The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a nonprofit pioneer in psychedelic research and advocacy, submitted in December 2023 a drug application to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the therapeutic use of MDMA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
This step toward innovation in mental health care comes almost five years after ketamine received the FDA stamp of approval for PTSD treatment in 2019. In June 2023, the FDA released its first draft guidance for developing clinical trials on psychedelic-assisted therapy, affirming its promise in treating psychiatric disorders.
From the 1950s to 1970s, early research suggested the therapeutic potential of using psychedelics to treat anxiety, depression, PTSD, and certain substance use disorders until the Controlled Substances Act of 1971. With the legalization of various substances across the country and a lull in research on novel psychiatric treatments in recent years, scientists have turned to studying psychedelics for the first time in nearly 50 years.
What is Psychedelic Therapy?
Psychedelic therapy, or psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy (PAP), combines psychedelic substance use with different forms of psychiatric treatment. Drugs that fall under the umbrella of PAP include psychedelics such as psilocybin and LSD, along with synthetic compounds such as ketamine and ecstasy.
Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy is a unique form of mental health treatment because its effects are long-lasting, even after short periods of treatment. With PAP, patients often see continued improvement of their symptoms well after treatment ends.
How does Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Work?
Typically, psychedelic-assisted therapy involves three types of sessions:
- Consultation and preparation
- Treatment with the drug itself
- Post-treatment psychotherapy
Psychotherapy is just as crucial as the psychedelic element, as this step helps patients shift their perspectives and create meaning from the experience.
Psychedelic-assisted therapy works by opening an individual’s consciousness to help them revisit memories and feelings they may not have been able to process before. A therapist specially trained in PAP will guide the patient through the session, helping them interpret and synthesize what they learn during and after the experience.
Examples of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies and What They Treat
Depending on the type of psychedelic and condition being treated, the number and duration of treatment sessions may vary. Psychedelic therapy with ecstasy, LSD, and psilocybin typically requires between two to three sessions, while ketamine therapy may involve up to 12 sessions.
Ecstasy is expected to receive FDA approval for PTSD treatment in 2024. MAPS has conducted nearly 20 Phase 2 and Phase 3 clinical trials focusing on ecstasy’s therapeutic benefits in targeting PTSD. In 2018, the FDA designated ecstasy a breakthrough therapy for PTSD, expediting the research, evaluation, and approval of the treatment.
Initially developed as a form of anesthesia in the 1970s, researchers eventually realized the drug’s immediate antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects compared to traditional psychiatric medications. Today, ketamine is perhaps the most studied psychedelic in terms of mental health treatment, revolutionizing treatment for people who have PTSD and treatment-resistant depression.
Most commonly found in magic mushrooms, psilocybin has been studied for its ability to target depression, anxiety, and certain addictions. The FDA has also designated psilocybin a breakthrough treatment for both major depressive disorder and treatment-resistant depression.
In a recent study, patients who received psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy saw improvement in depression symptoms for up to a year after treatment. Researchers have also found that psilocybin can help longtime smokers kick the habit for good.
Developed nearly 100 years ago, LSD was quickly recognized for its potential to treat anxiety and depression. More recently, LSD has been studied for its potential to help patients recover from various addictions, including alcohol use disorder (AUD), and for its ability to treat anxiety in terminally ill patients.
Risks of Psychedelic Therapy
The most significant concern associated with psychedelics is the potential for contamination, particularly in situations of self-medication. However, in clinical settings, psychedelics are generally considered safe substances.
Ecstasy and psilocybin use may elevate heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature and cause mild headaches. However, these side effects are typically temporary and last until psychedelic effects wear off.
On the other hand, psychedelics are associated with an increased risk of psychosis in people with psychotic disorders or a family history of them. LSD use may also cause hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder (HPPD), a rare condition that causes intense flashbacks and hallucinations.
The Future of Psychedelic-Assisted Psychiatric Treatment
Despite being banned nearly half a century ago, decades of advocacy and research have brought psychedelics to the forefront of psychiatric treatment development once more. Even from the 1950s through the 1970s, psychedelics were recognized for their potential to treat complex psychiatric conditions like PTSD, treatment-resistant depression, and addiction. Researchers have begun exploring the potential benefits of ibogaine and ayahuasca.
Find Holistic Recovery at TRUE Addiction and Behavioral Health
Psychedelic-assisted therapy may still be in its infancy, but help is still available if you or a loved one are struggling with mental illness, trauma, or addiction. If treatment has not worked for you, consider contacting TRUE Addiction and Behavioral Health.
At TRUE Addiction and Behavioral Health, our care team endeavors to devise treatment plans that cater to each person’s unique needs and aspirations, offering a variety of alternative, holistic, and evidence-based treatments for lasting recovery.
Don’t wait to start your path to healing. Contact us today by calling our 24/7 helpline at (615) 527-8610 or emailing Info@TrueAddictionBH.org.