It’s 1965 and the hippies of San Francisco and Greenwich village are saturating American culture with the flower power movement of flared pants and trippy fashion. A youthful counterculture is materializing in their protests for self exploration and social harmony, influencing a generation of ‘tuned in’ consciousness activists flocking together at the mind-expanding axis of LSD and ‘magic’ mushrooms.
Now in 2022, the hippie era is seeing a runway revival of fashion trends and psychedelic intrigue. Only this time, we’re not running away from the ‘fuzz’. Instead, scientists and government officials are working hand in hand to produce legal and medical frameworks for the tantalizing grit of our 1960s freedom fighters. For over 40 years, psychedelic criminalization suspended a discouraging air of stagnancy amongst enthused researchers, but this cultural interlude only propounded today’s impassioned synthesis of psychedelic therapeutics.
The field’s exponential developments have provoked strong scientific support for hippie claims of psychedelic ‘connectedness’ and intramural awareness, revealing an unparalleled potential for psycho-physiological healing. Today we’ll be diving into the sweeping, symptom-mitigating properties of psychedelic medicines like LSD, psilocybin, and MDMA, to paint a comprehensive picture of the mental and somatic diseases they’ve been reported and proved to treat.
We’ve published articles with more concentrated detail on these drugs’s mechanisms of relief for some of the specific disorders we’ll be discussing today. We encourage you to reference those internal links if you’re interested in learning more, but without further ado, let’s begin by exploring the psychological remedies of these acclaimed substances.
For The Body, For The Mind
Most prominently, psychedelic medicines are making a head-strong entrance into the notoriously hard-to-treat disorders of depression, anxiety, alcohol dependence, chronic stress and PTSD. Our current body of research has focused its preliminary attention on treatment of these illnesses, already receiving FDA approval for the use of ketamine with treatment-resistant depression and actioning designation of psilocybin as a ‘Breakthrough Therapy’.
Other, more niche research, has honed in on their remarkable efficacy at treating symptoms of OCD, eating disorders, cancer anxiety, and demoralization in AIDS survivors. Though, its applications aren’t strictly limited to psychological disorders. Psychedelic medicines are also highly recognized for their chemical ingenuity in treatment of somatic diseases like cluster headaches, migraines, and even several anecdotal cases of stuttering. To better understand the healing effects of these medicines, we should consider the subjective sensations and physical modifications that embody their experiences.
Experienced as a feeling of sentient surrender that welcomes new conceptualizations of personal and existential beliefs—allowing us to more candidly explore mental territories that generated fear or tension in the past.
Research suggests that the serotonergic mechanisms of psychedelics are responsible for the increase of suggestibility experienced in these altered states of consciousness. This could be of extreme value in a therapeutic setting, where our typical apprehensions toward objectively-productive advice may be more easily accepted and integrated.
Interconnectedness and Timelessness
A very common subjectivity of psychedelic experiences is a deep sense of interconnectedness between human civilization and our organic host, planet earth. People commonly report feelings of unconditional love, both for the world and toward themselves.
A sense of timelessness, described as the inability to place the self in a specific point in time, essentially allows us to experience this space-time dimension without the bounding construct that keeps us tied to perceptions of a finite life. Without the measure of time, all we can experience is the ‘here and now’, helping us to appreciate the healthy habit of living in the present, rather than dawning on the past or fixating on fears of the future.
Many studies, namely Calvin Ly et al.’s research from 2018, have proven that psychedelic drugs stimulate neuritogenesis, the sprouting of neurites which produce axons and dendrites for amplified communications between the neurons in our brains. Neuropsychiatric diseases like depression and anxiety, are known to retract these neuritis, impeding optimal communication through our brain’s signaling pathways. This direct counteraction by psychedelics improve and restore brain function to these areas, demonstrating high promise for emotional regulation and neurological health.
The DMN or Default Mode Network, is the region of our brain responsible for systematizing the circulation of internal thoughts, in absence of our focused attention. The DMN is active when our mind’s unconsciously wander, replaying memories of the past and daydreaming of events in the future.
