It’s no surprise that research into the efficacy of psychedelic-assisted therapy has gained these trip-inducing medicines an admittedly bountiful following. Personal recovery stories are surfacing across the internet, with both anecdotal reports and clinical trials producing findings that make it almost impossible to negate the therapeutic benefits of these ancient entheogenic treatments like psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca, and the hippie-relict compound of LSD.
The big question though—what are the actual success rates of these consciousness-expanding treatments? Without tediously screening the abundant library of psychedelic studies, it’s difficult to find one succinct answer to this very simple question.
Today we’ll try our hand at amalgamating the findings of the largest, most notable studies to date, in order to offer the most straightforward success rates. However, we should warn you, much of what we discuss will inevitably touch on the independent variable that has the largest effect on this treatment’s success—you.
The studies we’ll be looking over did not come to their findings overnight. They deduced the treatment’s efficacy after weeks and months of patient preparation and extensive integration therapy.
Without our sustained dedication to self-driven emotional development, psychedelics may produce little-to-no long term change in mental or behavioral health. We encourage you to read on, thoroughly digesting the personal accountability that’s required for experiencing the famed benefits of this emerging drug-therapy combination.
To understand the efficacy of psilocybin and psychedelic-assisted therapy, we first have to define what “success” means and how it’s often quantified. Refining our expectations for these medicines is the first step toward having an intentional, therapeutic experience.
Surely, we cannot assume that psychedelics will cure our depression, for example, without first condensing the ailment to its most pervasive effects on our day-to-day lives. On the topic of depression, success rates may factor in several components like degree to which feelings of pessimism persist, level of interest in typically-stimulating activities, and prevalence of fatigue or memory consolidation.
Someone with anxiety may weigh their success with psilocybin therapy by measuring fluctuations in restlessness and panic attacks, their ability to concentrate on cognitively-demanding tasks, and speed and ease of falling and remaining asleep.
On the other hand, PTSD sufferers could assess treatment efficacy with similar measures of anxiety, omnipresence of flashbacks, and level of mood/thinking stability.
Whereas someone battling addiction could track progress by judging the intensity and constancy of irritability in absence of the abused substance, extent and permanence of substance craving, degree of neglect/attention to one’s appearance, or even the amount of money spent on a substance in any given time frame.
Breaking down your personal goals is a vital part of any recovery process and it requires that we strengthen our intuitive listening skills to enhance honest and nurturing communication between our minds and bodies. By learning the language of our somatic frames, we can more easily identify behavioral cues that offer insight into our very intimate healing trajectories.
Though it should be noted, the speed and healing strength of our psychedelic ventures may very well be affected by the depth of our conditioning and chronicity of our respective diagnoses. For someone with PTSD for example, the relative size or profundity of a traumatic event may warrant a more intensive and lengthy therapeutic plan to achieve optimal results.
Nonetheless, when the pain of the present moment outweighs the potential discomfort of change, then even a 1% improvement is worth the mental exercise.
Before you even decide to embark on a psychedelic journey, you must assess your level of belief in the treatment. If you go into the experience assuming that change will not transpire, it’s highly probable that you’ll fall victim to your own pessimistic vices—and yes, we’re pulling the self-fulfilling prophecy card—not as some self-seeking psychedelic call-to-action, but because science has long proven the very physical influence of our mental narratives.
A quick internet search on studies that have examined the placebo effect, tell a compelling story that stretches much further than some plain-Jane positive thinking. In fact, a 2016 study conducted by Sara Planes at al., explains the connotations of the lesser known nocebo effect—by which a treatment is more likely to produce negative or possibly no effects at all, if we observe the treatment in a negative psychological context.
To fortify the nocebo effect’s neurobiological impositions, researchers discuss a 1997 nocebo procedure study by Benedetti et al., in which patients were infused with CCK2 receptor agonists (known to increase sensitivity to pain). Patients were later openly or unknowingly infused with proglumide (a cholecystokinin antagonist that suppresses anxiety) or naloxone (placebo control).
When patients didn’t know they received proglumide to suppress anxiety, there was no impact on their perception of pain. However, those that did know they’d received proglumide, experienced analgesic effects that blocked the CCK2r agonists from increasing sensitivity to pain.
The study’s researchers used verbal suggestions to trigger anxiety about the imminent pain and observed activation of the patients’ CCK, provoking onset of hyperalgesia—an extreme response to pain. Other notable cerebral activity that results from a verbally induced nocebo effect is deactivation of dopamine and hyperactivity in the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis- whereas placebo responses are associated with increased dopaminergic activity.
