How to Get to the Root of Your Trauma With a Psychedelic Trip27.09.2021
Your mind may be triggered by the words hallucinogenic or psychedelic. Do you remember the scene from The Bridget Jones, where the title character stumbles on magic mushrooms while walking along a Thai beach? Her arms are outstretched in wonder at the non-existent images she sees in front of her. And there’s no reason your mind can’t see this image.
Psilocybin mushrooms, also known as magic mushrooms, and lab-derived substances such as MDMA and ketamine have been in the mainstream for years as drugs that are used for recreational and intoxication. They have also been used in psychedelic-assisted therapy and wellness.
How do psychedelics impact life?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that classic hallucinogens “produce their perception-altering effects through acting on neural circuits within the brain that use neurotransmitter Serotonin.” In other words, hallucinogenic drugs alter serotonin receptors in your brain. People can experience deep meditative state, heightened euphoria and altered states of reality. This allows them to have multiple sensory hallucinations.
A number of psychedelics are being tested for psychedelic assisted psychotherapy. These include the MDMA, ketamine, and psilocybin. Although the latter is technically the most popular form of psychedelic assisted psychotherapy, it is the only legal one in the United States. Courtney Hutchison, a social worker and psychotherapist at Sound Mind Center in West Philadelphia, explains that after a person has taken a psychedelic dose of ketamine (which varies depending on the patient’s medical records), “people’s defenses begin to decrease, and they might experience emotional intense visions, such as vivid dreams or suppressed memory.”
People can often experience an “out-of-body” experience at this point. This mental state can be used to uncover past traumas and help people work through emotional pain. Field Trip Health’s Medical Director Dr. Ben Medrano said that ketamine-assisted therapy is ideal for people with psychiatric and trauma histories. He also noted that it works well in patients with treatment-resistant depression or those suffering from anxiety or PTSD.
What exactly is psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy?
Experts in the field will reveal all the details. Just like different drugs have different effects and use suggestions, so it is with psychedelics. Dr. Medrano says, “It’s important that we distinguish that these claims differ for each substance so that people don’t generalize about psychedelics in general.” There are many opinions on what treatment is required when you take a look at the research still being done.
Ketamine is a laboratory-derived drug with anesthetic qualities. Research has shown that ketoamine can promote neuroplasticity. This refers to the brain’s ability to adapt and change to new situations. Ketamine is believed to be able to rewire parts of the brain involved in depression. Injections or a lozenge under the tongue are two common ways ketamine can be administered in psychedelic-assisted therapy.
Psilocybin is a lesser-known compound that can be found in over 200 species of fungi. It has mind-altering effects, including euphoria and visual and mental hallucinations, spiritual experiences and a distorted perception of time. Imagine Bridget Jones, a happy-go lucky Bridget Jones, frolicking on the beach. Dr. Medrano says MDMA is often referred to “empathogen” or an empathy-generating substance. MDMA also works on serotonin and norepinephrine, dopamine, by increasing central nervous system concentrations.” He explains that MDMA effects are “stimulating”, euphoric and bliss-like, and often create a feeling of increased connection with others. This is why MDMA has been shown to significantly relieve PTSD.
While MDMA and psilocybin have shown evidence of lasting effects on mental health, they are still in clinical trials. This means that FDA-backed claims about their use in clinical psychotherapy settings cannot yet be made. MDMA is currently in its third phase, and FDA approval for psychedelic assisted psychotherapy is expected by 2023.
Benefits of Psychedelic Therapy
Dr. Mike Dow, Field Trip Health psychotherapist, says that the goal of pharmaceuticals should be to reduce symptoms. The goal of psychoedelic-assisted therapy is to go deep and make changes on a deeper level. Dr. Dow describes the experience as a deep dive into one’s unconscious mind to uncover the root traumas or causes of mental health problems.
Most people who suffer from depression or PTSD use medications that either target serotonin, or both. These medications are required to be taken daily. People may not notice any improvement in their mental health until about one month after they have been used. The effects of psychedelics in therapy are more effective than modern pharmaceuticals at treating mental disorders. They also have a longer-lasting effect that does not require daily medication.
