, a positive mindset, and a decrease in mortality-related fear. Six months later, approximately eighty percent of participants were still showing signs of improvement.
Researches concluded that: “When administered under psychologically supportive, double-blind conditions, a single dose of psilocybin produced substantial and enduring decreases in depressed mood and anxiety along with increases in quality of life and decreases in death anxiety in patients with a life-threatening cancer diagnosis.”
A different study examined the effects of hallucinogenic use in a real-life setting, by monitoring festival-goers. Reports from participants concluded that ingesting psilocybin and LSD assisted in enhancing feelings of upliftment and sociability. Additionally, it was reported that the effects lasted long after the psychedelics had worn off.
Alcohol and Substance Use Disorders
Emerging studies have provided evidence that acid may assist in the recovery process for those suffering from addiction issues. Recent evidence backs up the concept of hallucinogens might be beneficial to those recovering from substance abuse as well. One study (conducted in 2015) revealed that psilocybin-assisted therapy was found to reduce drinking, alcohol cravings and even to support enhanced abstinence.
Another study (conducted in 2019) focused on recovered alcoholics who credit psychedelics with their recovery. Although merely ten percent of participants had intentionally used hallucinogens as a means to quit, more than twenty-five percent testified to the psychedelic experience playing a role in their recovery.
However, it should be noted that research of this nature relies on self-reports made by people with a history of hallucinogenic usage. Further research is needed using randomized clinical testing in order to establish whether psychotherapy is truly effective.
It should also be noted that the impact of hallucinogens on alcohol or substance addictions remains unproven. A study conducted in 2012 concluded that one dose of acid could assist in alcohol abuse for up to half a year after treatment, although this wore off after a year.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Studies have also indicated that MDMA-based therapeutic treatments might play a role in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). MDMA is most well known as the active ingredient in ecstasy, however, it holds hallucinogenic properties that have been found useful in the treatment of severe PTSD. This treatment is only prescribed to patients who have not responded to alternative (or mainstream) treatment options.
Studies have shown MDMA-based therapy to be effective in the long-term treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Research from one study revealed that fifty-four percent of participants no longer displayed symptoms post-treatment. On the other hand, only twenty-three percent of participants from the control group no longer displayed symptoms post-treatment.
It seems that these benefits last into the long-term, with sixty-eight percent of those using MDMA-based therapy not displaying symptoms after a year.
How Psychedelics Work
In light of the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all method of administration, each practitioner will devise their own methods of hallucinogenic administration. That being said, there are often elements that overlap. This includes low to moderate dosages, monitoring during the trip, and repeating the trip every one to two weeks.
Factors such as set and setting are crucial to the therapeutic hallucinogenic process. The term “set” refers to the emotional state and mental expectations of patients. The term “setting” simply means the environment in which the trip takes place. The setting also refers to the patient’s relationship to the therapist. The aim is to create an atmosphere in which the patient feels comfortable, relaxed and focused.
Psychedelics are used in combination with a process known as integration. Integration refers to the therapy sessions designed to assist patients with understanding themselves and the trip.
One of the more popular methods of hallucinogenic psychotherapy is referred to as “micro-dosing.” Micro-dosing is when users take only minuscule doses of hallucinogenic substances. Although small in dosage, advocates of micro-dosing have propagated that even low doses can have health advantages. These include an increase in energy, enhanced performance, and decreased depression.
It is important to note that although there is evidence behind micro-dosing, further research is required.
Although hallucinogenic therapy is typically thought to be safe, there are always risks and adverse effects to keep in mind. Traditional hallucinogens like acid and shrooms are less risky in terms of psychological and physical addiction. However, there are a few other risks to consider:
Adverse psychological reactions
Tripping is unpredictable, and bad trips are possible. This means that there is always the possibility that users may experience anxiety, paranoia and terror.
Potential personality changes
It has been hypothesized that psychedelics hold the potential to cause some serious mental and spiritual consequences. Effects may include permanent changes in personality and cognitive function.
For instance, research revealed that psilocybin therapeutic processes were linked to an enhanced sense of openness and extraversion. Therefore it is suggested that individuals might experience enhanced willingness to sample new experiences after undergoing psilocybin-based therapy treatments.
Risks of self-medicating
One concerning possibility is the situation in which individuals experiment with psychedelic self-treatment. This poses numerous risks such as the psychological consequences of having a bad trip. Additionally, there are drug interactions to consider – and numerous street drugs are made from unreliable substances.
It is strongly recommended to never self-medicate with hallucinogens. In scientific tests, participants are administered measured dosages of pure psychedelics and are monitored extensively. This ensures professional psychotherapy alongside the trip in order to integrate the participant.
The Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness research was launched in 2019 by the John Hopkins University. The center is dedicated to the research of the impact of hallucinogens and is now exploring how hallucinogens might play a role in the treatment of health conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and addiction.
In the same year, the USA Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defined psilocybin-based therapy as a groundbreaking discovery. This definition is intended to hasten the review and development of drugs that early research suggests might potentially treat severe conditions.
Clinical tests investigating the use of psilocybin and LSD as potential treatments for mood-related and alcohol disorders are currently ongoing.
Many of these trials are already in stage two, looking set to move to stage three in the upcoming years. Stage two of clinical testings focuses on finding out whether a treatment works or not. Stage three of clinical trials are centered around figuring out which treatment is best among the available options on the market.
Hallucinogenic therapy has shown encouraging results in the treatment of numerous psychological health conditions such as depression and addiction. Although more studies are required, the current and ongoing tests will determine the effectiveness of various applications.
It should be noted that although hallucinogenic therapy has been shown beneficial in the treatment of various conditions, scientists are still trying to figure out how the drugs work. More research in the future will reveal which psychedelics are more beneficial for targeted conditions. Scientists are still exploring factors such as the dosages and timing of administration.