Think of this as the mental static that lingers behind the mundane routines of our everyday lives, like shopping for groceries or driving to work. By stimulating activity in this brain region, psychedelics can help regulate the DMN overactivity usually present in people with mental health disorders.
Depression & Chronic Stress
At the moment, ketamine is the only hallucinogen approved for treatment-resistant depression and is in phase 2 of clinical trials for treatment of major depressive disorder, with psilocybin mushrooms and LSD trailing down the same path. Their effects on depression have proven to be monumental, helping patients reclaim a long-lost rehabilitivate motivation, excited by refreshing exposure to unconventional mental routines.
These pattern-dismantling tools give us unhindered access to more fruitful decision-making and perspective-taking skills, previously dulled by our unwavering identifications to conditioned assumptions and fear-based inhibitions. In fact, an anonymous survey respondent sent us a statement about his own ketamine and MDMA journey:
“Ketamine permanently cured my depression, it was entirely accidental.
I was a heroin addict just getting high on another substance, I did a high dose of ketamine while I was freshly sober (physical withdrawals just ended) from opioids.
I had a powerful ego death experience…I was viewing my life and personal characteristics from the third person… and I found out I loved and approved of myself. MDMA unlocked a lot of empathy and helped me process traumatic events in my past that were holding me back. I gained a true appreciation for the little things in life and now prioritize happiness and love over all else.
Those two chemicals transformed me from a suicidally depressed and anxious 20 year old into a stronger, happier, more at peace 26-year-old, today. I have a full time job, I have great credit, I pay every bill on time, have a wonderful love life, and maintain good social relations.”
– Psychedelic Passage Survey Respondent
Amongst the multitude of studies confirming this phenomena, Ronald S. Duman and George K. Aghajanian published a 2015 manuscript on synaptic dysfunction in the brains of people with depression and chronic stress. Their findings relay a size reduction of the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, with decreased presence of neuronal synapses.
To mitigate this neural plasticity, a drug would have to extend neuronal dendritic spines in order to increase points of contact between neurons, extend connectivity between our CNS (Central Nervous System), and heighten overall neurotransmitter activity. Luckily, Dunman and Aghahanian’s study concluded that ketamine, amongst other psychedelic substances, almost immediately provokes this necessary synaptogenesis and even reverses the synaptic pruning effects of depression and chronic stress.
Generalized, Social, & Cancer-Induced Anxiety
Another dominant aspect of research is on the anxiety-relieving benefits of psychedelic compounds. Mindmed, a psychedelic biotech company, has received approval to advance through phase 2b of clinical trials on their proprietary version of LSD for treatment of anxiety.
In the same vein, we see ketamine responding through phase 1 trials for social anxiety disorder and psilocybin at the same stage for treatment of cancer-related anxiety. The pillars of anxiety can be narrowed down to a few universal traits: negative thought loops, restlessness derived from consistent attempts to detach from them, and all-consuming fears of impending danger. In direct opposition to these trademarks of anxiety, are psychedelics’ ability to induce states of psychological openness and receptivity.
Having such an engrossing experience that rewards surrender of control with feelings of tranquility and self-directed trust, helps recondition the DMN by offering a sort of two-fold mental map. This inner event can teach us how to access these acceptance-based states of mind while also strengthening our internal associations between surrender and pleasure—where in the past, our brains may have produced dopamine to reinforce the link between control-seeking behaviors and anxiety relief.
Whether someone is experiencing generalized anxiety or social anxiety, psychedelics are claiming an important position within our mental health systems because of their far-reaching applications. Cancer patients are even seeing tremendous anxiety relief from these therapies.
In essence, psychedelics reframe mental narratives by offering a ‘bigger picture’ perspective. This feeling of interconnectedness mentioned earlier, allows individuals to explore identities that aren’t necessarily attached to our human cloaks. Instead, our intrinsic value and outward relevance can be quantified by our innate relation to all things outside of ourselves, and consequently within.
