A powerful truth has been circulating mainstream wellness and psychology spheres: our lived experiences are stored within the body, even when the conscious mind has long forgotten.
This realization has changed our understanding of trauma and therapy. If the conscious mind forgets but the body remembers, addressing trauma through talk therapy would fail to truly address our deepest needs for healing.
Furthermore, psychologists and scientists are exploring the ways in which trauma, stress, and habitual behaviors can alter our physiology and create illness, autoimmune disease, and idiopathic conditions.
When it comes to Parkinson’s, the cause of this disease is not fully understood. However, with around one million people suffering from it in the US, it is among the conditions being researched for alternative treatments (Marras et al., 2018).
For this article, we were inspired by one of our clients here at Psychedelic Passage who bravely chose to share her therapeutic psychedelic experience in an interview with us on the effects of psychedelics on her Parkinson’s.
As part of our guest series–The Psychedelic Connect, we will not only tell her story, but we will also cover scientific research that has been conducted on the subject of psychedelic therapy for Parkinson’s.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative neurological disorder of the brain and nervous system which occurs when dopamine-producing cells in the brain begin to stop working or die off.
According to the NIH, people most often develop Parkinson’s after the age of 60, although “about 5% to 10% experience onset before the age of 50” (2022), and research suggests that men are more frequently affected than women.
The disease usually starts out slowly with minor symptoms but progresses over time, manifesting in new and more serious symptoms. The four primary associated symptoms used for diagnosis are:
- muscle stiffness
- slowness of movement
- difficulty with balance, coordination, and postural instability
Other common symptoms and co-occurring disorders include:
- hunched posture
- shuffling gait
- depression, mood, and cognitive alterations
- sleep disturbances
- difficulty swallowing, speaking, and chewing
- urinary problems and constipation
- limited facial expression
- small and cramped handwriting
- psychosis and dementia
Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but there are several treatment options available that can help manage its symptoms—the most common being medications that increase the brain’s dopamine levels.
Levodopa is the most widely used medication, but dopamine agonists and MAO-B inhibitors are also used to help increase levels or prolong how long dopamine circulates in the brain.
Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy are used in addition to medication to improve mobility and flexibility, to help manage daily activities more effectively, and to aid in symptom management.
However, in cases where medication and therapies are ineffective, deep brain stimulation surgery is performed by placing a device into the chest which then sends signals to brain-stimulating electrodes attached to the brain.
While these treatments can be effective in managing Parkinson’s symptoms, they may not work for everyone for long term use and can also have side effects. As a result, researchers have been exploring alternative treatments.
The Role of Dopamine: Parkinson’s and The Brain
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in the brain’s reward and motivation pathways, as well as in regulating movement. It is produced by dopamine neurons located in the substantia nigra, a region of the midbrain.
Dopamine, or 3,4-dihydroxyphenethylamine, is used to convey messages between excitatory nerve cells, creating a cascade of neuromodulatory communication.
The brain first changes the amino acid tyrosine into l-dopa (levodopa) which is then converted to dopamine to be used in a huge array of functions including motivation, mood, motor skills, sleep, learning, and other bodily functions.
In the case of Parkinson’s disease, a loss of dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra occurs, and the progressive degeneration of these neurons leads to a reduction in dopamine levels in the brain.
While scientists are unsure of what initiates the death of these neurons, we do know that in the brains of those with Parkinson’s, Lewy Bodies—atypical clumps of the protein, alpha-synuclein—are present.
In a previous article, we discussed how psychedelics affect the brain, which may shed further light on neurotransmitters like dopamine and how they can interact with certain neurological systems.
What causes Parkinson’s is yet to be fully understood, although scientists believe that many factors play a role, including the presence of genetic variations and exposure to certain toxins.
Hope in Psychedelic Therapy: A Parkinson’s Patient’s Testimony
*The client’s name in the following testimony has been changed to preserve anonymity. All other statements and quotes are a completely truthful retelling of this client’s experience.
Laurena was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in June of 2014, and now at 65, she can recall her strong sense of hope and resolve that she felt in the face of her diagnosis.
“In the beginning, it didn’t affect me a whole lot. I could still pretty much do everything I could do…I had this determination that I was going to beat it…so it didn’t scare me horribly at first, because I knew I was going to be okay,” she told us.
She decided not to take prescribed medications because of the risk of side effects, and instead uses a plant-derived supplement, mucuna pruriens, which is one of the highest naturally-occurring sources of L-Dopa.
Since beginning to take mucuna in 2016, Laurena has needed to consistently dose with her medicine—now at four times a day—to avoid debilitating episodes that can last up to days at a time.
“The hardest thing about Parkinson’s, truly, is that you don’t know when it’s going to hit. In other words, I get up every day and wonder, ‘What am I going to be able to do today?’
I can have a good morning, and, at 2 o’ clock in the afternoon, I can crash with pain. So it’s really hard to plan. It keeps a lot of us isolated, so that it’s hard to be a part of a community.” — Laurena
Interestingly, her use of mucuna (while maybe not mainstream), is no novel idea. This amazing plant was used in Ayurveda for centuries to treat Parkinson’s and other issues like anxiety and depression (Lampariello et al., 2012).
