- In a recent interview, Prince Harry said psychedelics have helped him deal with the traumas and pains of the past
- Research suggests psychedelics may help improve mood and ease some mental health issues, such as anxiety
- Experts suggest that micro-dosing psychedelics may aid psychotherapy
- However, psychedelics carry health risks and are illegal in many parts of the world
There are many ways to mind your mental health. Exercise, therapy, and anti-depressants to name a few. Some people, including high-profile individuals like Prince Harry, include psychedelics in their mental health toolbox.
During an online interview with trauma expert Gabor Maté on March 4, the Duke Of Sussex said psychedelics have helped him deal with past traumas.
“It was the cleaning of the windscreen, the removal of life’s filters — these layers of filters — it removed it all for me and brought me a sense of relaxation, relief, comfort, a lightness that I managed to hold back for a period of time,” he explained.
“I would say it is one of the fundamental parts of my life that changed me and helped me deal with the traumas and the pains of the past,” Harry continued.
Recent research has delved into the potential mental health benefits of psychedelic use. Trials conducted in 2014 and 2016 showed that psilocybin and LSD improved mood and anxiety in people with life-threatening illnesses for a year after treatment.
Meanwhile, in an international survey published in Psychopharmacology in 2020, 44% of respondents said micro-dosing psychedelics improved their mental health.
So, can psychedelic drugs like magic mushrooms, DMT, and LSD really have a positive effect on mental health? And could they become recommended mental health treatments in the future?
The potential benefits of medicinal psychedelics
Richard Jones, a UKCP-accredited psychotherapist at The Psychedelic Society, believes Prince Harry’s admission is a positive step when it comes to demystifying the use of psychedelics.
“Prince Harry’s disclosure that psychedelics helped him deal with past traumas is a step towards challenging the remaining taboos around psychedelics,” he says. “However, there is still a dissonance between open discussions about psychedelics and the realities of prohibition: there is a lack of safely-held settings or clear information about how to integrate psychedelic insights.”
While it’s highly individual, the safe use of psychedelics may complement regular psychotherapy sessions.
“Clients have often found psychedelic experiences to offer intense immersive experiences in which they can confront, feel and gain new perspectives on issues they have been working on,” says Jones.
He believes psychedelics can allow us to experience parts of ourselves that we are unaware of or cut off from. By understanding these parts of ourselves, we may aid healing, growth, and development.
Researchers behind a 2021 study published in the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry held a similar view. They identified medicinal psychedelics as a potential new class of psychiatric treatments “when used within a medically supervised framework with integrated psychotherapeutic support.”
Similarly, Andy Cottom, a psychotherapist, and spokesperson for the UK Council for Psychotherapy, cites research that suggests psychedelics may encourage neuroplasticity; the brain’s ability to form new connections and pathways.
“Trials with hallucinogens such as LSD and ayahuasca (DMT) carried out by Johns Hopkins Medicine in the US indicate that psychedelics encourage neuroplasticity or in less scientific language, they catalyze a change of mind,” he explains.
“Their work has helped people suffering from a wide range of mental health issues from major depression, anorexia nervosa, alcohol addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)” he says.
Risks and dangers of psychedelics
Of course, all drugs, even prescribed ones, have health risks.
Psychedelics carry an overdose and toxicity risk and they’re also linked with psychological addiction, psychosis, and long-term mental health problems. Though a 2022 review on the adverse effects of psychedelics concluded that “medical risks are often minimal”.
Jones notes that one potential risk of using psychedelics for mental health is that these altered states can cause people to confront past hurts and traumas that they have gone to great lengths to avoid.
“The potential pain and suffering involved in experiencing these states has tremendous potential for growth but is a grueling process,” he points out. “Our contemporary medical model often seeks to alleviate symptoms whereas psychedelics may magnify feelings of pain, sadness or discomfort in the short-term.”
The upshot is, that in the long term, this discomfort can pave the way for a deeper level of connection to yourself and others.
Psychedelics and mental health: an emerging field
So, would these experts recommend the use of psychedelics for mental health?
Jones says it is a decision one must consider for themselves, rather than at the suggestion of someone else.
“Psychedelics can provide a powerful means of getting to know yourself on a deeper level. Whilst antidepressants allow people a stable foundation to continue functioning; psychedelics offer a means of self-exploration,” he says. “They provide a heightened awareness that can be utilized to live more fully and in tune with what you desire and need to be healthy.”
Cottom believes safe psychedelic use may prove useful alongside therapy.
“My hope is that one day, therapists might take advantage of the ‘mental’ doors that are opened by psychedelics and work with their clients as they explore those undiscovered or forgotten parts of the mind,” he surmises.
What to consider before trying psychedelics
When your mental health isn’t where you want it to be, it’s often difficult to know where to turn. So, if you are thinking about adding psychedelics to your mental health toolbox, what should you know?
Firstly, safety is paramount, and it’s important to note that the use of psychedelic drugs is illegal in many countries and states.
Jones warns that the illegal status of psychedelics can lead to people self-medicating in inappropriate settings with inadequate support.
“I would recommend people seek out a legal psychedelic retreat with appropriate levels of expertise and integration support,” he says. “I’d also strongly recommend people find a psychedelic integration group to support themselves in the difficult process of weaving insights into their everyday life.”
If you can’t find support from others, Jones suggests journalling and meditation, both in the lead-up to and following a psychedelic experience.
And if psychedelics aren’t for you? Holotropic breathwork may be a good alternative.
“Holotropic breathwork is a form of intense breathing that elicits an altered state for people who want to experience a flavor of what psychedelics may feel like,” explains Jones.
The bottom line: simply taking psychedelics won’t facilitate change.
“What is required are social networks and communities of support to aid people in integrating experiences,” surmises Jones.
However you choose to mind your mental health, it’s important that you choose to do so safely and legally.
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