Dr. Dow explained that psychedelics don’t need to be taken every day. Many people suffering from treatment-resistant depression will enjoy this option. You can expect to see results for months, years or even a lifetime. Results and healing are different for each person, just like any other form of therapy. The results of psychedelic-assisted treatment are not a one-and done experience.
Hutchison says, “Ketamine is a variable drug. One or two sessions might be enough, while others might need six, seven or eight. It is possible to do it every six months for a tune up.” She says that the idea is not that a patient would take ketamine indefinitely. Instead, they would spread sessions out to allow for adequate time between sessions to process the information and prepare for the next session.
The Approach to Psychedelic-Assisted Psychology Therapy
What if one simply wants to take ketamine at home and try this type of therapy without medical supervision? Dr. Medrano warns that it is risky to obtain psychedelics not from medical sources. He explains that ketamine is usually sold in powder form when it’s available on the streets. It’s difficult to determine what you buy recreationally without testing it.
“Although I’m not trying to scare you, fentanyl is found in many white powders being sold on the streets.” Hutchison also points out the criminal and legal consequences that recreational use of ketamine can lead to, as ketamine is a Schedule III drug under the DEA Controlled Substances Act. Dr. Medrano recommends that you only use this medication with the guidance of a professional. Do-it-yourself psychedelic therapy may also be detrimental to the therapeutic experience.
Hutchison says, “It is crucial to have a safe and secure therapeutic space as well as a professional who can guide you through the process.” Anecdotal evidence shows that self-medicating without a therapeutic container is not as effective. It is important to find a clinic that specializes in ketamine assisted psychotherapy rather than ketamine injection centers. Hutchison says, “Regarding the ketamine-assisted psychotherapy clinics, there is strong evidence for the immediate relief of depressive symptoms as well as suicidality. These effects are often temporary and require repeated administration. This is closer to traditional psychiatric medication.”
Hutchison explains that the effects are usually temporary and require ongoing, repeat administration. Ketamine-assisted therapy uses the ketamine state to accelerate and deepen psychotherapy progress.
Three Phases of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies
To ensure a successful therapeutic experience, one must go through three phases in psychedelic assisted therapy: setting up, preparation, and integration.
- Preparation. Dr. Medrano says that the first step in psychedelic assisted therapy is to visit a psychiatrist, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, or a licensed prescriber with psychiatric training. This screening determines if an individual is physically, emotionally, and psychologically ready to undergo psychedelic assisted therapy. He says that after that, “we dive into their trauma history, or the specific symptoms and struggles associated, as well as the struggles that brought them to us.” This phase is where patients will begin to identify the things they want to improve and make plans for treatment.
- Setting. The ideal environment should provide enough comfort and safety for patients to enjoy their psychedelic treatment. A typical clinic offering psychedelic-assisted therapy will have many items inside, including zero gravity chairs, weighted blankets and blackout eyeglasses. If the patient chooses to listen to any music, they will also find soothing sounds and ambient sounds. Some may argue that physical space is only part of a healing environment. One must also feel secure in the company of their doctor or therapist. Hutchison stated, “In the context ketamine-assisted therapy, safety and trust must be a priority.” It is important to establish trust with your therapist before you begin prep. You have someone you can trust to help you through difficult situations.
- Integration. After a patient returns from their ‘trip’, it is important to review the lessons learned during the setting phase. The patient will share their experiences with their psychotherapist during this phase. They will also learn how to integrate what they have learned into their healing process.
Dr. Medrano explained, “We aim to find that sweet spot in dosing when people can let go and reach into the realms consciousness and possibly the unconscious while still being capable of recollecting what happened.” Even though much of the experience is difficult to describe, we find that there is usually some information that is relevant for their goals or intentions of care. However, integration can last long after the session is over. Dr. Dow explained that psychedelic assisted therapy can be a therapy-enhancer and integration can last a while after treatment is completed. After completing ketamine-assisted treatment, people should seek out talk therapy. Patients often have insight months later than they did the session. Their ongoing psychotherapy is often made richer by the work they do together.