Mental health care research continues to emerge, evolving how professionals approach clients with mental health disorders. Recently, there has been more research regarding the use of psychedelics for mental health treatment. With the legalization of psychedelics coming to the forefront of many states and federally for medicinal use, these substances are transforming the way treatment takes its course. Specifically, psilocybin and MDMA are two popular psychedelics used to help clients recover from mental health concerns.
What Are Psychedelics?
Psychedelics, or hallucinogens, are a drug group that alters perception, thoughts, and feelings. These substances affect the brain by temporarily disrupting communication between the chemical systems throughout the brain and spinal cord.
Sometimes hallucinogens may affect the action of the brain chemical serotonin. Serotonin regulates mood, sensory perception, sleep, hunger, body temperature, sexual behavior, and intestinal muscle control.
Hallucinogens that work as dissociative drugs affect the brain’s chemical glutamate. Glutamate regulates pain perception, responses to the environment, emotion, learning, and memory.
The short-term effects of most psychedelics include:
- Increased heart rate
- Intensified feelings and sensory experiences (seeing bright colors)
- Changes in time perception (for example, feeling as if time is moving slowly)
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased breathing rate
- Increased body temperature
- Loss of appetite
- Dry mouth
- Sleeping problems
- Spiritual experiences
- Uncoordinated movements and other bizarre behaviors
- Excessive sweating
The long-term effects of using psychedelics include persistent psychosis and hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder (HPPD). Persistent psychosis includes visual disturbances, disorganized thinking, paranoia, and mood changes. HPPD occurs after continuous use of the drug. Hallucinations and other visual disturbances are a result of this. These effects may occur randomly and without warning, often a few days after use, and can last more than a year.
However, when used in a controlled environment, the effects are less likely to occur and remain after use. This controlled environment is typically in mental health treatment as new research, and a push toward Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval have taken their course.
New Research, the Food and Drug Administration, and Psychedelics
New research has emerged where psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA, and LSD have proven to improve symptoms of mental health disorders. These drugs work to improve symptoms of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and general trauma.
Psychedelics have been shown to have therapeutic effects on clients in studies with these struggles. They have been shown to increase functionality between parts of the brain, even in the relaxed state they cause. This allows more connectivity and flow between regions and networks of the brain.
This influences sensory perception and increases an individual’s processing of such. In other words, the brain’s neuroplasticity alters. This allows the brain to restructure itself. For clients with mental health disorders or negative symptoms due to mental health struggles, psychedelics introduce this capacity for change to facilitate healing. Changes in the brain can improve symptoms, behavior, functioning, and suffering to its entirety.
The FDA has been encouraged by emerging research and more studies to allow psychedelic use in mental health treatment. As of recently, routine clinical use of psychedelics is not approved. Psilocybin, specifically, is the closest to FDA approval in mental healthcare.
Old vs. New Treatments for Mental Health
While antidepressants and other forms of mental health treatment, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), benefit clients with mental health disorders, these traditional treatment methods are not as efficient alone. However, using psychotherapy alongside psychedelics can significantly improve an individual’s well-being.
Often considered “talk therapy,” psychotherapy works to identify and change an individual’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Psychotherapy may include the following elements:
- Helping an individual become aware of thinking patterns that seem automatic but are harmful or hurtful to them
- Identifying specific ways to cope with stress
- Examining interactions with others and offering guidance in communication skills
- Mindfulness and relaxation techniques
- Exposure therapy for those with anxiety disorders
- Tracking emotions and behaviors to raise self-awareness
- Supportive counseling to provide emotional support
- Creating a safety plan for those with self-harming mindsets or beliefs
Unlike other mental health treatment methods, psychedelics and psychotherapy improve an individual’s mindset directly. With psychedelics, this relaxing state of mind encourages the client to identify these negative beliefs and restructure them.
Since the brain’s neuroplasticity is targeted directly, restructuring beliefs and emotions motivate the restructuring of the brain and its connectivity to different regions. Paired with these substances, psychotherapy allows clients to verbally express their struggles and change their beliefs.
Psychedelics Paired With Treatments at Roots Recovery
At Roots Recovery, aside from CBT, other programs can be paired alongside psychedelic use to improve mental health. These include somatic experiencing, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and seeking safety.
In somatic experiencing, a client takes a body-oriented approach to heal trauma and stress disorders. A traumatic shock is released, allowing an individual to detach from their emotional trauma. Clinical tools are offered to resolve fixated psychological states, guiding clients in developing an increase in tolerance for complex bodily sensations and suppressed emotions.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
With EMDR, a client completes a series of eye movements for 20-30 seconds to stimulate the brain and recall a traumatic event. In doing so, the therapist works with the client to restructure their emotions and beliefs about traumatic events in order to heal.
Seeking safety is a program at Roots Recovery that focuses on counseling for trauma and substance abuse. It encourages clients to develop a healthier mindset about their disorder, not blaming themselves for it nor fixating on negative beliefs. Cognitive, behavioral, interpersonal, and case management are the four areas focused on in this service.
At Roots Recovery, we value new discoveries in mental healthcare. Lately, psychedelics have emerged in new research, revealing that their therapeutic effects impact the brain’s neuroplasticity. This is important in restructuring emotions, thoughts, and behaviors to improve overall mental health symptoms. Though psychedelics are not entirely FDA-approved for routine clinical use, more research is encouraging this push for approval. Alongside these substances, psychotherapies can also benefit mental health improvement. Some of these include somatic experiencing, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and seeking safety. Paired with psychedelics, being relaxed and working through struggles verbally helps restructure an individual’s emotional and thought processes. Call Roots Recovery at (562) 473-0827 to learn more about psychedelics in mental health treatment.