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Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy

Psychedelic-assisted therapy refers to therapeutic practices that involve the ingestion of a psychedelic drug.

Since the early 1990s, a new generation of scientists has revived the research. Clinical trials have shown that ingesting a psychedelic in a carefully prescribed and monitored setting can induce an experience that is medically safe and that provokes profound, durable psychological and behavioral change.

The Mind-Altering Effects of Psychedelics

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While there is interest in the use of psychedelics for people suffering various conditions, there are researchers sounding concerns. Psychedelics are powerful mind-altering substances: The user is known to experience mind-expansion, often with spiritual overtones.

What is psychedelic-assisted therapy?

Interventions using psychedelics have shown promise as a treatment for alcohol dependence, nicotine dependence, anxiety related to a terminal illness, and chronic PTSD, and research is underway to examine its efficacy in relation to obsessive-compulsive disorder, treatment-resistant depression, and social anxiety related to autism, among other potential applications.

Are psychedelics safe for use in therapy?

Researchers have conducted highly regulated studies, using careful screening, therapeutic preparation, controlled settings, and with trained monitors. One promising arena is the treatment of substance abuse.  It is important to note that there are no claims of safety while using psychedelics in uncontrolled and unmonitored settings.

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Understanding Microdosing

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Microdosing refers to the ingestion of very small doses of certain psychoactive drugs, most often LSD, psilocybin, or cannabis. Microdoses are known as “sub-perceptual” and are typically one-tenth or even one-twentieth of a normal dose. Though microdosing could occur in a therapeutic setting, it is typically done outside of one.

The aim of microdosing is to trigger a drug’s therapeutic benefits—such as increased creativity or improved mood—without the potentially disruptive effects seen at higher doses, such as hallucinations or dissociation. In recent years, microdosing has gained popularity, fueled in part by its use among Silicon Valley tech workers, many of whom anecdotally report microdosing to increase productivity.

Does microdosing work?

Taking minute doses of psychedelics has shown some positive effects on performance and creativity in mostly anecdotal settings. But one study that appeared in the journal Psychopharmacology, looked into divergent thinking and creativity, which had improved after microdosing. Fluid intelligence, however, was unaffected.

Can microdosing improve mood?

Researchers at UC Davis gave one-tenth of a dose, based on body weight, to laboratory rodents. They found that these minute quantities also improve mood and lessen anxiety. The investigators measured mobility in the rats, which is a sign of better mood.

Common Substances and Therapeutic Uses

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The most common substances and their general effects and properties, as well as potential harms and therapeutic uses. From the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.


LSD

  • General effects and properties:
    5-HT2A (serotonin) agonist of pyramidal neurons
    Dizziness, weakness, tremors, paresthesia
    Altered consciousness (visions, auditory distortions, ideations)
    Altered mood (happy, sad, fearful, irritable)
    Distorted sense of space, time
  • Potential harms:
    Psychosis
    Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder
  • Potential therapeutic uses:
    Addiction (alcohol)
    Anxiety associated with terminal illness

Psilocybin

  • General effects and properties:
    5-HT2A (serotonin) agonist of pyramidal neurons
    Dizziness, weakness, tremors, paresthesia
    Altered consciousness (visions, auditory distortions, ideations)
    Altered mood (happy, sad, fearful, irritable)
    Distorted sense of space, time
  • Potential harms:
    Psychosis
    Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder
  • Potential therapeutic uses:
    Addiction (tobacco, alcohol)
    Anxiety associated with terminal illness

Ayahuasca

  • General effects and properties:
    5-HT2A (serotonin) agonist of pyramidal neurons
    Dizziness, weakness, tremors, paresthesia
    Nausea, emesis
    Altered consciousness (visions, auditory distortions, ideations)
    Altered mood (happy, sad, fearful, irritable)
    Distorted sense of space, time
  • Potential harms:
    Psychosis
    Serotonin syndrome and other dangers from medication interactions due to monoamine oxidase inhibitory activity
  • Potential therapeutic uses:
    Addiction (alcohol, cocaine, tobacco)
    Depression, anxiety

Mescaline

  • General effects and properties:
    5-HT2A (serotonin) agonist of pyramidal neurons
    Dizziness, weakness, tremors, paresthesia
    Altered consciousness (visions, auditory distortions, ideations)
    Altered mood (happy, sad, fearful, irritable)
    Distorted sense of space, time
  • Potential harms:
    Psychosis
  • Potential therapeutic uses:
    Addiction (alcohol)

MDMA

  • General effects and properties:
    Serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline agonist
    Euphoria
    Arousal
    Perceptual alteration
    Enhanced empathy and sociability
  • Potential harms:
    Potential neurocognitive deficits (memory impairment)
    Sleep disruption
    Short-term depression
  • Potential therapeutic uses:
    PTSD

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