More simply, this immersive feeling of connection to the rest of humanity and to the earth we’re inhabiting, can help cancer patients find asylum in the idea that we are a part of something much bigger than ourselves, and that our flesh-bound existence on earth is not necessarily indicative of death after life. Through subjective sensations of timelessness, psychedelics can help us meet the innate fabric of existence that underscores our universe and feeds life beyond life.
Like singular waves to an undifferentiated sea, we may perceive ourselves through archetypal individuality, but in reality, we are not but a finite expression of an infinite body. Like fingers to a hand or branches to a tree, we are idioms of distinction to a much larger identity. This is the sort of existential comfort that psychedelics can provide for not only people with mental health disorders, but also for those who are already happy with their current state of mind.
“Psychedelics cured my crippling anxiety. I had such bad anxiety in high school that I couldn’t look people in the eye, couldn’t even get through a sentence without stuttering due to second guessing everything that came out of my mouth and couldn’t be around a crowd without constantly scanning the room looking for exits and possible dangers.
About 4 years ago, I decided to take LSD with a friend that I trust more than anyone and woke up the next morning with no anxiety. It was such a big change that I thought something was wrong with me without the feeling of anxiety. After doing research I discovered that psychedelics have the ability to rewire your brain without you knowing. It’s on such a subconscious level. You don’t need a big breakthrough or anything like that.
The best way to explain how psychedelics work is to imagine a ski slope, our thought processes create lanes in the snow due to us following the same line of thoughts over and over but psychedelics are like a fresh snowfall. Allowing new neural pathways to be created, causing you to take a new perspective on life and things within it. Psychedelics saved me and I’ll always be forever grateful.”
– Psychedelic Passage Survey Respondent
OCD & Eating Disorders
Though the conditions of these two disorders vary immensely, they’re both emphasized by very similar feelings of pervading anxiety. OCD is characterized by an incessant mental urge for satisfaction that can most often, only be satiated by engaging in ritual-like fixations.
Eating disorders carry with it body dysmorphic disorder—a deep-seated sense of physical unappeal that ushers in a combination of compensatory behaviors like withholding food from oneself or vomitting to purge prior caloric intake. A binge-eating disorder takes the form of overindulgence in food as means for masking underlying anxious concerns.
As a whole, these disorders attempt to repress anxiety-driven thoughts of ineptitude or dissatisfaction through control-seeking fixations. Here, psychedelics can remedy an individual by providing that same pattern-breaking, bigger picture relief, through gratifying surrender and inner acceptance.
People who’ve used psychedelics to treat their OCD have reported a significant reduction in the pervasiveness of their fixations, even on microdoses. It’s as if they can still feel their anxiety trying to pull them toward ritualistic behaviors, but they don’t feel the need to interact or respond to those impulses.
Those with eating disorders describe the effects of psychedelic experiences as a ‘return’ to the child-like innocence that found self-fulfillment in everything, except socially-conditioned standards of beauty, like body shape, size, and height. As though the weight of our conditioning is suspended for a brief moment in time, allowing us to perceive the institutionalized frames of profit-driven consumerism that have permeated the measures by which an entire civilization deduces their self worth.
Research findings on MDMA-assisted therapy for eating disorders, supports these claims. In fact, MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association For Psychedelic Studies, is already preparing for phase 2 of MDMA studies on anorexia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.
In a 2022 randomized, placebo-controlled study conducted by Timothy D Brewerton and colleagues, 82 participants with severe PTSD-induced eating disorders were tested using the Eating Attitudes Test 26 (EAT-26), before and after MDMA therapy. Findings yielded a significant reduction of ED symptoms in all participants compared to placebo (p=0.03). For those unfamiliar with the statistical significance of p=0.03, it means that there’s a 3% probability that the result is due to chance, meaning these changes in ED symptomatology are 97% likely to have come directly from the MDMA dose.
