Can Psychedelics Play a Role in Healing Mental Trauma?
From magic mushroom therapy replacing anti-depressants, MDMA curing PTSD and even psychedelic properties for toads (yes, toads) healing depression, psychedelic compounds are getting a host of new attention as potential solutions to mental health issues.
The leader of the Imperial Centre for Psychedelic Research has predicted that psychedelic therapy could replace antidepressants in only 5 years.
Robin Carhart-Harris said: “I would imagine if you had some bookmakers doing the odds, there would be strong odds on that [psychedelic therapy] will be licensed sometime in the next five to 10 years – maybe sooner.”
The usage of psychedelics raises serious questions as to whether it can heal trauma and psychoses or make symptoms worse.
Despite this, Carhart-Harris has stated how participants in his trials are reporting that the psilocybin leaves them feeling like they’ve experienced an emotional “release”.
Can Psychedelics from Toads Cure Depression?
Researchers have also discovered a psychedelic in the venom of Bufo Alvarius toads that leads to an improvement in anxiety and depression.
The psychadelic – 5-methocy-N,-N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) – is also found in a variety of plant species.
It can also be produced synthetically.
In a survey of 362 adults, approximately 80% of respondents reported improvements in anxiety and depression after use.
These improvements were related to more intense acute mystical effects during the 5-MeO-DMT experience, as well as increases in the rating of the personal meaning and spiritual significance of the experience.
Improvements were also related to stronger beliefs that the experience contributed to enduring well-being and life satisfaction.
These results were published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
Lead author of the study Dr Alan K. Davis said: “It is important to examine the short- and long-term effects of 5-MeO-DMT, which may enhance mood in general or may be particularly mood enhancing for those individuals experiencing clinically significant negative mood.
“Regardless, this research is in its infancy and further investigation is warranted in healthy volunteers.”
How About MDMA?
Johns Hopkins neuroscientists have found that the psychedelic drug MDMA reopens a kind of window, called a “critical period,” when the brain is sensitive to learning the reward value of social behaviours.
The findings, reported in the journal Nature, may explain why MDMA is being touted as helpful in treating people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
For the current study, neuroscientist Gül Dölen says, “We wanted to know if there was a critical period for learning social reward behaviours, and if so could we reopen it using MDMA, since this drug is well-known to have prosocial effects.”
Read: 3 Steps to Process PTSD
In their experiments, Dölen and her colleagues found that the critical period for social reward learning in mice is around puberty and wanes once they become mature adults.
To determine if they could reopen the critical period, the scientists gave MDMA to mature mice, waited 48 hours for the drug to be washed out of their system, and observed how the mice explored their enclosure and behaved with other mice in the enclosure.
Following the treatment with MDMA, most of the animals responded to social interactions the same way as juveniles, by forming a positive association between social interactions and the bedding.
This effect lasted for at least two weeks after the MDMA treatment, and it was not observed in mice given saline injections.
“This suggests that we’ve reopened a critical period in mice, giving them the ability to learn social reward behaviors at a time when they are less inclined to engage in these behaviors,” says Dölen.
Dölen and her postdoctoral student and first author of the current study, Romain Nardou, also observed that MDMA works to reopen the critical period only if the drug is given to mice when they are with other mice, not if it is given to mice while they are alone.
This suggests that reopening the critical period using MDMA may depend on whether the animals are in a social setting, say the scientists.
MDMA has been designated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a “breakthrough therapy” for PTSD, meaning that the agency will fast-track the development and review of clinical trials to test it.
However, the researchers caution that MDMA may not work for every psychiatric condition linked to social behaviours.
Is the Psychedelic DMT the ‘Seat of the Soul’?
For the first time, a team led by Michigan Medicine has discovered the widespread presence of naturally-occurring DMT in the mammalian brain, meaning scientists are ever-closer to discovering what Descartes referred to as the ‘seat of the soul’.
“DMT is not just in plants, but also can be detected in mammals,” says Jimo Borjigin, Ph.D., of the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology.
In the seventeenth century, the philosopher Rene Descartes claimed that the pineal gland, a small pinecone-shaped organ located deep in the center of the brain, was the seat of the soul.
Since its discovery, the pineal gland, known by some as the ‘third eye’, has been shrouded in mystery.
Scientists now know it controls the production of melatonin, playing an important role in modulating circadian rhythms, or the body’s internal clock.
However, an online search for notes to include in a course she was teaching opened Borjigin’s eyes to a thriving community still convinced of the pineal gland’s mystical power.
“I said to myself, ‘wait, I’ve worked on the pineal gland for years and have never heard of this,’” she said.
Using a process in which microdialysis tubing is inserted into a rat brain through the pineal gland, the researchers collected a sample that was analyzed for — and confirmed — the presence of DMT.
Her team’s next work has also revealed that the levels of DMT increase in some rats experiencing cardiac arrest.
A paper published in 2018 by researchers in the U.K. purported that DMT simulates the near-death experience, wherein people report the sensation of transcending their bodies and entering another realm.
Borjigin hopes to probe further to discover the function of naturally occurring levels of DMT in the brain and discover what, if any, role it plays in normal brain functioning.
“We don’t know what it’s doing in the brain.
“All we’re saying is we discovered the neurons that make this chemical in the brain, and they do so at levels similar to other monoamine neurotransmitters.”
The Ancient History of Psychedelic Ceremonies
Archaeologists have discovered traces of ayahuasca in a 1,000-year-old leather bundle buried in a cave in the Bolivian Andes, showing the psychedelic has been used in spiritual ceremonies for centuries.
Ayahuasca has gained popularity in recent years as a mysterious substance that can cure mental health ailments and addictions, as well as offer deep insights into reality itself.
University of California, Berkeley, archaeologist Melanie Miller, said: “This is the first evidence of ancient South Americans potentially combining different medicinal plants to produce a powerful substance like ayahuasca.”
Miller’s analysis turned up trace amounts of bufotenine, DMT, harmine, cocaine and benzoylecgonine.
Various combinations of these substances produce powerful, mind-altering hallucinations.
The discovery adds to a growing body of evidence of ritualistic psychotropic plant use going back millennia.
Miller added: “Our findings support the idea that people have been using these powerful plants for at least 1,000 years, combining them to go on a psychedelic journey, and that ayahuasca use may have roots in antiquity.”
Ayahuasca is made from brewing the vines of Banisteriopsis Caapi and the leaves of the chacruna (Psychotria viridis) shrub.
The leaves release DMT, and the vines release harmine – and therein lies the secret of the ayahuasca effect.