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The Current Research on Psychedelic Therapy for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Fatigue—you might think it’s a minor health problem when compared to other health issues, but it has the power to magnify even the most basic daily tasks into formidable obstacles for those contending with it.

More specifically, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) seems to resist easy categorization and definitive explanation when it comes to medical, scientific, and diagnostic assessment. 

Its hallmark feature—an unrelenting fatigue that defies rest—serves as a constant reminder of the intricate relationship between mind, body, and health. 

Amidst the struggle to decipher its origins and alleviate its symptoms, alternative therapies have quietly come to the forefront, shining a light on new possibilities for CFS sufferers.

And utilizing substances like psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA within a therapeutic context may be a surprising healing modality for those struggling with its variety of associated symptoms.

In this article, we discuss chronic fatigue syndrome, the scientific findings regarding its causes and comorbidities, and how intentional psychedelic use could have potential benefits and effects on chronic fatigue syndrome. 

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What Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS)?

Chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, (ME/CFS) is a complex and debilitating condition characterized by profound fatigue that doesn’t improve with rest and is often worsened by physical or mental activity.

The World Health Organization classifies it as a neurological disorder, however it affects nearly every system in the body—from the digestive to cardiovascular to immune to neurological systems.

“Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) is a disease now well-documented as having arisen commonly from a viral infection, but also from other external stressors, like exposure to agricultural chemicals, other types of infection, surgery, or other severe stress events. 

Research has shown these events produce a systemic molecular inflammatory response and chronic immune activation and dysregulation” (Tate et al., 2022).

Symptoms Include:

      • Extreme exhaustion (especially after physical or mental exertion)
      • Cognitive issues (such as poor memory and concentration)
      • Dizziness that worsens with postural changes 
      • Chronic pain in the muscles, joints, or nerves
      • Sleep disturbances and not feeling refreshed after sleep
      • Headaches and migraines
      • Flu-like symptoms (like sore throats and lymph nodes)
      • Perceptual sensitivities to light, sound, food, tastes, & smells
      • Poor coordination
      • Pale skin
      • Changes in blood pressure
      • Sensitivity to temperature changes
      • Significant weight loss or gain
      • Digestive issues
      • Urinary problems
      • Allergies

    Since the exact cause of CFS remains complex, we know that it is usually caused by a combination of genetics, infections, physical or emotional trauma, and problems converting fats and sugars into energy for the body to use. 

    The condition also manifests anywhere from mild (limiting certain life activities like exercise) to severe (in which the person is bedridden and needs help with eating, drinking fluids, and getting to the bathroom.)

    Comorbidities Include: 

      Interestingly, CFS is far more common in young to middle aged women or those who have experienced recent psychological, emotional, or physical trauma.

      And even though many unknowns have yet to be illuminated when it comes to the causes of this condition, how to truly diagnose it, and how to treat it, there are certain stipulations for who gets diagnosed. 

      Psychedelic Therapy for Sleep

      To be diagnosed with CFS, the patient must have:

          1. Substantial fatigue for a minimum of 6 months
          2. Substantial fatigue after physical exertion
          3. A lack of feeling rested after sleep and rest
          4. Either or both of a cognitive impairment and orthostatic intolerance

        “ME/CFS is what’s known as an energy-limiting chronic illness (ECLI), which means the body doesn’t make energy properly at a cellular level. 

        Cells in people with ME/CFS are like a battery which never fully charges and goes flat very quickly. 

        This impacts how much people with ME/CFS can do on a day-to-day basis, especially how much exercise they can undertake” (Better health, 2022).

        Traditional medical approaches for CFS have often focused on symptom management and lifestyle modifications. However, in recent years, alternative allopathic therapies have begun to explore more intensive treatment methods.

        Current Treatments for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

        When it comes to current treatment options for chronic fatigue syndrome, there is no real standardized treatment plan. Given the complexity of CFS, medical care aims to address and manage symptoms as much as possible.

        Medications like pain relievers, antidepressants, blood pressure medications, and beta blockers are used to manage and treat unpleasant symptoms and other associated illnesses.

        However, patients with CFS are often sensitive to medications and herbal remedies, which sometimes rules out both allopathic and alternative medicines.

        An important element of living with CFS and managing one’s health is graded exercise therapy which helps the patient stay active without overdoing it and triggering undesirable symptoms.

        Starting out slow with exercise and working up in intensity and duration over time while finding the right level of activity helps avoid any extended burnouts or fatigue for the following days and weeks after physical exertion. 

        Mostly, treatment for CFS consists of mindfully coping with the disorder through altering expectations and activity in one’s life, such as setting boundaries with work, social life, and exertional activities while prioritizing rest. 

        Lastly, cognitive behavioral therapy is also a common treatment for CFS given that depression and mental health issues can be both a trigger for and a symptom of the condition, so addressing this aspect of the condition can make it more manageable. 

        With the rise of psychedelic therapy and therapeutic psychedelic use, research surrounding substances like LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, ayahuasca, and DMT are increasingly becoming popular.