Alcohol Dependence & Substance Abuse
Alcohol dependence is currently in phase 2 of clinical trials for treatment with psilocybin mushrooms. Research has found that psilocybin can stifle alcohol cravings by stimulating glutamate uptake—a brain function pushed severely out of equilibrium by long-term alcohol use.
Heightened glutameric activity is cause for early development of alcohol and drug tolerance which creates substance dependence and promotes unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Dependence and consequent relapse behaviors are then sustained by neuroplastic changes in our memory circuits.
Amazingly, psilocybin has been proven to act on metabotropic glutamate receptor 2 and 5-HT2AR (serotonin receptors). This stimulation, along with the potential for increased neuroplasticity in memory-related brain mechanisms, can work to reverse this hypoglutamatergic state, induced by alcohol and drug abuse. A psychedelic experience can thus reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms while also providing all of the benefits already mentioned in the above subsections.
Under the most developed body of research, is psychedelics’ potential for treating PTSD symptoms, most notably, MDMA, which is already in phase 3 of clinical trials. In a 2018 phase 3 study on MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD by MAPS, 90 participants with severe PTSD were given three spaced-out, randomized, placebo-controlled doses of MDMA, with multiple preparation and integration sessions.
Results of the study attracted the FDA’S Breakthrough Therapy designation. Using the CAPS-5 assessment to test PTSD severity before and after MDMA-assisted therapy, findings concluded that at the end of the study, 67% of treatment subjects no longer met criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. Functional impairment also experienced a significant reduction, with an average change of -3.1 for the treatment group and -2.0 for the placebo group.
With these statistics, it’s impossible to deny the tenacious efficacy of psychedelic intervention. Now that we have a good grip on this treatment’s data-backed success, let’s take a quick glance at its hypothesized mechanisms.
Of course, the heaviest perils of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) are garnished by intense emotional and physical reactions to the recalling of traumatic and triggering events. The nature of this disorder employs a double-edged presence of depression and anxiety, while blurring the lines between several other comorbidities.
Again, in a therapeutic setting, this enhanced feeling of psychological openness and suggestibility can bode well for our ability to dissect and process traumatic events while maintaining a sustainable composure. Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine conducted a 2021 study on psilocybin’s effects on dendritic growth in the frontal cortex, led by Ling-Xiao Shao et al.
Results indicated a 10% increase in neuronal connection quantity, as well as a 10% increase in the size of these connections. This very physical increase and strengthening of neural connectivity occurring while on psychedelics, helps explain anecdotal reports of improved mental clarity and reasoning. With this information we can safely deduce that tryptamines like LSD and psilocybin have a lasting and proven effect on PTSD symptom relief.
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Though information on this is still fairly scarce, several research studies support the potential use of serotonergic psychedelics in management of Autism Spectrum Disorder. A 2022 study conducted by Athanasios Merkopolus et al., from the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University, found evidence suggesting that serotonergic dysregulation is largely present in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
In fact, 28.3% of people affected by ASD have higher-than-average levels of 5-HT (serotonin) in their blood—a biomarker of ASD. In the prefrontal cortex, a substantial reduction of activity is observed and much of this activity is due to the expression of 5-HT2A receptors.
The neuroplastic mechanisms of serotonergic psychedelics, like psilocybin, have the potential to modulate these imbalances by mediating mTOR (protein synthesis and cell growth regulators) and 5-HT2A receptors (serotonin receptors) to regulate dendritic arbor complexity and dendritic spine growth, effectively leveling 5-HT levels, associated with increase social behavior.
One of our survey respondents briefly told us about her success overcoming rigidity caused by autism, using psilocybin. In people with autism, rigidity refers to a sort of cognitive inflexibility that makes adapting to new environments or demands much more difficult.
