Are There Health Benefits In Tripping Out Of Your Mind?
For decades, psychedelics such as LSD, magic mushrooms, mescaline and DMT have been depicted as gateway drugs to madness, but recent research seems to indicate they may actually help keep us sane.
Psychedelic therapies have been the purview of re-engage mental health experts since the 1940s, purporting to be a treatment for anything from anxiety and depression to existential ennui -- however recent research may mean such therapies are now going mainstream.
Just A Little Bit
The strongest research supporting psychedelics as therapy has focused on ‘microdosing’ -- where users take around a tenth of an active dose of drugs such as LSD.
Online forums such as a Reddit’s ‘Microdosing’ forum have long parroted the transformative benefits of microdosing for productivity, creativity and mood with recent studies seeming to support these effects.
One Reddit user described their experience of microdosing like this:
I now exercise, I read a book a week. I’m eating well, plan out healthy meals. Negative thoughts diminished massively. I’ve stopped smoking weed and drinking booze. I’m creative once more as opposed to be[ing] a passive consumer. I used to count the hours down until I could go to bed and sleep and forget about it all.
Moreover, a recent systematic study of 98 microdosers over a six-week period found that users reported improved attention and mental health. Things weren’t all rosy though, with the study also finding some users experiencing an adverse effect of scoring higher on measures of neuroticism.
Despite some potential downsides, microdosing appears to be an interesting emerging area of mental health research.
But what about taking psychedelics at levels where you feel their full effects: experiencing an altered state of consciousness and hallucinations?
Whilst there are well-known risks to ‘tripping’ including the potential for panic attacks and its role in exacerbating or triggering psychiatric conditions in ‘at risk’ individuals, some have argued that psychedelics can also bring on positive transformative experiences.
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A Melbourne hospital has recently approved a trial for the use of magic mushrooms to counter death anxiety within palliative care. Early indicators are that psychedelic trips free up a user’s thinking to get fresh perspective on otherwise traumatic events.
"Dying patients will be treated with psychedelic synthetic magic mushrooms under a medical trial aiming to ease the paralysing anxiety felt by palliative care patients," St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne said.
"The mind-bending drugs are hoped to give terminally ill patients a new perspective on their lives, guided by psychiatrists to remove the fear and depression which can often take over their final months."
Patients will be given a single dose of psilocybin, which is "so powerful it can unlock a section of a patient’s brains to give them an altered outlook on their situation approaching death," clinical psychologist Dr Margaret Ross told the hospital.
Whilst most of psychedelic trips are still recreational, there could potentially be many beneficial psychological effects of medically supervised use of hallucinogenic drugs.
Every State and Territory in Australia has criminal laws that apply to most forms of psychedelics. This means that individuals who wish to use psychedelics as a therapy put themselves at risk of criminal prosecution.
This has also posed a barrier to the approval of psychedelic therapies and has led to the growth of ‘underground’ therapy providers providing trips to clients without regulation.
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies has attempted to curb this laissez faire approach by providing education and guidelines to the unregulated therapy market.
Some experts have argued that current prohibitions on psychedelics are not supported by evidence.
Britain’s former chief drug adviser, Professor David Nutt, has argued that psychedelic drugs pose a much lower risk to health than legal substances including alcohol and tobacco. Speaking at a recent conference in Melbourne, Professor Nutt argued for a dramatic re-think of the therapeutic potential of currently illicit drugs such as LSD.
Long the drug class of choice for musicians and artists, it turns out psychedelics could potentially help many of us improve our mood and help with anxieties around our own mortality.