Psychedelics… we know them and love them for their proven effects on treating depression, anxiety, PTSD, and eating disorders- to name a few, but what about obsessive compulsive disorder? Where does our knowledge currently lie in terms of clinical research on treating OCD with psychedelic compounds like psilocybin mushrooms, AKA ‘magic mushrooms’, LSD, and ketamine? Today, we’ll be speaking with Jenny, a long-time sufferer of OCD, whose journey toward healing has landed her in the supportive and relieving embrace of psilocybin mushrooms. First though, what is OCD and how is it experienced?
OCD, short for obsessive compulsive disorder, is a psychological disorder that cloaks its subjects in cyclical patterns of unwelcome thoughts and all-consuming fears. This intrusive background chatter falcons over its prey, ineluctably leading them to engage in frequent compulsive behaviors as means of satiating these mental urges. Some common behaviors coastline subjects of hygiene and spatial organization.
Truth is, for a person with OCD, the overwhelming distress these inner events cause, could never be translated on paper. Think about it this way… for the average person, walking over or passing by those wobbly, metal cellar doors on city sidewalks usually doesn’t warrant much thought. For someone with OCD though, everyday-encounters like this can be an obstacle. Like a broken record, concerns about falling through the cellar may become compulsively rehearsed in their minds. This proliferating fear cannot help, but swindle the body into choreographic motion. Here, the person with OCD engages in a ritual to compensate for their anxiety. An anonymous respondent said this…
“We all have things that we do, simple things, like wiping our feet before we enter a house, or checking to make sure that the door is locked before we leave. When the rituals take over, that’s when it’s proper OCD, to me. Imagine if everything you did had all of the pomp and circumstance of carving the Thanksgiving turkey or opening Christmas presents. Would that make you happy?”
Obscured behind the eyes of almost every person with OCD, is a persistent cloud of vague fear. It’s as if your body is regularly forecasting danger, even though your mind knows these reactions are illogical. So – the big question – what do we know about psychedelics, like psilocybin mushrooms, and their efficacy in treating OCD?
Clarity and Connectivity
Recent research by Dr. Francisco Moreno and colleagues from UA’s Psychiatry Department suggests that the active compound in ‘magic’ mushrooms, psilocybin, can interface with serotonin receptors in the parts of our brains that manipulate OCD manifestations. EEG images show us that individuals with OCD, experience above-average ERN brainwave patterns, associated with a comparatively high number of ruminating thoughts.
Amazingly, psilocybin demonstrates a sophisticated ability to reduce this brain overactivity, simultaneously diminishing the overly-scrutinizing tendencies of our OCD scripts. Increased neural plasticity is also heavily associated with these benefits. On psilocybin, our brains experience a very physical strengthening of neural connectivity. In the mind’s eye, we encounter this connectivity as an expansion of knowledge and awareness.
While our brains are busy shedding light on new neural pathways that previously took shape backstage and in the dark, our minds and bodies are going through an equally vivid metamorphosis. By enacting us into a sense of psychological openness, psychedelics can help us gain clarity on defense mechanisms that have been conditioned into our behaviors and mental processes. They make us aware of the adopted, limiting beliefs that are accommodating the preservation of this cyclical mental static and almost, reflexive bodily inhibitions.
But wait, there’s more! The Default Mode Network
There’s a region in our brain called the default mode network (DMN) and this ingenious system has a massive influence on the way we come to perceive our identities and our relation to the world. Scientists believe that the DMN is the prime suspect for those ruminating thoughts that seem to linger at the back of our minds in absence of our focused attention.
When we unconsciously daydream about the future or replay memories of our past, the DMN can be thanked for curating and reproducing those circulating narratives. It’s these very narratives that minister the collective image of our assumed self identities, and in individuals with OCD, the DMN is found to experience a significant deactivation in two of its anterior nodes.
In hindsight, this makes a lot of sense. Production of dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating our reward system, is greatly hindered by the presence of OCD. In persons with OCD, satiating anxiety by engaging in temporary ritualistic behaviors provides an almost addictive release of dopamine, which in the long term has tolerance-building effects on mechanisms for emotional balancing, and reduces the pleasure experienced from other normally- rewarding sources. Luckily, psychedelics like our beloved psilocybin mushrooms, show potential for resetting mechanisms of the DMN known to be at fault for those incessantly meddlesome thoughts that propagate OCD symptoms.