In Maya’s case specifically, she believes her diagnosis would fall more in line with Asperger’s syndrome, but her diagnosis came after 2013 so Asperger’s technically falls under the umbrella of ASD now. Maya also tells us how she uses psilocybin to treat her dysthymia—a disorder that imposes lingering feelings of sadness and lack of motivation, similar to major depressive disorder, but its symptoms persist periodically throughout one’s entire life. Dysthymia has been correlated to ASD in several studies. She says that psilocybin has been an effective treatment for keeping these symptoms largely at bay.
Demoralization in AIDS Survivors
Demoralization in AIDS survivors is a seldom-mentioned, mental-happening, that affects a large fragment of the 37.7 million people globally affected by this disease. Demoralization is an emotional response to specific anxiety-provoking topics, whose depression-presenting effects can thicken overtime, even taking on its own corpulent designation as a diagnosed disorder.
Today, researchers are turning their eye to entheogenic treatments like psilocybin-assisted group therapy, for aiding this burdensome ailment, and a recent 2019 study conducted by Brian T Anderson et al., offers promising results. Their study recruited 18 participants who identified as gay men and were confirmed to experience moderate-severe AIDS-induced demoralization.
They were given one dose of psilocybin, coupled with 8-10 sessions of group therapy. The Demoralization Scale-II (DS-II) was used to test degree of demoralization. Findings detected an average decrease in demoralization of -5.78 from baseline to post-treatment follow up, 3 months later. This clinically significant reduction serves to indicate a very high probability of effectiveness for treatment of this condition with psilocybin mushrooms.
Cluster Headaches & Migraines
Another application of psychedelics that’s quickly gaining traction amongst the medical community relates to their efficacy in alleviating pain from cluster headache and migraine disorders. In fact, Cluster Busters, a leading group of activists for psychedelic research into these headache disorders, has supported many studies on the matter.
Though further research is certainly required to understand the biochemical mechanisms of these psychedelic agents for CH treatment, Dr. Emmanuelle Schindler from the Department of Neurology at Yale University, tells us about the encouraging results of her Exploratory Controlled Study of the Migraine-Suppressing Effects of Psilocybin. 10 migraine-afflicted adults were recruited to explore the long term effects of a standard psilocybin dose. Her findings indicated a significant average reduction of pain (-1.65 days/week) compared to placebo reductions of -0.15 days/week.
Dr. Schindler says that compared to conventional medications, psilocybin demonstrates a much more durable effect on migraine symptom-relief, after only one dose. This, coupled with a substantial number of anecdotal reports claiming significant CH relief from employment of psilocybin, encourages a potent conviction for the wide-spread therapeutic applications of these drugs.
“My ex fiancé was first completely against taking any substances when we first started dating. He used to have very severe chronic migraines and after a while together he endeavored on his first trip on LSD with me, and after that day he never had another migraine. Just your regular old headache from time to time.”
– Psychedelic Passage Survey Respondent
“I have two month/month and a half cycles of attacks every year, during those cycles my CH is the single most defining aspect of my existence and it is worse than most people can imagine.” When I am able to get psychedelics to help it is a complete game changer, either it stops the cycle entirely or it makes it so much more manageable that I am actually able to lead a normal-ish life.”
– Psychedelic Passage Survey Respondent
“I discovered through experimentation that psilocybin mushrooms prevent my cycle from occurring every year. I use them occasionally for CH prevention and also because I enjoy its trip and psychological benefits. I haven’t had a full on cluster headache attack in 4 years now.
I still often experience cluster “shadows” which are, how can I best describe this – sensations of quite mild but noticeable, anxiety-inducing pain in my right temple that stem from cluster headache origins/causation…. But I can still live life and would rather have this pain go on indefinitely than to have to go through 1 real cluster headache attack just once for 3 hours. I attribute my remission to psilocybin mushrooms. It’s basically a cure for me, and it’s a naturally occurring fungus that grows in the world…
I know that psilocybin isn’t the answer for everyone with CH, but urge anyone suffering to look into it as an option. It’s a miracle for me and countless other CH sufferers that has enabled me to live a normal and pain free life. Hopefully with occasional dosing I never experience a CH attack ever again.”
– Psychedelic Passage Survey Respondent
If you’d like additional elaboration on current psychedelic research for CH and migraine treatment, we encourage you to take a look at this article. We even conducted a short case-study on Josh, a ‘cluster head’ who has successfully self-treated his CH with psilocybin!
Anecdotal Accounts Not Yet Supported By Science
Finally, we come to the last condition whose symptoms have been shown to improve after consumption of a psychedelic: stuttering. Though psychedelic research into this condition is severely lacking, we should assume that progression into further legal reform will only yield more and more information on this specific treatment.
For now, a quick internet analysis takes us through a plethora of anecdotal reports that narrate personal accounts of either stutter-reduction or complete stutter-eradication, after consumption of psilocybin. One of the most referenced cases of complete remission from a stuttering condition, comes from the highly commended American mycologist, Paul Stamets.
In an interview with Joe Rogan, he tells us about his chronic stuttering journey. After 6 years of ineffective speech therapy, Stamets opens up to us about his first ‘magic’ mushroom trip. Following consumption of an unknowingly-large 20-gram dose of psilocybin mushrooms (3.5 grams is standard), this “hero’s journey” directed his awareness toward eliminating his stutter, repeating to himself the intention to “stop stuttering now”.
On the come down of his trip, Stamets crossed paths with a woman he’d known for a long time. Assuming that his usual fear of eye contact would kick in, Stamets attempted to skirt the situation, but a sharp “Good morning Paul, how are you?”, quickly coerced him to step back in his tracks.
Then, Stamets looked up at her, and with a surprising certainty and directness the words “I’m good, how are you?” spilled out of his mouth like the perfect alphabet soup. No stutter and with no apprehension toward eye contact. Stunned in disbelief at the unabridged clarity he’d exuded, almost as is by instinct, Paul Stamets stands before us today with complete remission from any speech-related impediment.
Stories like these are recited across the internet, giving us an immense hope for further research to scientifically confirm the link between stutter relief and psilocybin mushrooms.
This case is one we have very little information on, but decided to include anyway for the purpose of full disclosure. We can only speak on the information we were given, so to quote one of our survey respondents:
“I know someone who said DMT fixed his bell’s palsy from lyme disease. I have no reason not to believe him. He said he heard, “no we like this face, we’re going to keep this face”. His hand moved quickly over his face and his paralysis was gone. I didn’t see it happen, but his face looks normal now.”
– Psychedelic Passage Survey Respondent
Though this is the only record we’re aware of on treatment of Bell’s palsy with psychedelics, we should approach this testimonies with the same regard that’s held for Paul Stamets’ story. Both are completely anecdotal, but when it comes to psychedelics, lack of scientific research shouldn’t warrant contempt. Rather, it should evoke intellectual curiosity and excitement for the developing phases of psychedelic research.
Some are calling this natural call to action, a ‘psychedelic renaissance’, because unlike in the 60s, the medicinal properties of these substances can no longer be refuted by the unfounded stigmas surrounding their recreational use. Too much of anything could never be a good thing, but intentional therapeutic application of these drugs, with appropriate dosing and supervision, is filling massive gaps across our entire healthcare industry and changing the life trajectory of countless Americans across the country.
If you’re someone who’s interested in learning more about these revolutionary medical strides or even partaking in a psychedelic journey yourself, we suggest speaking with a knowledgeable psychedelic facilitator to create a therapeutic plan that’s tailored to your needs for preparation and integration. Though, we understand that can be a little bit tricky sometimes. In any case, Psychedelic Passage is always open to helping you explore your best options for psychedelic-assisted therapy.
In fact, you can book a consultation with us today and speak with one of our many supportive facilitators—so you can trust you’re getting the most informed and impartial guidance, throughout your entire experience. Well friends, it seems we’ve covered all of our bases for now.
If you have any other questions, peek over at our blog page! It’s likely we’ve already curated a comprehensive response to all your psychedelic curiosities. We’re here for you if we can help with anything else.