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The psychedelic medicines MDMA and psilocybin have attracted lots of attention as adjunctive treatments for severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Here at No Fallen Heroes we have been especially interested in the progress of these medicines through drug trials by the Food and Drug Administration. That is because in order to become therapies in general use they need to pass standard tests for safety and efficacy. An important factor is that both depression and PTSD are major risk factors for suicide and at No Fallen Heroes we are dedicated to the task of reducing and eliminating veteran suicide. As more and more research is carried out on psychedelics it appears that they can have wider applicability than just depression and PTSD. Does a psychedelic medicine help mental health in a wide context?

Why Did Psychedelics Get a Bad Reputation?

Many of us of a certain age remember the 60s, rock concerts with lots of drugs, war protests, and LSD being promoted as cure all for pretty much everything that ailed humankind. One result was to make psychedelics restricted drugs and shut down promising research into how psychedelics might be helpful for various aspects of mental health. There were problems with psychedelics then and there are now when people use street drug versions of psychedelics. The amounts that people take may be substantially higher than what is needed for therapeutic purposes. These concoctions commonly have extra ingredients that by themselves may be dangerous or included in dangerous amounts. The combination of a psychedelic and a street drug like heroin, fentanyl, or cocaine can have unexpected side effects and be dangerous. And the setting in which one takes a psychedelic medicine is crucial to its having a beneficial effect. Rock concerts, violent settings, or any setting that provokes fear or anxiety all can lead to bad outcomes. This is not the case with the controlled studies that have shown substantial benefit from psychedelics.

Why Did Psychedelics Get a Bad Reputation?
Why Did Psychedelics Get a Bad Reputation?

Targeted Use of Psychedelics for Diagnosed Conditions

Research is underway in the US, Canada, and Europe to see how effective psychedelics are in treating specific conditions such as PTSD, depression, and substance abuse disorders. These studies have been so promising that the FDA has given both MDMA and psilocybin breakthrough drug status allowing for more rapid passage through the necessary stages of testing to get approval. The way that these medicines help people is by making them less anxious, especially when trying to recall and work through traumatic events in their pasts. In the Northwest Amazon in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru the psychedelic ayahuasca has been used for centuries in ceremonies and for treatment with what appear to be positive results. The goal with this psychedelic is to achieve feelings of connection and unity, introspection and even euphoria. An important detail to consider is that both in the controlled studies and in the use of ayahuasca in ceremonial settings people use the psychedelic medicine only once or twice and not repeatedly. They also take preparations made specifically for the purpose involved and without random addition of potentially dangerous substances.

Targeted Use of Psychedelics for Diagnosed Conditions
Targeted Use of Psychedelics for Diagnosed Conditions

Are Psychedelics Good for Long Term Mental Health?

Patients being treated for PTSD and depression with psychedelics receive one or two doses and no more. The beneficial effects have been shown to last up to six years. This is in direct contrast to antidepressants which are used for the same purposes, are less effective, and require daily dosing for weeks, months, or years. Survey results of people who admit to at least one lifetime use of a psychedelic generally indicate that the experience typically leads to reduced anxiety, feelings of togetherness, less loneliness, and relief of depression. As with recent controlled studies, people report the beneficial effects of taking psychedelics lasting for years and essentially being life changing. Surveys also reveal that people have adverse experiences from using psychedelics. It would appear that the use of psychedelics in excessive doses, addictive, repeated use, mixing with other dangerous ingredients, and taking in inappropriate settings all contribute to adverse effects. Use in appropriate settings appears to have benefits in terms of less anxiety, depression, and substance abuse over time.

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