This article was originally published on Microdose Psychedelic Insights, and appears here with permission.
“The humanity we all share is more important than the mental illness we may not.”
Elyn R. Saks
With Global Mental Health Awareness Day upon us, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on our wellbeing as a species. Between the current pandemic, mental health crisis and opioid epidemic, we are at a critical precipice in our collective evolution. A recent United Nations report starkly details the unsettling intersection of COVID-19 and mental illness – urgently calling to the world at large for stronger action.
Psychedelic medicine is poised to be the much needed solution to the dire mental health issues, such as depression, addiction and suicide, which are plaguing millions around the globe. From the groundbreaking clinical trials at Johns Hopkins Medical Center to the Imperial College of London and beyond, the therapeutic benefit of psychedelics in mental health treatment is continuously being unraveled.
This guide will explore our collective effort as a species in treating mental illness together during these uncertain times and the powerful role psychedelic medicine will play in revolutionizing mental healthcare moving forward.
COVID-19 & Mental Health Crisis Highlight Need for a New Paradigm of Psychiatric Care
The collision of COVID-19 with our already fragile mental healthcare system has exposed significant cracks and shortcomings in our approach towards treating mental illness. If the virus caught hospitals unprepared, the fragmented and difficult to access mental healthcare system is even less equipped to handle the impending fallout from COVID-19.
Recent WaPo reporting reveals text messages to federal government mental health hotlines are up 1000%.
In a physical sense, the lockdown has affected already limited accessibility to mental health resources. For instance, this study highlights that even in developed countries, like the United States, hundreds of millions of people live in areas with limited or no access to mental health professionals.1
In another sense, there is a very tangible level of fear and anxiety felt by people around the globe due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.
A recent study published in April found that: “Preliminary evidence suggests that symptoms of anxiety and depression (16–28%) and self-reported stress (8%) are common psychological reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic, and may be associated with disturbed sleep.”2
Furthermore, a closer review of the clinical literature regarding the current state of affairs surrounding mental healthcare makes clear traditional approaches haven’t been working for a while.
A 2018 study in Frontiers in Pharmacology captured this sentiment quite succinctly by stating “mental disorders are rising while development of novel psychiatric medications is declining.”3
Does this data suggest mental health issues will continue to rise as the individual is further abstracted and disembodied from society? If so, the need for novel solutions and more effective mental health therapies is more important than ever before. This urgency has catalyzed curiosity about psychedelic medicine and its immense clinical promise across mainstream society.
The Incredible Clinical Promise That is Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy
While the current pandemic has highlighted systemic weaknesses in treating mental illness, it has also led to a “vigorous and multifaceted response from psychiatrists and allied professionals”—perhaps making it the catalyst for change we always needed.1 One area in the movement to developing better therapeutics that holds extraordinary potential is the emerging field of psychedelic medicine and psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.
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These landmark trials have given rise to a variety of exciting ongoing clinical trials in the psilocybin space alone that are investigating its use in treating everything from demoralization in long-term AIDS survivors to obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD and Anorexia Nervosa.
Furthermore, several organizations pioneering this charge, such as Field Trip Health, are developing novel digital therapeutics (such as their mobile “tripsitter” app Trip) to bridge the social divide during these uncertain times. The psychedelic renaissance is undoubtedly bringing out creative innovation by major players in the space—something that is much needed today.
Psychedelics Are Powerful Catalysts That Facilitate Change
Psychedelics are powerful facilitators of change. A common analogy used to describe the role of psychedelics in mental illness and psychospiritual growth is that of a catalyst in chemistry.
A catalyst is a compound added to a chemical reaction that can help speed up the process of reactants becoming products. In the context of personal development and mental health treatment, the conscious and mindful use of psychedelics and psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy can indeed facilitate rapid growth and progress.
In fact, one clinical study found multiple patients reported that one single psychedelic psychotherapy session had been more effective than years of traditional treatments, such as SSRI antidepressants and CBT.6
Perhaps what is even more remarkable is the fact studies are now showing the beneficial effects of psychedelics are long-lasting. For instance, new research has shown the benefits of psilocybin assisted psychotherapy persists up to five years post treatment.7
Such dramatic and powerful findings are rapidly giving credence to a growing body of compelling voices giving powerful testimony to the benefits of psychedelic therapy.
Sharing the Collective Psychedelic Experience Facilitates Cultural Destigmatization
In addition to the evolving landscape of psychedelic clinical trials, many have begun to digitally document their personal journeys with psychedelics as a tool to overcome things like depression—including social icons like Tim Ferris. In particular, those anecdotes detailing the positive impact these drugs have had on severe mental illness has helped psychedelics garner notable momentum within mainstream society.
As a result, the application as well as potential benefits of psychedelics in daily life has begun to shift societal perceptions, de-stigmatizing their use as tools for improvement that many are seeking out for their significant benefits. This phenomenon of concurrent cultural de-stigmatization around mental illness and psychedelic drugs speaks to our species’ collective readiness to expand and evolve our old, limiting ideas for fresh, new ones.
This powerful and necessary cultural shift couldn’t come at a more necessary time at our collective intersection of COVID, the mental health crisis and the opioid epidemic.
Psychedelics Are Already Bringing Us Back Together in Countless Ways
While these drugs still largely remain illegal, significant global interest in their therapeutic potential has created an above-ground market of research institutions, drug developers, clinicians, investors, entrepreneurs and more. It is truly incredible to see the passion and fervor with which numerous people from all walks of life and across the globe are coming together in the name of psychedelic therapy. The unparalleled dynamicity of the emerging psychedelic movement is matched only by the incredible compassion central to so many leading this charge.
As we collectively pioneer a new way forward, it is crucial to remember we are not in this alone. The psychedelic experience is something we all share and benefit from together. Psychedelics disintegrate our egos and dissolve the trivial boundaries that separate us. As we embrace this medicine once more, humanity is poised to make the next “quantum leap” in consciousness by coming together and becoming more connected with each other by going deeper within ourselves.
The intersection of psychedelics and mental health medicine is a significant one in our species evolution. Learn more about how you can support the cause with our upcoming MicroDonations program!
- Auerbach, J. & Miller, B. F. COVID-19 Exposes the Cracks in Our Already Fragile Mental Health System. Am. J. Public Health 110, 969–970 (2020).
- Rajkumar, R. P. COVID-19 and mental health: A review of the existing literature. Asian J. Psychiatry 52, 102066 (2020).
- Schenberg, E. E. Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy: A Paradigm Shift in Psychiatric Research and Development. Front. Pharmacol. 9, (2018).
- Hallucinogenic drug found in ‘magic mushrooms’ eases depression, anxiety in people with life-threatening cancer | Hub. https://hub.jhu.edu/2016/12/01/hallucinogen-treats-cancer-depression-anxiety/.
- Ross, S. et al. Rapid and sustained symptom reduction following psilocybin treatment for anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancer: a randomized controlled trial. J. Psychopharmacol. Oxf. Engl. 30, 1165–1180 (2016).
- Watts, R., Day, C., Krzanowski, J., Nutt, D. & Carhart-Harris, R. Patients’ Accounts of Increased “Connectedness” and “Acceptance” After Psilocybin for Treatment-Resistant Depression. J. Humanist. Psychol. 57, 520–564 (2017).
- Psychedelic therapy benefits persist five years after treatment. https://newatlas.com/science/psilocybin-psychedelic-therapy-benefits-long-term/.
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