“When I get up in the morning after overnight of not having anything in my body, I’m very stiff. A lot of the time, I have trouble getting out of bed and walking…I take the first dose at 6:30 in the morning,” she shared in our interview.
Laurena’s Experience: From The Perspective of Her Psychedelic Guide
After hearing of clinical trials on the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics at places like Johns Hopkins, Laurena hoped to be able to experience them for herself, to gain deeper insights into herself and her condition.
“As the years went by and the symptoms got worse, I fell into a depression,” she shared. We are so grateful that she was able to find support and accessibility to psychedelic medicines through our services.
We not only interviewed Laurena for this article, but also her facilitator, Debbie, who helped guide her experience. Debbie is a facilitator in our pre-vetted network of local, psychedelic guides.
“In western medicine, we seem to isolate the mind and the psyche as its own analysis or its own subject, when of course the mind is another organ in the system of the body.
When we experience trauma or any form of non-stable environment, we are impacting our inner stability, and that impacts our functioning…Because the body is an ecosystem, it’s trying to acclimate and stabilize from instability.” — Debbie
This trust in Laurena and her body’s holistic processes throughout the journey was key in allowing transformation to take place, as the role of the psychedelic guide is to provide a safe environment for the experience to unfold naturally.
Laurena’s impactful experience is a testament not only to the profound potential of psychedelics to reveal beauty beneath pain, but also is a light in the dark for those suffering from similar conditions.
“It was very intense. It was scary. I was being called on to do something that I did not want to do, but the whole time I was going through it, I had this sense of community.
There were all these people or entities…surrounding me, and I had all of this support. And it was just beautiful. I’ve never felt that way in my life.” — Laurena
Because of the physiological effects of psychedelics, this intensity manifested both in psychological and physical symptoms of fear, leg pain, and tremors in her leg. She described it as a challenge which she was supposed to meet.
Her physical and mental pain did reach a fateful crescendo, however, and she came away feeling triumphant rather than like she had experienced a bad trip. She walked away feeling as though she had overcome the challenge.
Most impactfully was the social support that she felt during this key moment, from both the spirits surrounding her and the facilitator who helped her during her experience. When we feel isolated and like we must, alone, carry huge burdens, the most healing antidote is to feel deeply supported during a time of vulnerability. Laurena also left with a feeling of deeper meaning
“This is just something that needed to be here in my life at this time…It gave me a sense that—whatever this is—it’s needed, it’s a lesson, it’s just not so serious…It’s not doom and gloom,” she said.
Interestingly, for about a week after her journey, her need for routine dosing of her medicine had temporarily vanished. “I was just so open and so light. My whole body had changed after that,” she shared.
“It kept coming up that everything is gonna be ok…that no matter what I did, no matter what came up in my life, I was surrounded, I was being held, and that everything was gonna be ok,” she shared with us.
While her need for mucuna did come back gradually, she expressed that the frequency of her “bad days” has diminished, and she expressed a desire to continue discovering the healing potential of psychedelics.
Scientific Research on Psychedelic Therapy for Parkinson’s
While direct research is limited on the use of psychedelic drugs like psilocybin for treatment of Parkinson’s, some studies and upcoming research suggests that there are real clinical uses.
One trial first posted in 2021 is currently recruiting test subjects for psilocybin therapy in treatment of anxiety and depression in Parkinson’s patients. This study is ongoing, so results will not be ready for a while (Woolley).
The study’s that are currently available have indirect, yet relevant, factors at play, like this 2020 study which found that DMT helped regulate and increase neurogenesis in mice (Morales-Garcia et al.). This could suggest that DMT and other tryptamine drugs like psilocybin could be useful in counteracting the neurodegenerative traits associated with Parkinson’s.
More information is available on non-serotonergic drugs, as found in the 2020 review by Ferreira and colleagues, including drugs like cannabis, cocaine, opiates and amphetamines. Unfortunately, there have been multiple studies announced in the past five years on this topic, but they were either halted or the process is still ongoing.
When it comes to Parkinson’s, we are still waiting for conclusive evidence outside of anecdotal reports such as Laurena’s. As results and developments emerge, we will commit to providing new information on this subject to our readers.
Talk to a Psychedelic Professional
When it comes to disease, science is beginning to understand the complex deeper connections between intangible aspects of the self and our physiology. Psychedelics may be a dynamic treatment for so many illnesses, especially considering the significant effects on the entire mind-body system.
As we wait for more discoveries of causative factors behind the disease of Parkinson’s, being able to find meaning and make peace with illness is invaluable. We at Psychedelic Passage connect clients with a network of expert psychedelic facilitators who not only offer in-ceremony guidance but also support around preparation, integration, and even microdosing.
Book a consultation with our concierges to get connected, and be sure to check out our resources page for additional information and articles on therapeutic uses of psychedelics.