How Psychedelics Are Revolutionizing The Way We Treat Mental Illness

How Psychedelics Are Revolutionizing The Way We Treat Mental Illness

It was October 1965 and Arthur King was undergoing treatment for severe alcoholism at the Spring Grove Psychiatric Hospital in Maryland. Nothing seemed to alleviate his urge to drink, so his doctor decided to try something unconventional: he gave him a dose of lysergic acid diethylamide, more commonly known as the psychedelic drug LSD.

About half an hour after taking the drug, King started to experience vivid hallucinations of bright colors and complex geometric shapes. A single rose in a vase in the room seemed to come alive, opening and closing – even breathing. As King was staring at that rose, his doctor asked him if he felt like drinking. The moment King thought about alcohol, the rose appeared to turn black, whither, and die.

The 14-hour-long session was full of intense emotions, hallucinations, and epiphanies for the young father. He thought of his children and his wife and began to experience feelings of intense love for them. The things that troubled him before and caused him to drink seemed to slide into irrelevance. He realized that he was capable of accomplishing so much more with his life and that alcohol had been holding him back. By the end of the session, King had lost all desire to drink. He was cured of his addiction.

When CBS followed up with King nearly three decades after the experiment took place, King was still sober. “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for the peace of mind I obtained from this therapy,” he told the reporters.

The so-called Spring Grove Experiments were part of a revolutionary effort in the 1950s and 60s to explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs – most notably LSD and psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic” mushrooms.

Researchers saw astonishing results from treating alcoholism, depression, and a host of other mental illnesses with psychedelics. Many study participants saw more progress from a single “trip” on mushrooms or LSD than they did from years of psychotherapy alone. These mysterious compounds were poised to revolutionize the way we treat mental illnesses.

Then came the hippies.

Eventually, LSD escaped the lab. The head of the Harvard Psilocybin Project, Timothy Leary, began to recklessly promote the frequent and widespread use of psychedelics. Leary was eventually forced out of Harvard, but he continued to call on American youth to “turn on, tune in, and drop out” with the help of psychedelic drugs.

The widespread improper use of psychedelics, which has been found to cause users to become more open to unconventional ideas, fueled the turbulent counterculture movement of the 1960s. Young psychedelic users began to reject the assumptions that underpinned our society, like the value of the nuclear family structure and the importance of organized religion in public and private life. The social fabric appeared to be tearing, prompting Richard Nixon to call Leary “the most dangerous man in America.” In 1968, LSD and a wide range of other drugs were outlawed as Schedule I substances, a category of drugs deemed dangerous and with no accepted medical uses.

From that moment on, funding for psychedelic research dried up, and the astonishing benefits documented in previous studies were largely forgotten or ignored.

That’s all changing now. An explosion of research on psychedelics has been taking place over the past two decades, and the findings thus far are even more impressive than what researchers documented half a century ago. In fact, many researchers believe FDA approval for the medical use of certain psychedelic drugs in a clinical setting is just around the corner. 

MDMA, more commonly known as ecstasy, is one of those drugs. Researchers are currently in Phase 3 clinical trials, the final step before FDA approval, to test the safety and efficacy of using MDMA to treat PTSD. One recent study showed that three MDMA doses, in conjunction with 18 weeks of talk therapy, was far more effective at treating PTSD than any other FDA-approved treatment.

In a study published earlier this year from Johns Hopkins University, which has been leading the current renaissance in the study of psychedelics, researchers gave psilocybin to patients suffering from long-term moderate to severe depression, along with eight weeks of therapy. 75% of study participants experienced a significant decrease in depression, and 58% saw their depression enter remission. Astonishingly, these results held up one year later without additional psilocybin treatments. Researchers also found that there were no negative side effects associated with the treatment.

Dr. Roland Griffiths, the director at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, believes the benefits of psychedelics derive in part from the “mystical experience” they can induce. In one study, 67% of participants rated their experience on psilocybin as among the top five most spiritually significant experiences of their lives.

Interestingly, those who do not have this “mystical experience” during their therapy sessions are far less likely to see relief from depression as those who do. Perhaps this suggests that the benefits of psychedelics are brought on through the experience itself, rather than any biochemical reaction alone. 

If a single “mystical experience” brought on by magic mushrooms can cure long-term depression, as a growing number of studies have found, the implications are nothing short of revolutionary. Rather than being prescribed a daily regime of antidepressants – which only relieve depression for about 20% of people and can cause a host of side effects, ranging from weight gain to the loss of sexual desire – patients may soon be able to experience long-term relief from depression from just one full-blown psychedelic trip in a clinical setting.

Despite the promising results seen by researchers so far, great caution should be used by anyone seeking to treat mental illness with psychedelics. While most conventional psychedelic drugs – like LSD and magic mushrooms – are non-toxic, non-addicting, and among the safest drugs available (both legal and illegal), they are not without risks. If taken in an improper setting or without the appropriate preparation, psychedelics can elicit a “bad trip,” potentially aggravating any underlying mental health problems or causing new ones to emerge. Since psychedelics alter one’s perception of reality, the experience can also be disorienting, even frightening. As mentioned earlier, psychedelics can also result in a permanent change in personality, significantly increasing a person’s openness to new ideas and experiences. For many, this could be a good thing, but one need only look at the “free love” hippies of yesteryear to see that there is a point of diminishing returns to being open-minded. 

Given the powerful nature of these drugs and their illicit status, prudence demands that psychedelics only be used in a clinical setting under the guidance of trained professionals. It is under those conditions that study participants, like Arthur King, have been able to experience such profound relief from mental illness. 

There is still far more that needs to be learned about psychedelics and how they operate, but as our nation struggles with increasing rates of depression, anxiety, and addiction, psychedelics may end up being the miracle cure our country needs.

The opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

How Psychedelics Are Revolutionizing The Way We Treat Mental Illness

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