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Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy | A New Form of Treatment

Psychedelic-assisted therapy is a type of therapy in which a mental health professional has a patient take psychedelics as part of a guided form of therapy. This therapy has shown promising results in treating a variety of mental health issues, including depressive symptoms and PTSD. 

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It is a fairly old practice going back at least to the 1950s, but research into this area was stymied for decades due to restrictive legislation.

When Did This Form of Therapy Get Started?

While what could be called psychedelic-assisted therapy has existed since ancient times, the modern practice of using psychedelics as part of therapy seems to have broadly started in the 1950s, which is when the first English language report on LSD was published.[1] Initially, this type of therapy was growing in popularity until legislature in the mid-1960s slowed down this area of research immensely. Only recently has the law started to evolve in this area, and research into psychedelic-assisted therapy has truly begun to reemerge.[2] 

Some notable advances within the last decade include the first modern brain imaging study with LSD and three separate clinical trials on the use of psilocybin for treating depressive symptoms.[1]

What Drugs Are Used for This Form of Therapy?

A wide variety of drugs are being tested and researched for their potential use in therapy, with some of the most commonly researched drugs being MDMA, psilocybin, LSD, and ketamine.[3] However, research into LSD and ketamine seems to be more limited due to LSD’s long-lasting effects and ketamine’s fairly intense effects. 

It’s important to understand that this research is very much in its experimental stages. While human studies are being conducted and these drugs seem to be able to help a variety of mental health symptoms when used in a controlled environment as prescribed by a medical professional, some specifics are still evolving areas of research, such as proper dosing and which drugs work best for which issues.[3] 

How Does the Process Work for Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy?

While the use of psychedelics in therapy is continually evolving as new research emerges, it is pretty firmly established that several elements are important to this type of treatment, including setting the right expectations for a patient, setting the physical environment the patient will be in so that it facilitates therapy and a sense of safety, and developing a healthy clinician-patient relationship.[4] 

This type of treatment also isn’t for everyone. Researchers generally focus on a patient’s resistance to traditional therapy. Treatment-resistant patients with chronic mental illnesses are at least for now the focus of many studies. These people don’t have many alternatives, and it is thus more justifiable to attempt experimental treatments on these patients (with their consent).[4]

This therapy is psychedelic-assisted. A patient doesn’t take psychedelic drugs in the same way one might take an antibiotic. Instead, a patient takes the drug and is then guided in such a way as to help them confront unwanted symptoms. The exact form this guided therapy takes will depend on the specific issues being tackled. 

Psychedelic-assisted therapy sessions are also generally only part of a given treatment plan. Therapy sessions in which no drugs are used are also typically used even when psychedelic-assisted treatment is employed.[4]

How Successful Has This Form of Therapy Been?

Studies into psychedelic-assisted therapy have been promising, often showing an ability to treat mental health symptoms with few adverse outcomes.[5] Some issues psychedelic drugs have shown promise in treating include anxiety, PTSD, and addiction. However, most studies highlighting these promising results will emphasize that this research is still relatively nascent, and more is needed before this type of therapy can ethically be made mainstream. For now, it remains experimental. 

Overall, it seems very likely that research is going to continue refining what the ideal type of psychedelic-assisted treatment looks like and that we will continue to see patients benefit from this type of treatment with few adverse outcomes. It will not be a “magic bullet” treatment capable of treating all forms of mental illness, but it may help certain people with specific conditions.

What Are the Risks of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy?

The current risks of psychedelic-assisted therapy are mostly unknowns. We still don’t fully know the best dosing or the ideal drugs to use when it comes to addressing various mental health issues. There may be hidden risks the research hasn’t yet uncovered, especially regarding the long-term use of this therapy. 

At present, research suggests it is fairly safe, at least comparable to other types of medicated treatment. Again, this research is in its early stages, and more is needed before experts can definitively conclude this practice is safe enough for widespread use.

While there was concern psychedelic use might be associated with negative mental health outcomes, that doesn’t seem to be the case. A study examining survey respondents who reported using LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, and/or peyote did not find any significant association between psychedelic use and negative mental health outcomes. It found some cases where psychedelic use seemed to reduce a person’s rate of mental health problems.[6]

Evidence-Based Care at Boca Recovery Center

Since so much is unknown about psychedelic-assisted therapy, it’s not considered an evidence-based treatment for addiction or mental health issues at this time. At Boca Recovery Center, we employ evidence-based care, including the use of medications and various therapeutic modalities to effectively manage addiction for the long term. Contact us to learn more about our addiction treatment offerings and our tailored treatment plans.

Updated December 21, 2023
  1. The therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs: Past, present, and future. Carhart-Harris RL, Goodwin GM. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017;42(11):2105-2113.
  2. Psychedelics in Psychiatry—Keeping the Renaissance From Going Off the Rails. Yaden DB, Yaden ME, Griffiths RR. JAMA Psychiatry. Published December 2, 2020. Accessed December 1, 2023.
  3. The past and future of psychedelic science: An introduction to this issue. Doblin RE, Christiansen M, Jerome L, Burge B. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. 2019;51(2):93-97.
  4. Psychedelic medicine: a re-emerging therapeutic paradigm. Tupper KW, Wood E, Yensen R, Johnson MW. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2015;187(14):1054-1059.
  5. The frontiers of new psychedelic therapies: A survey of sociological themes and issues. Andrews T, Wright K. Sociology Compass. 2022;16(2).
  6. Psychedelics and mental health: A population study. Krebs TS, Johansen PØ. Lu L, ed. PLOS ONE. 2013;8(8):e63972.
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