The History of Psychedelics in Mental Health
Psychedelics have a long and storied history of use for mental health issues. Some drugs, including LSD, were investigated for the specific purpose of being used in psychiatry. The thought behind it was that these hallucinogens could unlock parts of the brain that were normally not accessible in the conscious mind. From there, the therapist could help piece together what was happening in the patient’s mind and provide helpful strategies.
Let’s begin by addressing exactly what a psychedelic is. Typically, the phrase is used to refer to chemicals or plants that cause an altered state of consciousness and many users report auditory or visual hallucinations. In scientific terms, it generally refers to anything that affects a type of serotonin receptors in your brain. One thing they all have in common is that they alter a user’s perception of time and the world around them. Since at higher doses, psychedelics may cause hallucinations, the setting in which they are taken is crucial to the overall experience.
There is a long history of humans using psychedelics for ritual and mental health purposes. Ayahuasca and peyote have been used for hundreds of years by certain Native American and South American tribes to achieve a visionary state that would be interpreted by the individual or tribal elders. Ancient Sanskrit texts describe a plant-based medicine called Soma. By the descriptions, experts today believe they refer to a compound containing the hallucinogenic Amanita Muscaria mushroom. Similarly, the ancient Greeks used a tea brewed from wheat that contained the Ergot fungus which causes people to hallucinate in a manner like LSD. This drink was said to enable priests and priestesses to peer deeply into the minds of the gods and predict the future.
A Deep Dive Into the Mind
LSD was studied initially in 1943 by Albert Hoffmann and a few years later, the first study was published about its effects on humans. It didn’t take long for other researchers to jump on the train, some of them even self-medicating with LSD and publishing papers documenting the results.
The idea of using medications during therapy, known as psychotherapy, wasn’t new. In fact, ecstasy was originally invented for psychiatric use. But these powerful hallucinogenics allowed psychiatrists to access new parts of their patients’ minds. Under the influence, patients were able to describe their visions in ways that medical professionals could document and analyze, hoping to find new coping methods or cures for mental issues.
By using medications that produced symptoms seen in mental illnesses, psychiatrists hoped to trace the afflictions through the change in brain chemicals. By knowing what a drug causes, and how it causes the effect, they hoped to gain insight into other medications that might alleviate symptoms like paranoia or hallucinations.
In the mid-1950s, the search broadened from LSD’s usefulness in mental health issues to other psychedelics. Mescaline and psilocybin were also analyzed. Researchers hoped to use LSD to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia. Psilocybin initially showed promise to treat depression. However, all research came to a screeching halt in the mid-1960s.
Sadly, a combination of political chicanery, fearmongering, and a fundamental misunderstanding of drug addiction led to the banning of many drugs for research purposes. By declaring his ‘war on drugs’ and curtailing research, Richard Nixon set scientific discoveries back by 25 years. In 1970, Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act into law, stopping doctors from investigating legitimate uses for LSD and psilocybin.
While it is true that many of the drugs labeled as controlled substances have a risk of addiction, the circumstances of the drug’s use weren’t taken into consideration. Without medical supervision, it is easy to understand how someone could overdose on drugs or suffer serious adverse effects in unregulated environments.
However, there are plenty of legitimate ways to utilize certain drugs for specific mental health issues when under a doctor's supervision. Doctors’ prescriptions are often for much smaller doses of a drug than what someone would use recreationally. When you use medication on a set schedule, instead of whenever you choose to, you are much less likely to suffer negative effects.
After a significant hiatus when scientists tried to distance themselves from conducting research on psychedelics, we have finally reached a time when the government is willing to allow psychiatrists further access to the previous experiments. New studies have looked at smaller doses of LSD and infrequent use of MDMA in treating a wide range of mental health issues.
Notably, ketamine has been hailed as the wonder drug of recent times. With positive effects found in patients with everything from treatment-resistant depression to chronic pain, ketamine promises to be a significant part of psychiatric research for quite some time. The initial studies show improvements with low risks of adverse effects.
In fact, the FDA recently approved a treatment called esketamine. Esketamine is a nasal spray that can be used in patients with treatment-resistant depression or acute suicidality. So far, ketamine has proven to be very effective for patients with depression when administered in a safe environment under medical supervision.
One downside of the current trend towards IV ketamine clinics and the nasal spray is that patients must receive the treatment in a doctor’s office. A professional must observe you for a minimum of two hours after receiving the spray or injection. You must also have someone else drive you home afterward. This makes the treatment less available for people who can’t leave work or their children for that long.
ISHA works to bring you science on the cutting-edge. With our psychotherapeutic program, you will receive treatment with oral ketamine from the comfort of your own home. A medical professional will monitor you through our telehealth system and ensure that you have a positive experience from start to finish.