There are also psychological implications to holding expectations as a human being—like confirmation bias, an unconscious neural tendency that enjoys directing our attention to stimuli which exclusively support our prior beliefs. We’d like to believe that our political, social, cultural, historical, sexual, recreational, and of course, intellectual perspectives are more well rounded that the ‘average’ person’s.
Some, more than others, tend to shy away from opposing perspectives or beliefs out of unfounded fear that this may somehow challenge or threaten the skeletal foundations of their unstable mental complexes. However, in this stagnant effort to find solidity in such formless awareness, we are paradoxically insulating our already-constricted and highly individualized perspectives to the point where they have a neurobiological effect on the way our corporeal flesh senses its environment.
If the mind’s eye interprets a need to keep itself in tact, to hold the blurry lines of its identity together by concaving away from conflicting notions, it will indeed defend itself. Friends, this can be a bad thing, as we’ve learned from the nocebo effect, but it can also be a very advantageous tool, like the placebo effect.
With great power comes great responsibility. So instead of desentizing our minds to the seemingly miraculous tools of psychedelic medicine, enter this journey with an open heart and an open mind. Surrender to the experience, accept what arises, and allow your brain to release dopamine and promote satisfying results, off of the simple idea that this may just change your life.
Input is Directly Correlated to Output
Before we dive into the clinical success rates of psychedelic-assisted therapy, it’s important that we address the emotional requirements for experiencing personal success with these potentially life-changing medicines. As we touched on earlier, the magnitude of your healing is in direct proportion to the amount of inner work that you’re willing to submit.
To materialize the most fruitful and seamless transition into a healthier lifestyle, we must take personal inventory over what is most pressing to us, in the current moment. Without understanding our intentions, we offer ourselves no goal post to aim for and gauge our progress by.
After the trip, your level of integration efforts are the number one indicators of how durable and deep-seated your psychedelic-assisted change will be.
We must be prepared to exhaust vulnerable attention onto the roots of our conditioning, so that we can look upward at the trunk of its expressions and properly analyze the extent of its branching into our emotions and routine behaviors.
Only by looking at ourselves with an objective gaze, can we create distance between our infertile defenses, relapse-precipitating environments, and self limiting narratives. What you put into it, is what you’ll get out of it. You do the work, you reap the rewards. That’s really the simplest way to quantify and predict your personal success rate with psychedelic-assisted therapy.
Are Psychedelics a Panacea?
As we’ve learned today, psychedelics are the talk of the town in the mental health community, and for very good reason. They have the potential to strip off the veils of our limiting cognitive conditioning and can help us step into our potential with much more clarity and poise.
Of the most notable clinical trials, Alan K Davis’ et al. 2021 clinical study on the efficacy of psychedelics for treating major depressive disorder found that 71% of the participants had a clinically significant, positive response to the therapy.
In a similar study that used ayahuasca, led by Fernanda Palhano-Fontes and colleagues, 64% of participants demonstrated a clinically significant response from the medicine, whereas Roland R Griffiths’ et al., 2016 study found that 80% of participants demonstrated clinically significant reductions in depressed mood.
By averaging these response rates, we can deduce that as of the current moment, psychedelic assisted therapy for depression has an estimated 71.6% success rate.
Since these studies also accounted for measures of anxiety, we can assume somewhat similar success rates. If we do the same with the three most relevant studies on MDMA for treating PTSD, , , , we find that an average of 65.8% of PTSD participants, no longer met the diagnostic criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, after their psychedelic trip and follow-up integration sessions.
Studies on psychedelic treatments for addiction , , , found a 72% success rate in participants, with results demonstrating that 80% of patients have remained abstinent for 6 months, and 67% have remained abstinent after 12 months.
So are psychedelics a panacea? No, if not we’d have a 100% success rate, but the results we do have, offer a promising future for these mind-altering medicines and for the people who choose to employ them throughout their healing journey.
Friends, we truly hope that all of the information we’ve presented today could serve as a gentle reminder of the influence we have on the trajectory of our healing. We have such a big sway on our internal climates and that power can be harnessed in a beautiful way through the use of psychedelic medicines and therapeutic trust.
Journeying these uncharted waters can be admittedly tricky without experienced guidance, which is why we invite you to book a consult with one of our very intuitive and supportive psychedelic facilitators. We want to help you get the most out of your journey, so that you can help yourself maintain accountability for doing the integrative inner work that will boost your success with these versatile substances.
While you’re here, we post weekly articles answering the most-asked and often barely-covered questions on all things psychedelic, so if you’re curious to learn more, we encourage you to take a peek at our blog page. That’s all for now—safe journeying!