New research suggests that in a carefully controlled setting psychedelic drugs like LSD, DMT, and ‘magic mushrooms’ may benefit patients with neurological disorders such as hard-to-treat anxiety or PTSD, as well as addiction. Published in the Sept. 8 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), the hypothesis was formed from the review of various small-scale and preliminary studies conducted recently in the United States, Canada, and Europe, all of which currently await further elaboration.
“In the right context, these drugs can help people a lot, especially people who have disorders that we generally treat poorly, such as end-of-life distress, PTSD, and addiction issues involving tobacco or alcohol.” said Matthew Johnson, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and co-author of the study.
One of the studies from 2008 revealed that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy (psilocybin being the hallucinogenic compound in ‘magic mushrooms’) produced lower anxiety and improved mood without negative side effects. They also looked at a Swiss study from last year that analysed LSD’s effect on terminally ill patients battling anxiety, finding that after two months of LSD-enhanced psychotherapy sessions the patients experienced a “significant” reduction in their anxiety. This benefit was also found to last one year, and did not result in any long-lasting side effects.
The research strongly goes against the common conception that hallucinogenics accelerate the development of mental disorders such as psychosis and schizophrenia, with much of the supporting research coming out of the 1960’s, which most medical professionals these days dismiss.
However despite these findings, Johnson warned that “people should not go out on their own to treat themselves with these drugs. These drugs need to be researched according to a strict regulatory process, the same as you would develop any drug.”
Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein , president of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation in New York City, who wasn’t involved in the research, suggested that this review of psychedelics should be viewed as an attempt to “further our understanding of how the brain works. We certainly have to be careful, some of these drugs clearly have the potential for misuse and addiction. But there may be aspects that perhaps have a potential benefit, particularly if we could find a way to isolate their helpful mechanisms of action.” Borenstein added that this new research could lead to a way of separating and administering a drug’s therapeutic antidepressant effect without the negative impact of dislocation or hallucination.
“To my mind, if working with these agents can lead to new approaches to treat serious conditions, that is all to the good. While we currently have some effective methods of treatment for a number of these conditions, we are always looking for improvement.” he noted.
Another study that was examined found that psilocybin helped 12 out of 15 smokers overcome their tobacco addiction after six months of treatment. In addition, another study showed more than 80 percent of PTSD patients who underwent two sessions of psychotherapy with MDMA (otherwise known as methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, ‘Molly’, or Ectasy) experience a 30 percent drop in the severity of their symptoms, compared with 25 percent of those who didn’t take the drug, and roughly three quarters of the patients retained these benefits for three and a half years. Researchers studying alcoholism in New Mexico also found that combining a method called “motivational enhancement therapy” – a rapid form of therapy that attempts to evoke internally motivated change instead of the traditional step-by-step treatment – with ‘magic mushrooms cut patients’ heavy drinking in half without any significant or long-lasting side effects.
“The biological and psychological evidence seems to show that these drugs can have a unique effect on altering the patient’s subjective experience in a very powerful and meaningful way,” said Johnson, adding that the drugs “can help people who are in a very difficult place psychologically break out and get unstuck.”
However he emphasized that these experiences “happen in a psycho-therapeutic context, which is critical to increasing the chances for a life-changing positive experience without any long-term harmful effects.”