A t(r)ip for your mental health

Research into the therapeutic use of psychedelics is getting more and more attention. The first substances have already been approved for American and European markets. But what’s the current situation? Can we already ask the general practitioner for shrooms on prescription?

This post is also available in Dutch.

The idea that psychedelic substances have therapeutic effects for people with mental health issues is not new. In fact, the use of psychedelic plants by shamans and medicine men in prehistoric times already contained elements of psychotherapeutic practices. Even in modern Western society there were early indications that such substances could be valuable in psychiatry. From the discovery of LSD in 1943 until the mid-1960s, researchers published about a thousand scientific articles on the effects of psychedelics on various patient groups. Despite promising results, this research came to a complete halt in the years that followed – a period during which recreational use was prevalent within the counterculture and the war on drugs that followed it.

However, the taboo on research into psychedelics appears to have decreased in the past decade. Large-scale studies have been conducted on the use of MDMA in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment and psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression. The ketamine nasal spray for patients with difficult-to-treat depression has even been approved in the US and Europe, and approval for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is expected this year. This has been coined a ‘psychedelic renaissance’, in which the Dutch government sees itself playing a leading role.

The subject is also receiving increased media attention. Psychedelics are a hot topic in society, and their use is becoming more normalized. Recently, I heard people recommending ayahuasca ceremonies  to each other at a party, that they believe could alleviate their burnout symptoms. The microdosing trend is also part of this more mainstream use of psychedelics. Here, people take low doses of psychedelics to enhance their performance and feel better. This practice lacks scientific evidence, however. Similar trip tips are spreading as a form of self-medication of various psychological disorders.

Unfortunately, public enthusiasm is ahead of reality. Despite all the studies from decades ago, the field of research is still in its infancy as the studies from the 1960s do not meet modern standards of scientific quality. Therefore, we need to re-examine the benefits and risks, which takes time. For some forms of therapy, we already gathered strong evidence: MDMA appears effective in the treatment of PTSD, and ketamine in the treatment of depression. For other forms of psychedelic-supported psychotherapy, there is still a long way to go. This applies to the use of psychedelics in terminally ill patients, ibogaine for addiction, and both psilocybin and ayahuasca for depression. But we do know for sure that good guidance during therapy and integration sessions[1] is essential for the well-being of patients and the effectiveness of treatment. Experimenting on your own or visiting a backyard shaman carries significant risks and is therefore not recommended.

The good news is that after years of political hostility and stagnation, we are finally on our way to a serious integration of these unique substances into mental health care. Even better is the hope that this offers to people who are currently stuck in conventional mental health care. That makes the investment in thorough research more than worthwhile.


Author: Lucas Geelen Buddy: Eline de Boer Editor: Maartje Koot Translation:  Helena Olraun Editor translation: Vivek Sharma

Featured image by SHVETS production via pexels.com

[1] In this process, the therapist assists the client in understanding and processing all experiences and conversations that occurred under the influence of the drug in question during the therapy sessions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *