Psychedelics have been known to have a promising future in the treatment of anxiety disorders. However, this hasn’t always been the case. In the early 1970s, psychedelics were criminalized which led to a halt in the research. The resurgence of research into the multitude of benefits offered by psychedelics in the treatment of psychiatric disorders in the past 20 years has resulted in a paradigm shift. There are still a lot of challenges faced by the field of psychedelic medicine, such as barriers on the regulatory level, the stigma around mental health, lack of education, cost, and shortage of specialized professionals.
Initially, the use of psychedelics and subsequent research was based on the perceived ability of psychedelic substances to reduce ego defenses and the psychoanalytic understanding of mental illness. In psychotherapy, depending on the severity of your anxiety disorder, you will be given low to moderate doses of these substances. Through this drug experience, usually LSD, the specialist will be able to get an enhanced psychodynamic experience of your symptoms.
It was in the 1960s that a radical model started to take base in the medical community. It had a vastly different approach, structure, and conceptualization. The psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy at this time took inspiration from transpersonal psychology. In some cases, it also was inspired by spiritual or quasi-religious traditions.
To treat anxiety disorders, psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy requires a high degree of preparation combined with an extensive therapy session. You will be subjected to a high-dose drug session, followed by therapy sessions where you will be required to interpret what happened during your psychedelic experience. A therapist will be present at all times. To augment your internal experience, they will ensure that you are experiencing the “high” in a calm environment. The decor of the room might be accompanied by music to accentuate your experience.
In this case, the set is the expectations or mindset with which you came to the session and the setting refers to the comfortable environment where you experience the psychedelic experience and interpret what transpired at that time. It is important to pay attention to the set and setting.
This model has been in work since the 60s and almost all the clinical studies today follow the same. However, it is possible that some studies might combine psychedelic-assisted therapy sessions with the existing psychological programs, like motivational therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy. As long as drug-administering sessions are considered, they retain this non-directive model.
Psilocybin for treating anxiety
Recently, there has been a hype around psilocybin, commonly known as magic mushrooms, as a possible treatment for mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. They are known to cause changes in perception and hallucinations. So, you might think that they increase anxiety instead of relieving it. And it is true to some extent. Some people experience paranoia and anxiety after taking mushrooms. However, research suggests that psilocybin offers long-lasting benefits by reducing anxiety and depression.
Psilocybin is the hallucinogenic compound present in mushrooms. It has some similarities with serotonin, a chemical that helps with mood regulation. Having imbalance or low serotonin levels can lead to depression and anxiety. However, controlled usage of mushrooms can have a positive effect on the serotoninergic system of your body so that it can balance the serotonin level.
It is important to note that all the clinical trials on the usage of psychedelic drugs for anxiety disorders have been performed under highly controlled and circumscribed conditions. Because of this, interpreting results can be difficult. It is possible that the treatment showed benefits because of the carefully-coordinated experience. Another challenge for these trials is the placebo control as these drugs are known to have powerful effects.
And, let’s not forget the risks. In rare instances, LSD and psilocybin have been known to cause a lasting psychotic reaction. It is more common in people that have a family history of psychosis. This is why people with schizophrenia have been excluded from these trials. Other drugs like MDMA have a risk of abuse.
Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy for treating other mental conditions
Apart from anxiety disorders, psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy can also provide relief for other debilitating mental health conditions, such as major depressive disorder, PTSD, anorexia nervosa, and alcohol-use disorder. These conditions kill thousands of people every year in the US. Furthermore, these conditions have been known to impact the productivity of millions of people all over the world.
Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy is still considered unexplored grounds by researchers, especially for the treatment of anxiety disorder. The most popular drugs that are used for treating anxiety and depression today can be bought at a local pharmacy store. However, for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, you will have to use a powerful substance under the close eye of a trained specialist. This is done to ensure that it is safely implemented.