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We are all excited about the potential for psychedelic medicines to help in the treatment of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse disorder. More to the point, we are excited about the potential for greatly reducing the risk factors for veteran suicide. The research is promising and the first legal psychedelic medicine is expected next year when MDMA is approved. Along the way research has elucidated much about how the human brain works and why it is that psychedelic medicines are so powerful. A big part of this has to do with psychedelic assisted transformative experiences.

How to Wake Up and Fast Forward the Human Brain

Recent psychedelic research has shown us that psychedelics plus psychotherapy are very effective in treating PTSD, depression, substance abuse disorders, and even generalized anxiety. What is interesting is that this combination leads to physical changes in the brain on the neuron level. Such changes normally do not happen in adults. The human brain can change but changes are typically slow and take a lot of time and effort. Think of learning a new language as an adult or recovering from a stroke. Brain scans show us that these sorts of changes are related to physical brain changes as well. Different parts of the brain communicate better and nerve growth occurs. One way to wake up and fast forward the human brain turns out to be the combination of psychedelics and psychotherapy.

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When Do Brain Changes Typically Occur?

A common time when physical brain changes occur on the level of neurons, processing ability, and connections is with traumatic experiences. Fortunately, there are also positive experiences that have the same effect. These are generally in the category of spiritual awakening, experiencing a sense of awe, or near death experiences. These are called pivotal mental states or psychologically transformative experiences by psychologists. The finding of psychedelic research is that these medicines help the brain find this transformative state.

Psychedelic Assisted Psychotherapy

Those who have experienced psychedelic assisted psychotherapy often find it hard to put into words. This combination of distorted reality, modified sense of self, and altered state of consciousness can be blissful or horrifying. The nature of the experience often depends on the setting which is why doing this in a controlled setting with professional help is so important. Relaxation of control of thinking via higher brain centers commonly lets a person delve deeper into their memories, feelings, and previously submerged thoughts. This is critical for folks with conditions like PTSD where successful treatment requires that a person sort out past events and leave them in the past instead of in the present.

Successful therapy with psychedelic assistance results in new nerve connections that facilitate new memories, attitudes, and skills. Neurologists call that construction of new nerve connections arborization. The slow way to create these connections is by studying, repeating, and practicing. The fast way is to use a psychedelic medicine like psilocybin in conjunction with professionally targeted psychotherapy. Researchers have demonstrated a ten percent increase in nerve connections with a single dose of psilocybin in animal studies. These changes occurred within a day and lasted for a month without any other intervention.

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Naturally Occurring Psychedelics

One reason that psychedelics work so well as that they have similarities to naturally occurring substances. They work on serotonin receptors in the brain which is where newer antidepressants act. DMT is the naturally occurring psychedelic substance in ayahuasca. It stimulates a specific brain receptor. This happens because the human brain can synthesize this chemical. The plant derived variety simply mimics the body’s natural ability to stimulate nerve growth without having to experience life-threatening trauma.

Psychedelics Are Not Always a Cure All

When one takes a psychedelic substance there are good trips and there are bad trips. This is often related to the environment in which a person takes the medicine. That is why folks who use psychedelics for recreational purposes do not necessarily have positive experiences while those with professional coaching find that their PTSD or depression has improved. Psychedelic medicines are likely to be approved for treatment of PTSD and then depression. This is likely to be tightly controlled as these treatments are made available to the public outside of research settings.

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