        Let’s dive into the nuances of available research surrounding chronic fatigue and hallucinogens to discover if these medicines are right for your path toward healing!

        Psilocybin Therapy for Chronic Fatigue

        The Link Between Psychedelics and CFS: The Research & Benefits 

        Scientific research regarding the use of psychedelic substances has been gaining traction, particularly in the context of trauma treatment and its potential implications for conditions such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). 

        When it comes to the causes of CFS, the widespread belief amongst medical and scientific literature revolves around the hypothesis that CFS symptoms are a result of chronic inflammation from an immune response which fails to return back to baseline. 

        Tate and colleagues hypothesized that “following the initial stressor event, the subsequent systemic pathology moves to the brain via neurovascular pathways or through a dysfunctional blood-brain barrier (BBB), resulting in chronic neuroinflammation and leading to a sustained illness with chronic relapse recovery cycles” (2022).

        The initial stressor event could be anything from a viral infection (an example would be “long Covid”) to psychologically or emotionally traumatic events to a physical injury. 

        Either way, an immune response is triggered which then increases the inflammatory response in the body, reaching the central nervous system and brain. CFS then develops when this response becomes chronic rather than acute. 

        Tate and colleagues hypothesized that when the “immune inflammatory response of the peripheral system” fails to subside after the exposure to a stressful event or viral infection, the “chronic and dysregulated” stress response leads to “atypical signaling to the brain and central nervous system” resulting in “chronic neuroinflammation.”

        And the key here is neuroinflammation. This explains why so many of CFS symptoms present similarly to neurological disorders. 

        If this hypothesis continues to prove true in trials, it would suggest that modulating and shutting off the stress and inflammatory responses would, in a sense, turn off the source of the fire and allow the body to cool back down and heal

        It was found in another 2020 study by Mueller and colleagues that an “increased temperature in several brain regions” were found in those with ME/CFS, indicating a strong correlation between the condition and neuroinflammation.

        Furthermore, one fascinating avenue of research revolves around the influence of psychedelic compounds like psilocybin and LSD on serotonin receptors within the brain. 

        Since CFS is known to involve disruptions in serotonin regulation, researchers are investigating whether these compounds could help restore serotonin balance and, subsequently, alleviate CFS symptoms. 

        Aside from serotonin systems, the role of trauma in both CFS and the efficacy of psychedelic therapy cannot be overlooked. 

        Trauma is known to have a profound impact on brain function, particularly on regions related to emotion regulation, memory, and stress response. 

        Moreover, the release of neurotrophic factors and the promotion of neurogenesis—essential processes for maintaining brain health—could potentially be facilitated by psychedelic therapy, contributing to symptom relief

        Lastly, psychedelic substances like psilocybin mushrooms have shown in clinical trials time and time again to have immune-modulatory and anti-inflammatory properties

        According to Szabo in this 2015 review, “besides their psychopharmacological activity, [psychedelics] have also been shown to exert significant modulatory effects on immune responses by altering signaling pathways involved in inflammation, cellular proliferation, and cell survival via activating NF-κB and mitogen-activated protein kinases.”

        Another study by Flanagan and Nichols found that psychedelic compounds have anti-inflammatory effects via its effects on the 5HT2A serotonin receptor. (2018).

        While further research is indispensable to solidify these connections, preliminary findings suggest that psychedelic therapy holds substantial potential in alleviating the burdensome symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. 

        Understanding the theoretical mechanisms and recent study outcomes paves the way for continued exploration and potential breakthroughs in this captivating domain. 

        As researchers delve deeper into the realm of psychedelic-assisted therapy, they may uncover novel interventions that offer hope to individuals grappling with the challenges posed by trauma and conditions like CFS. 

        By addressing the intricate interplay between psychedelics, trauma, and brain function, scientists are poised to shed light on novel treatment pathways for these complex conditions.

        Speak with a Psychedelic Professional 

        Are you ready to journey into brand new worlds through psychedelics but aren’t sure where to begin? Here at Psychedelic Passage, we connect seekers with a network of professional guides who help ensure a powerfully positive experience. 

        Our network not only aids you during your journey to ensure you are safe and taken care of, but also works with you during preparation leading up to the as well as integration session post-journey.

        We hope you will book a consultation with us today and get started on the process, knowing that there is a network located all over the US ready to assist you in an accessible way.

        Also check out our resources page, which is full of additional information and articles on a wide variety of mind-altering topics.

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        Take the first step and book a consultation call with us today. We'll walk you through every step of the process after getting to know you and your unique situation.

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        At Psychedelic Passage, we offer professional 1-on-1 guidance and companionship on your journey of healing. We simply can't sit back and let Americans continue to sit in silent suffering trying to battle mental health issues within a broken health care system, all while knowing that effective alternatives exist. We stand for the sacred, at-home, ceremonial use of psychedelics for consciousness exploration, which we believe to be a fundamental human right.

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