Healing And Treating Depression With Psychedelics

As our understanding of mental health and inner wellness grows, so too does the desire for new and more sophisticated treatments. In the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, psychedelics such as LSD were being researched and gaining widespread adoption as treatments for a variety of mental illnesses. That was until they became associated with various movements and groups which caused governments around the globe to outlaw them entirely. In recent decades however, interest has begun to shift once again towards the possibility of using psychedelics as medicines, and today they are being researched for treating various forms of mental illness, including depression and anxiety.

While the symptoms of depression may vary from case to case, it is generally defined as a feeling of overwhelming sadness or loss of interest that can range in severity and duration. According to WHO (2017) symptoms may include:

  1. Loss of appetite
  2. Loss of motivation 
  3. Trouble concentrating 
  4. Insomnia 
  5. Exhaustion
  6. Anxiety

(WHO, 2017)

Forms of Depression 

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in our society today, affecting both men and women of all age groups, races, and ethnicities. It stands as one of the most common forms of mental disorders on the planet, with global estimates placing the total case number over 320 million. (WHO, 2017)

Like many other forms of mental illness, depression can take many forms and range in severity from person to person. Some forms of depression include:

  1. Major Depressive Disorders/ Depressive Episodes- Characterized by bouts of moderate to severe depression. Symptoms may include feelings of extreme sadness, loss of appetite, the feeling of having less energy and a general sense of loss. 
  2. Dysthymia- A chronic form of mild depression that can last for years. 
  3. Post-Partum Depression- Observed in women during or following pregnancy. Some have reported feelings of overwhelming sadness and anxiety following labor and childbirth which may impede personal wellness and childcare alike. 
  4. Treatment-resistant depression- As many as 50% of patients do not respond adequately to antidepressant treatments such as SSRI’s (“antidepressants”). 

(NIMH, 2017)

Current Treatment

Today, medical professionals have a variety of methods for treating depression. Such methods include anti-depressant medication, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or in some cases electroconvulsive therapy designed to suppress symptoms. In any case, there is consensus that the earlier treatment begins, the better. 

The issue however is that no two forms of mental illness are the same, meaning there is no universal treatment. With such a wide variety of symptoms and types of depression, and severity there is an equally wide need for methods of treatment. 

New forms of Treatment

Studies are currently being conducted testing the efficacy of previously banned substances, such as ketamine and psilocybin, as new forms of treatment. There is evidence that shows these and other like substances when properly administered, may reduce both the symptoms and overall severity of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. However, clinical trials are still ongoing, and the recreational use of many of these substances remains illegal in parts of the world.

Ketamine and Depression 

Ketamine is a dissociative drug that has been around since the 1970’s as a common anesthetic. The FDA (2019) approved the use of a ketamine-infused nasal spray (esketamine) for treatment-resistant depression (FDA, 2019). As the substance can cause dissociation, dizziness and fatigue, patients are monitored by clinicians during each visit. The American Journal of Psychiatry (2019) found that patients reported a noticeable drop in their symptoms within 24 hours of administering the nasal spray, and clinical trials showed a mean 20 point drop in MADRS scores 28 days after treatment (Popova & Daly 2019). Research is still being conducted in finding both the efficacy of ketamine for treatment-resistant depression and other types of depression. 

Psilocybin and Depression 

Psilocybin, a psychoactive compound found in some fungi, is now in Phase II clinical trials in conjunction with therapy for its effectiveness on treatment-resistant depression. It now undergoes phase II clinical trials in which treatment is supplemented with psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy (CompassPathways, 2021). During this type of therapy, patients may experience a range of effects, including having distorted perception, feelings of euphoria, heightened senses, and new perspectives towards themselves and their past experiences. Research suggests that one of the main effects of psilocybin is to reduce activity in the brain’s default mode network (DMN), which is responsible for our sense of self, or our “ego” (Carhart-Harris & Erritzoe, 2012)  well as by increasing neuroplasticity in the brain (allowing new connections to form) (Brouwer, 2020). Further research is being conducted with the use of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for other disorders, such as PTSD.

Future Research 

While the use of psychedelics does show promise in treating multiple types of depression, more research needs to be conducted before these methods gain medical approval and become widespread. Psilocybin also remains an illegal substance for recreational use in many parts of the world, and only recently has been approved for certain types of special access programs that allow small numbers of therapists to work with patients who have specific types of conditions. (TheraPsil, 2020

If you or someone you know is currently struggling with depression, contact a medical professional for what treatments may be available to you. 

If you or someone you know is expressing suicidal tendencies, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800)-273-8255

Article References 

World Health Organization (2017). Depression. World Health Organization who.int/publications/i/item/depression-global-health-estimates 

National Institute of Mental Health (2018). Depression. National Institute of Mental Health https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/ 

WHO (2017) Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders: Global Health Estimates. Geneva: World Health Organization World Health Organization file:///C:/Users/The%20Boyz/Downloads/WHO-MSD-MER-2017.2-eng%20(2).pdf Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

Popova, V., Daly, E.J., Trivedi, M., Cooper, K., Lane, R., Lim, P., Mazzucco, C., Hough, D., Thase, M. E., Shelton, R. C., Molero, P., Vieta, E., Bajbouj, M., Manji, H., Drevets, W. C., Singh, J. B. (2019) Efficacy and Safety of Flexibly Dosed Esketamine Nasal Spray Combined With a Newly Initiated Oral Antidepressant in Treatment-Resistant Depression: A Randomized Double-Blind Active-Controlled Study. The American Journal of Psychiatry https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2019.19020172

Compass Pathways (2020). Treatment Resistant Depression. https://compasspathways.com/our-research/psilocybin-therapy/clinical-trials/treatment-resistant-depression/

Benett, H. (2020) 17 Canadian Healthcare Professionals Approved to Use Psilocybin for Professional Training. TheraPsilhttps://therapsil.ca/17-canadian-healthcare-professionals-approved-to-use-psilocybin-for-professional-training/

Carhart-Harris, R. L., Erritzoe, D., Williams, T., Stone, J. M., Reed, L. J.,  Colasanti, A,. Tyacke, R. J.,  Leech, R.,  Malizia, A. L.,  Murphy, K., Hobden, P.,  Evans, J.,  Feilding, A., Wise, R. G. & Nutt, D. J. (2012) Neural correlates of the psychedelic state as determined by fMRI studies with psilocybin. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of The United States of America 109 (6) 21382143; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1119598109 

Brouwer, A., & Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2021). Pivotal mental states. Journal of Psychopharmacology35(4), 319–352. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881120959637

Fava M. (2003). Diagnosis and definition of treatment-resistant depression. Biological psychiatry53(8), 649–659. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0006-3223(03)00231-2

Griffiths, R. (2020) Psychedelic Treatment with Psilocybin Relieves Major Depression, Study Shows. John Hopkins University. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/newsroom/news-releases/psychedelic-treatment-with-psilocybin-relieves-major-depression-study-shows

This article was written by Luke Williams, Jr. Producer at Mindleap.

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