Aside from the objective neurological advantages that psychedelic substances can provide for sufferers of OCD, there’s a very impalpable and beneficial aspect of psychedelic experiences that we haven’t yet touched on. See friends, the mental environment of a psilocybin journey can often tempt its subjects to resist ensuing sensations of discomfort and pensive novelty. Some turn to familiar behaviors or activities for attempting to control this distress.
For someone with OCD, following fixed rituals that have satiated anxious compulsions in the past, may seem like an adequate outlet. What most people come to experience though, is quite the opposite effect. In a psychedelic experience, resisting this discomfort only brings on an even more corpulent tone of unease. It’s only by surrendering to the experience and allowing the journey to take its natural course, that individuals are rewarded with mental tranquility and intellectual augmentations.
Weird, huh? The physical actions that normally deliver relief are fruitless in these other-worldly experiences. Instead, our brains reward us for letting go of habitual mediations and for accepting the ‘now’ as it comes. As one of our respondents very accurately analogized, the OCD experience…
“…feels like I’m a puppet on a string… my brain is pulling and tugging on my limbs making me (behave compulsively).”
For people suffering from OCD, this rewarding experience of surrender can, in itself, be tremendously therapeutic. When our brains are no longer demanding action from our bodies, it’s almost as if we can taste the dissolution of these puppeteering strings, taking with it the now- dissipated bonds between our compulsive thoughts and ritualistic behaviors.
A singular psychedelic experience can provide us with detailed blueprints for accessing cognitive frameworks that reward new, more passive conditions for obtaining relief from anxiety. In a therapeutic setting, psilocybin mushrooms can catapult a swell of behavioral momentum that sets the scene for a more autonomous exchange between our minds and bodies, even beyond the main course of our psychedelic supper.
Psilocybin & OCD: A Match Made On Earth
Jenny, an unfortunate victim caught in the unceasing eye of her own, personal, OCD storm, relays the psychedelic journey that’s transformed her life beyond any other pharmaceutical treatment. As Jenny puts it:
“I like doing things in fours, there’s a voice in my head that’s me, but (also) not me, that enforces this. I suffer from body dysmorphia and my OCD makes it feel like I’m becoming deformed if I don’t participate in some tasks.”
Jenny’s experiences with psilocybin took place from the ages of 18-24. She’d self medicate several times per year, becoming more and more amazed at the relief she was experiencing. As she tells us, psilocybin immensely helped Jenny cope with the comorbid symptoms of her OCD and BD and she compares her progress to what seems like an almost-‘resetting of the brain’. Now in her late 20s, Jenny favors treating her OCD by microdosing psilocybin–due to an impractical lack of time and space for partaking in more ‘heroic’ psychedelic doses.
“(While) microdosing I feel more accomplished and my intrusive thoughts vanish or become silly the entire time… I feel like I simply don’t have to do my compulsions. I’m aware of what I would be doing sober, but it’s easier to tuck the voice and worry away because I’m considerably more grounded… On larger doses, typically 2-4 grams, my compulsions disappear entirely. I like to listen to music because my compulsions make me listen to music 2-8 times which generally ends up confusing, (like) a big ball of ‘oh god did I do my compulsions right?’”
Through psilocybin, Jenny’s been able to re-meet her love for music–an everyday pastime that’d previously been haunted by the overcasting fixations of her OCD. Jenny goes on to say…
“Larger doses make me feel more like a child overall, everything is so new and fresh, while microdosing makes me feel like (the person I’d be) if it weren’t for my anxiety and dysmorphia. I look at myself and see a person, a soul, not a work in progress I’m failing on, but a human being. I’m more centered, grounded, and happier overall. The weight of my intrusive thoughts seem to physically lift out of me.”
In addressing the sometimes stigmatized use of psychedelics, Jenny lets us know that her psilocybin journey has in no way, negatively deviated her personal and professional endeavors. Aside from holding down a full time job, Jenny cares after her two beloved dogs. Now, at 29 years old, her long term romantic relationship and close-knit connection to family and friends have continued to flourish over the years, while routine exercising, car ownership/maintenance, and current efforts to save up for her own home seem to be keeping her quite busy and clear-eyed.
