Psychedelic Therapy

Psychedelics are back in therapy. After 40 years of sheepish silence in scientific mainstream, more and more countries are allowing research and clinical studies for psychedelic treatments again. This is a great shift. Studies show lasting changes for a large variety of disorder symptoms. They are induced through the healing experiences within non-ordinary states of consciousness, which psychedelic substances do trigger.

psychedelic therapy

Healing from inside

Psychic clinical pictures such as anxiety or depression have something in common – they are associated with above-average self-reference. Here, for people the outside world has become a threatening object that is consciously or unconsciously constantly involved in the planning of action (“what happens if I say something wrong?”, “what do the people behind me do, have I done something wrong?”). In everyday reality, self and outside world has become a separated object. Psychedelics shift these boundaries of perception.
While psychotropic medications suppresses emotion processing, psychedelics suppress the areas in the brain, that otherwise would filter unwanted stimuli and promote Self-transcendence. The borders of our waking state reality gets permeable and with this the separation between inside/ outside/ and others dissolve. That brings up emotions and memories, the patient wants to look at for a meaningful re-connection. The experiences now can be carefully integrated and restructured with support of the therapist. A Therapy that is working with an altered state of consciousness will lead to a salutary change in the processes, that attribute meaning beneath the level of (mal-adapted) behavior.

History and legalization of a highly effective therapy

The development of psychedelic therapy is closely linked to the name of Albert Hoffmann, who in 1943 had discovered lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and its effects in a Swiss pharmaceutical laboratory. Hallucinogens were nothing new at that time, but it was not imaginable that an amount such little of a substance would lead to a strong dissolution of our waking state reality lasting for several hours. Discovery of this immense effect was a revolution for psychology as well as for the consciousness research that developed afterwards. All over the world, researchers endeavored to explain or map the new perceptions that suddenly after ingestion were triggered and tried to connect them to the physical understanding of the world. Since then Psychedelic experiences have been processed in countless books and in countless pieces of music.

For the therapeutic application two distinct methods have become generally accepted shortly afterwards. The first was Psychedelic Therapy, which became the method preferred in US-American treatments. The term psychedelic, which can be translated as “revealing the soul” or “unfolding”, was introduced by the English psychiatrist Humphry Osmond around 1950. In this therapy, patients are given single high doses of hallucinogens. The intake always is preceded by intensive mental and individual preparation with the therapist.

Another method is the psycholytic therapy, which was used more frequently in European treatments. the end Lysis indicates the resolution of tensions and conflicts in the human psyche. The term was coined by Roland A. Sandison (England) also in the 1950s. Sandison successfully treated thousands of patients with traumatic war experiences in until the substance got banned.

Are LSD & Co. not dangerous?

To this day there is no death due to the consumption of psilocybin, DMT or LSD. Known is the its risk potential for maniac episodes with bad outcome for unprepared or unstable persons, especially for bi-polar and schizophrenic patients and in the absence of an experienced care with therapeutic setting. Safe use of most psychedelic substances is considered confirmed, when applied with an empathic and very experienced sitter or therapist and under safe conditions.
With reference to the danger for bad trips with loss of control for substances used as a party drugs or in self-experiments, many hallucinogens were classified as narcotics. Starting in the 1960s in the USA, in more and more countries in the world they have been largely banned. There is a series of very interesting debates about the undifferentiated criminalization and also political demonization from this period. Why are hallucinogens with such extraordinary potential banned for use in therapy? Has the danger posed by hallucinogens been assessed in the same way as then potential risks of psychotropic drugs or other? If not, why not?

A new culture of awareness for medicinal plants and hallucinogens

It is also clear however, that there was no shared awareness for the correct usage of hallucinogens in our western medical culture, not to speak of binding guidelines for their application in therapy, for example in relation to an obligatory training. Today – in the so-called second psychedelic revolution – or Psychedelic Renaissance – the conditions for a successful introduction with awareness for risks and potential of the substances are better. Study results from many decades, during which psychedelics were selectively further researched and used with exemption, are now being taken more seriously into account by popular science and the mainstream.
In fact, the effectiveness of this form of treatment has always been known. LSD was always allowed to be administered in the USA as well as in Switzerland to patients with life-threatening illnesses (difficult to treat) or even to dying patients who needed to be released from suffering.

Visits of shamanic healing ceremonies in the Amazon that use DMT as active psychedelic substance within the ritualy brewed medicine Ayahuasca for example could also never be forbidden. Ceremonies with ayahuasca (meaning ‘vine of the soul’) are part of the cultural heritage there and considered to be the sacrament even within the Santo-Daime religion in Brazil. Such cultural integration and the associated perception of a substance cannot simply be adapted within a few years. Nevertheless, I am sure that this newly strengthened connection between the western and scientific world views and the old shamanic traditions of the indigenous peoples lies the basis for a successful establishment of a healthy consciousness, for medicinal plants and hallucinogens in our western culture.

The number of legalizations for research and even acquisition in districts (Michigan for psilocybin) is growing (for example legalizenature). More and More people fight in hope of legalizing the substances and spreading the effective forms of treatments. Unfortunately to approve hardly patentable substances for a medicine that dissolves or reduces suffering after only a few applications – and this in 2020 – is much more difficult than it was to bann the substances for the countries in 1960. It succeeds thanks to funding and donations for clinical studies, which prove the effectiveness in the treatment of specific psychological disorders via the evidence within negative psychology. A pleasing example is the procedure for the approval of MDMA for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for which the American Food & Drug Administration (FDA) itself must has a special interest now1. The costs for the increasing number of patients diagnosed in this way have become far too high. The FDA, which was the main organization responsible for the original wave of bans, now promotes clinical trials with a grant itself.

We need these certainties. Our legislators and we as people need explanations. And science will find hundreds of explanations for the healing and alleviation of mental illnesses, but also for the symptoms of autoimmune diseases or neurdegenerative diseases that arise from the altered state of consciousness. But we also need to better understand what are contraindications and what exactly happens in patients with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or borderline syndrome. They should not be excluded from further research. In the contrary, research has to make clear, under which conditions the therapy can be applied safe for everyone and increase our culture of awareness that combines this knowledge for hallucinogenic and medicinal herb treatments with a recognition of the ancient wisdom. Current investigators around the organizations and foundations like the Ayahuasca foundation or the Psychedelic Society’s have this is mind.

  1. MDMA assisted psychotherapy is considered “breakthrough therapy” []