The Promise of Psychedelics to Treat Depression


Listen to “The Promise of Psychedelics to Treat Depression”.

Around the world, people’s mental health is in trouble. Even before the pandemic hit, rates of depression and anxiety were rising globally.  All the virus-induced losses of life, jobs, social connection and freedoms have all led to a severe increase in mental illness worldwide. 

The pandemic has highlighted the inadequacy of existing tools for coping with mental health problems. It’s not just that a health crisis can easily disrupt access to mental health services, though we’ve definitely seen that to be true. It’s also that drugs like traditional antidepressants are, at best, only a partial solution. 

Like the current pandemic, psychedelic drug experiences can be transformative – of the individual – and of society. They have the power to illuminate the extent to which the condition of the world we inhabit is dependent on our own behaviours. And these, in turn, are a consequence of how we feel, think and perceive the world around us.

Psychedelics are known for their hallucinogenic properties, but their mind-altering effects may also benefit people with depression. When utilized under supervision in a carefully controlled setting, these substances can produce lasting and significant psychological and behavioral changes.

Psychedelic therapy refers to therapeutic practices involving psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin, DMT, mescaline, and MDMA. In psychedelic therapy, in contrast to the use of conventional psychiatric medication which is taken by the patient regularly or as-needed, patients remain in an extended psychotherapy session during the acute activity of the drug and spend the night at the facility.

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In psychotherapy sessions involving psychedelic drugs, therapists use a non-directive approach and instead support the patient in exploring their inner experience. 

Patients participate in psychotherapy before taking psychedelic drugs to prepare them for what’s to come. They also have sessions after the drug psychotherapy to help them integrate their experiences with the drug.

The impact of successful psychedelic therapy is often one of revelation or epiphany. People speak of witnessing “the bigger picture”, placing things in perspective, accessing deeper insights about themselves and the world, releasing mental pain, feeling emotionally and physically recalibrated, clear-sighted and relieved.

In the last decade, a number of research groups in Europe and the Americas have conducted studies into the safety and effectiveness of psychedelics for conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but the Imperial Centre for Psychedelic Research is the first to gain this level of stature within a major academic institution.

“It may take a few years for psychedelic therapy to be available for patients, but research so far has been very encouraging. Early stage clinical research has shown that when delivered safely and professionally, psychedelic therapy holds a great deal of promise for treating some very serious mental health conditions and may one day offer new hope to vulnerable people with limited treatment options.” Dr Robin Carhart-Harris Head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research says.  

As with any alternative healing experience, you should consult your own medical team and understand the risks before proceeding. Psychedelics are illegal in many countries and unregulated in others.