There's a lot of excitement around the use of psychedelic drugs for mental health. And with good reason. New treatments for mental health disorders are badly needed, and early research into their psychotherapeutic use is very promising.
The following is a summary of a February 3rd, 2023 article by Matt Wall from Imperial College, London published by The British Psychological Society. The full reference is below.
Using psychedelics in therapeutic settings is not new. By the 1950s, LSD was widely used therapeutically in the USA, the UK, and a number of other countries and was widely researched in the 1950s and 1960s, with over 2000 scientific papers being published. Research stopped in 1966 with the "War on Drugs."
Today, there is a renewed interest in the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics.
“Hallucinogenic drugs may very well turn out to be the next big thing to improve clinical care of major mental health conditions (Bzdok, 2022)."
Psychedelic therapy combines psychological therapy with a psychedelic. The two together "are thought to act in a synergistic manner to produce the clinical effects."
These two factors, psychological therapy together with a psychedelic, are thought to interact in a way that "allows the brain to enter a more flexible, plastic state."
The image (a) above shows a normal pattern of connections between brain networks. Each colour refers to a different brain network showing strong connections between networks and few connections between networks. The image (b) above shows connections following psilocybin therapy: Connections within networks have been weakened and connections between networks have been strengthened. "This profound breakdown of the normal pattern of brain function is thought to result in both the acute alterations of consciousness and perception, and to be the potential driver for longer-term therapeutic effects."
There is evidence that psychedelic therapy may even lead to long-term changes in personality, "particularly in the trait ‘openness to experience’ (one of the Big Five personality factors) as a result of MDMA therapy,"
"Psychedelics are the most powerful modulators of consciousness that we know of, with obvious potential in the scientific study of consciousness, personality, perception, addiction, and other fields."
Chronic pain, addiction, eating disorders, are some of the areas that researchers and commercial producers of the psychedelics are currently looking at.
"Psychedelics represent a potentially breakthrough new treatment for a range of psychopathologies, and the possibilities for their applications in both therapy and research are exciting. Novel treatments are badly needed in psychiatry, and psychedelic therapy is perhaps the most promising new option to come along for decades."
The Neuro. (2022, March 16). Largest Ever Psychedelic Study Maps Changes of Conscious Awareness to Neurotransmitter Systems. News. https://www.mcgill.ca/neuro/channels/news/largest-ever-psychedelics-study-maps-changes-conscious-awareness-neurotransmitter-systems-338389
Wall, M. (3 February 2023). Shaking the kaleidoscope of the mind. The Psychologist. Retrieved February 9, 2023 from https://www.bps.org.uk/psychologist/shaking-kaleidoscope-mind.
Image from Petrie et al. 2014.