We’ve all heard that psychedelics can reduce stress, but how? Psychedelics have recently been recognized as a tool that can be used to address a range of mental health problems—anything from depression and anxiety to addiction and stress disorders. In this article, we’ll explore the science behind psychedelic stress relief and give you 5 actionable tips to help you incorporate psychedelics into plans for a stress-free future.
What Does Science Say About Stress and Psychedelics?
Before we get into how you can use psychedelics for stress relief, you’ll probably want a little assurance that it works. So, what exactly have researchers found when looking at psychedelics and stress?
We can’t talk about psychedelics and stress without mentioning PTSD. In any given year, around 8 million adults are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. This includes a high number of veterans, a significant number of females who have survived sexual assault/abuse, and individuals of all races, genders, and ages who have experienced an accident or disaster.
Traditional therapies for PTSD typically include antipsychotics (like risperidone or olanzapine) or antidepressants (including Prozac, Paxil, or Zoloft). Though these medications work for some individuals, in most cases, they fall short. Even if these methods do lead to symptom management, the intolerable side effects end up being just as bad—if not worse—than the effects of PTSD itself. It’s easy to see why doctors and researchers have looked to psychedelics as an attractive alternative.
Several different psychedelics are currently being studied for the treatment of PTSD. In many cases, psychedelics work to increase one’s capacity for emotional and cognitive processing—allowing them to work through their traumatic event—and do so by diminishing arousal and feelings of fear.
So what does this look like? Sustained reduction of symptoms of PTSD with MDMA, a temporary reduction of symptoms with ketamine, and an improvement in symptoms with cannabis (specifically, 5 grams THC).
When it comes to MDMA, studies are extremely promising—so much so that the FDA is fast-tracking the process towards its approval to be used in therapy for PTSD patients. In one study, 83% of participants (n = 20) positively responded to MDMA, and improvements were sustained over time.
The ironic nature of a popular club drug being used medically is just as ironic as the way by which MDMA works to address symptoms of PTSD. MDMA (ecstasy) actually triggers the stress hormones noradrenaline/norepinephrine and cortisol. By doing so, it also activates the emotional learning required to reduce fear and stress in the long-term and also makes patients more receptive to psychotherapy.
There are few studies with the classic, naturally-derived psychedelics (DMT, psilocybin, ayahuasca, mescaline, LSD) but ayahuasca has been proposed as a potential treatment for PTSD. In fact, ayahuasca ceremonies have been shown to provide relief of distressing symptoms associated with many mental illnesses, which may contribute to a better relationship with health care practitioners and a more optimal health outcome overall.
Similarly, psilocybin has already been shown to have great promise in addressing stress associated with cancer and related existential crises. Impacting one’s entire outlook, psilocybin helps to reduce the elevated stress levels that normally accompany cancer treatments and patients with terminal illnesses.
Working in a similar manner, the mystical experiences associated with psilocybin use are thought to produce “inverse PTSD-like effects.” These are understood to produce lasting changes in the brain, and subsequent behavior allows an individual to examine traumatic events and process them in a healthy way—which leads to sustained mental health benefits.
Research into LSD and PTSD was banned in 1966, so LSD hasn’t been studied thoroughly for its potential to reduce symptoms of stress (in some cases stress is actually elevated).
And because recent studies have yet to catch up for time lost during prohibition, we must rely on anecdotal evidence, some of which suggest that LSD use may help one uncover the true cause of stress and related symptoms.
Unlike traditional medications that target symptoms, psychedelics help with stress because they target the root cause.
Psychedelics help address the underlying causes of stress by rewiring the subconscious brain, shifting perspectives, correcting archetypal imbalances, releasing and healing trauma, and even by fostering a relationship with God or spirit. Unlike antidepressants or antipsychotics, which only treat symptoms and chemical imbalances, psychedelic use can foster long-term healing—without all of the awful side effects.
So, What Are The 5 Tips for Using Psychedelics for Stress Relief?
Consider Your Intention
If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you’ve experienced stress at some point in your life and are curious about how you can alleviate it. The most important thing to do right off the bat is to get to know your stress. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:
- When do you find that you’re most likely to experience stress? Is there a certain time of day? A specific time of year?
- Are there certain situations that trigger stress more often? Have you noticed any specific conditions at work/home/in social settings that are associated with more feelings of stress?
- Are there certain people who you feel stress around more often? Do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by certain people? Do you feel like you need to de-stress after engaging with specific people?
It’s important to realize that there will always be an underlying cause of stress as well as triggers. No one experiences stress “just because.” And though medical and physiological factors are at play, the underlying cause will likely have something to do with a desire to control certain outcomes, a lack of self-love, a way you relate to the world, or loops created by past trauma. Knowing your stress will be the first way for you to get to the bottom of its root causes so that you can work towards alleviating it.
Once you know your stress, you can create an intention around addressing it. How specific can you get about what life will look like with reduced stress? Do you want less stress at work, less stress with relationships, or do you want to better understand how to deal with stress when it arises? The better you can pinpoint your intention, the easier it will be to use psychedelics to get there.
You also have to decide how much work you’re willing to do to relieve stress. You can’t expect a single psychedelic experience to do all of the work for you. If you feel lost here (and don’t worry, this happens to most of us!), speaking with a psychedelic coach or mentor will help.