Jenny tells us that the symptom-relieving effects of a microdose usually persist for up to 2-3 days, with larger doses being taken anywhere from 2-3 times per year. Recently, Jenny’s gone on to try other forms of treatment like traditional therapy and pharmaceutical medications, but none have been as effective at relieving her OCD symptoms as psilocybin.
“It’s a lot slower of a process that involves a lot more work on my end. For example, I have cut out 3 compulsions in maybe a year this old fashioned way (with pharmaceuticals), versus 2-3 compulsions being dropped per dose (of psilocybin) with the plus side of not having to deal with the anxiety surrounding it (OCD). Interestingly enough, right now I’m prescribed a small dose of Abilify and while I’m going to continue taking it for a while, it hasn’t really helped ground me yet…”
Trusting Your Mind
Without a shadow of doubt, difficulty trusting one’s own mind is an invariable hurdle for those suffering from OCD. The constant battle of discerning the validity of their brain’s frightening accusations is for lack of a better word, psychological torture. Rationalizing the unfounded nature of these anxieties and compensatory behaviors are a constant in the everyday lives of people with OCD, but the very convincing physiological effects of these fears are what differentiates OCD from a typical anxiety disorder. One survey respondent told us:
“It feels like being Sisyphus rolling the boulder up a hill for eternity, whether that boulder is intrusive thoughts or the process of performing compulsions, or working towards recovery and a normal life. What it tells you isn’t real, but the way it affects you is.”
Fortunately, the vivacious effects of a psychedelic experience cannot be challenged. In someone who’s struggled with long term OCD, encountering such an established experience of satisfying surrender may feel like a sunk cost. However, after one has a personal experience with psychedelics, there exists no space for denying our own body’s capability to access more harmonious states of mind. Once you’ve lived through it, it cannot be forgotten.
This reconditioning of reward systems is permanently ingrained into the infrastructure of our brains, effectively restoring trust in our mind’s flexible abilities to adapt and overcome the long term accouterments of obsessive compulsive disorder. However, the psychedelic experience itself may not be enough to reduce symptoms interminably. Preceding therapeutic integration is vital for experiencing durable medicinal effects and for adopting more hearty, long term coping mechanisms.
Integration sessions can be led by a licensed psychotherapist well-versed in the complexions of various psychedelic substances. Some programs at ketamine clinics or psychedelic therapy practices even offer pre-trip consultations to help assess the best course of action for your individual concerns. However, finding a guide whose presence and ideals align with your specific needs, can be a little tricky. If you need some help finding a credible psychedelic guide, check out this article to read up on some helpful tips!
Reclaiming Control: Your Journey, Your Choice
At this point, many U.S. states are still struggling to legalize the therapeutic use of psychedelic substances. Clinical trials however, can be a viable option for those looking to participate in ongoing psychedelic research studies on OCD. It should be noted though- a spot in these trials can be very difficult to secure, as sample sizes unfortunately limit the number of accepted applicants. For those more interested in ketamine infusion therapy, we encourage you to take a look at this page for information on the most effective ways to locate a ketamine clinic near you.
Choosing the right psychedelic substance to suit your specific needs can also be tricky. Which is why here, at Psychedelic Passage, we spare no effort to provide you with guidance on all of these important questions. Whether you prefer to embark on this journey from the comfort of your own home or in an external environment–if our psychedelic facilitators can make it to you, we will sit with you.
We offer therapeutic psychedelic experiences in all major cities, across all 50 states, with specialized programs that encompass preparation sessions prior to the immersive psychedelic experience, 1:1 trip sitting, and supported integration sessions. Whenever you feel ready to reclaim control and take the next step in your healing journey, we invite you to speak with one of our facilitators by booking a consultation.
Whatever route you choose to take, please remember our humble advice… psychedelic journeys are highly personal experiences, therefore it’s vital that you have direct jurisdiction over the development of your treatment plan. Seek out support from facilitators that have abundant knowledge on integration programs, to ensure a fluid and productive transition that seamlessly incorporates the findings from your psychedelic experience, into your everyday life.
**Please note that names have been changed to maintain the anonymity of all parties**