The Summer of Love called, and it wants it psychedelics back! The 1960s gave us The Moon Race, a war in Vietnam, British Invasion musical groups, and Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary and his one-man battle to legitimize psychedelics as a treatment for mental health disorders. Sixty years hence, psychedelics and drugs like ketamine are finally having their day in the sun. Though both were misunderstood, serious research is beginning to shed light on their efficacy.
What Are Psychedelics?
The word Psychedelics was coined in 1956 by British psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond to explain “the ‘mind-altering’ properties of naturally occurring hallucinogenic plant substances” like psilocybin (cow patty mushroom), marijuana (common weed), peyote (a cactus flower), and LSD (a common bread mold)” – all of which can be harvested with minimal effort.
Psychedelics and Their Effect on the Brain
- Once a person takes “mushrooms,” the psilocybin is ground down into psilocin, an active chemical that then worms its way along a path to the brain.
- Serotonin reuptake is stopped by psilocin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects social behavior, memory, mood, and sexual longings. Because of its similar chemical structure, psilocin can bind to and invigorate receptors in the brain. Hallucinations occur, and the brain is directed to experience and perceive things without legitimate stimulus.
- Physically, the effects of taking mushrooms last between three and 8 hours, but its ability to alter sensory perception results in the user having an altered sense of time – believing the experience has lasted much longer.
- Feelings of relaxation, like small amounts of marijuana. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says psilocybin can generate feelings of rest.
- Even with enhanced hallucinations and sensory experiences, brain activity decreased overall, according to a Johns Hopkins University. Psilocybin lowered brain activity in the thalamus, for example. With these key hubs knocked out with psilocybin, information travels more easily, a possible clue to why a person’s imagination becomes more colorful and dynamic, and the world seems strange.
- Increased blood pressure, heart rate, and swift adjustments in body temperature. During studies, some participants reported being flushed and sweating, then rapidly transitioned to shivering and chills, according to the University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research.
- Scientists have observed the drug forcing the brain to temporarily restructure itself on mushrooms and instantly build new biologically secure networks. This might clarify why people on mushrooms have problems discerning between reality and fantasy.
- The anterior cingulate cortex and hippocampus are triggered, the two parts of the brain linked with dreaming.
- The drug appears to activate regions in the brain critical to emotional processing, possibly explaining the expansion of consciousness, deepened emotions, and passionate spiritual encounters that a person on mushrooms often reports.
- Mushroom users often report a feeling of unity with the world and humanity, similar to what’s been reported by LSD users. They often recall feeling a sensation of “oneness” with the planet, universe, and other humans, similar to a transformative spiritual encounter.
- Research has shown that the mystical influences of mushrooms can influence users for months following a psychedelic experience. A 2016 study found that mushrooms lowered symptoms in patients afflicted with treatment-resistant depression; more than half of the participants showed fewer symptoms of their disorder three months hence.
Historical Treatment for Mental Health Issues
Science and medicine have come a long way, thankfully. In the not-too-distant past, humanity treated symptoms of mental illness as if the person were possessed by the devil. Now, illnesses like posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression can be treated with psychotherapy, hospitalization, and ketamine infusion therapy.
Many kinds of treatment options are bone-chilling:
- Trephination dates back 7,000 years and involved removing a small part of the skull with a tool like an auger to relieve headaches and mental illness.
- Bloodletting and Purging are now considered a prime candidate in the death of America’s first president, George Washington. It took hold in the western world in the 1600s, probably after English physician Thomas Willis used techniques, he believed would relieve biochemical imbalances that contributed to mental illness.
- Isolation and Asylums is an example of “out of sight, out of mind,” where persons with mental institutions were taken away for treatment. In reality, they were locked up, out of sight of their families and community, and subjected to treatment like ice water baths and physical restraints.
The use of psychedelics as a treatment option for depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders is being pushed to the forefront of popular discourse, much the same way marijuana has been the last decade. Studies at Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and elsewhere show the potential, including for medicine like ketamine.
If you would like to learn more about ketamine and how it’s used to help treat the symptoms of mood disorders like depression, PTSD, and anxiety please contact us for more information.