We can set you up with a psychedelic integration coach who will examine where you’re at and help you determine appropriate actions to take to achieve your stress relief goals. Plus, we’ll be able to hold you accountable as you make changes (both with and without psychedelics) towards addressing your stress.
Along with the intention, you’ll have to put some thought into all aspects of your preparation— not only during the psychedelic experience but also your integration plans before and after the experience.
Preparing for a psychedelic experience is something that we’ve highlighted in another article and will be a crucial component of your healing—especially when seeking a very specific outcome like “stress relief.” Good preparation essentially boils down to a few key things:
- Familiarize yourself with altered states of consciousness and practices that allow you to go inward (breathwork, meditation, yoga, journaling, etc.)
- Clear space for the experience by taking time off work (ideally the day before, during, and after the experience) and tidy up any loose ends to mentally clear space
- Have support in the form of a guide or trip sitter—someone sober who you feel comfortable with and who’s capable of keeping you safe and feeling supported
- Establish an appropriate set and setting by ensuring that you’re in the right headspace and are in a safe environment that has everything you should need (important personal items, comfy blanket/pillow, access to a toilet, water, snacks, HIDDEN car keys, etc.)
Explore Experience Options
Different experience options are typically associated with different intentions and outcomes. The type of experience you have will obviously be based on a few things beyond your control such as travel restrictions, inability to take time off of work, or financial limitations. However, having an understanding of the different experiences is helpful in choosing what’s best for you.
- Solo Experience: If you’re unable to head to a retreat or work with a psychedelic guide, you’ll likely end up doing psychedelics alone (i.e. not in a group but with a trip sitter). You’ll be responsible for ensuring that you have a safe environment that’s conducive to your goals.
- Psychedelic Guide: Legal psychedelic therapy (i.e. ketamine) or underground work with a psychedelic guide is an option that many people turn to when they have specific goals regarding psychedelics. Psychedelic guides typically have backgrounds/experiences in areas that can further benefit your healing (i.e. mental health professionals, shamans, etc.). *Please note that we are unable to provide recommendations for underground psychedelic guides.
- Psychedelic Ceremony/Retreat: Most ceremonial psychedelic experiences take place outside of the US and occur over the span of several days or weeks. They’ll typically encompass additional aspects that may be beneficial towards your goals of stress relief—like yoga/meditation, intention setting, discussion with a shaman/healer, and connection with other participants. However, if being in social settings is a stress trigger, you might find that the group setting is too overwhelming.
Choose an Appropriate Dose
Ensuring an effective dose that’s going to meet your needs and fulfill your intention while remaining safe will ultimately be your responsibility. We’ve written another article about psychedelic dosage that can be used as a starting point but you’ll want to make your own considerations based on your mental state, current health, any potential drug interactions, and your previous experiences with psychedelics.
Even better, chatting with a psychedelic mentor or coach (like one of us!) can help you determine the best dose for you. We have an in-depth understanding of the psychedelic substance you’re interested in working with and can provide recommendations to ensure a safe and successful experience. You can also discuss both microdosing and macrodosing techniques with us to develop a routine that’s best to manage, and ultimately alleviate, your stress.
- Macrodosing vs Microdosing: Microdosing can be thought of as a supplement approach while macrodosing can be considered a full reset. Both have positive benefits but will suit different situations/intentions in different ways.
A microdosing regimen can be a good way to support ongoing mood regulation. Taken every few days, it may help to provide stress relief over a certain period of time.
Macrodosing, on the other hand, may only take place once or a few times a year. These profound experiences can be thought of as a ‘reset’ that allows one to really explore the causes of the stress and work through them. As a significant experience, this will obviously require more involvement and time to prepare for/process the experience as well as stronger safety protocols.
Integrate the Experience
The integration component of a psychedelic experience is just as important as the experience itself. Especially when you’re heading into a psychedelic experience with a specific desired outcome (i.e. stress relief), it’s crucial to recognize that the process isn’t complete as soon as the effects of the psychedelic fade.
Psychedelic integration will take place before the experience as a part of preparation, but it’s very important after the experience, too. While the integration process can happen on one’s own, it’s generally much more beneficial with the help of a psychedelic therapist or mentor who has firsthand experience with the substance—that’s what we do here at Psychedelic Passage.
We’ll work with you to explore the meaning behind the experience and determine what things you can do (like breathing techniques, meditation, journaling, etc.) to contribute to sustained stress relief. If you’re interested in speaking with one of our integration specialists, you can schedule a free discovery call with us today.
Reduce Stress with Psychedelics
Beyond a diagnosis of PTSD, many people experience stress in their lives. Whether it’s from not meeting their own expectations or because of causes outside of their control, Americans are not only some of the most stressed people in the world but are also more stressed than ever before.
Science shows us that addressing the symptoms of stress sometimes doesn’t work or causes other problems, and also gives us insight into how psychedelics can help with sustained healing. Psychedelics can provide a much-needed shift in perspective, help us confront issues, or help us to connect with a higher being or source that helps us move through uncertainty.
Psychedelics, when combined with our coaching program can provide you with all of the tools, resources, and support necessary to relieve your stress—not just once or twice, but sustainably for the rest of your life. If you’re serious about a stress-free future, get in touch with us to see how we can help you make it happen.