Will Psychedelic Therapy Transform Mental Health Care?

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In the mid-1950s, LSD and other psychedelic drugs took the medical world by storm — and no wonder. Studies at the time suggested that the hallucinogens were effective against a variety of difficult-to-treat mental health problems, including alcoholism.

The research stalled in the early 1970s, however, in large part because psychedelics had developed a reputation as dangerous recreational drugs and had been reclassified by the federal government as “drugs of abuse” with no medical value.

But research is picking up again, with new trials not just of LSD but also of psilocybin (the active compound in magic mushrooms), MDMA (street name “ecstasy”), and ayahuasca (a South American brew containing a hallucinogen known as DMT). If the drugs prove to be as safe and effective as recent research suggests, we may be on the brink of what some are calling a revolution in mental health care.

“Psychedelics, under carefully controlled conditions, can create experiences of wonder and awe and a connection to a ‘divine realm’ that leads to significant behavioral changes,” says ayahuasca expert Kenneth Tupper, director of implementation and partnerships at the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use. “Psychedelic drugs are not a panacea, but the research is showing a lot of promise.”

MULTIPLE DRUGS, MULTIPLE BENEFITS

Just what can the drugs do? A single treatment with psilocybin has been shown to relieve crippling anxiety in people with terminal cancer. The drug has also been shown to be an effective therapy for substance use disorders. MDMA can provide valuable help to people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

And there’s more. Preliminary evidence suggests that psychedelic drugs can be effective for eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and major depression — including cases that don’t respond to conventional antidepressants.

The drugs may also be good for helping smokers kick the habit, a process that’s often…

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