The Return of Psychedelics

July 6, 2023

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Claudia Black Young Adult Center

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By Anna McKenzie

Are psychedelics getting more popular? Are they safe?What are the pros and cons of incorporating psychedelics into mental health treatment? While these drugs have provided breakthroughs for tough-to-treat cases of trauma and other conditions, they still have drawbacks, and their efficacy remains difficult to understand.

Are Psychedelics Getting More Popular?

According to SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 7 million people in the US used hallucinogens in 2020, and 1.4 million used hallucinogens for the first time. In the study, hallucinogens include drugs such as LSD, PCP, peyote, mescaline, psilocybin, MDMA, ketamine, methyltryptamine drugs (AMT, DMT, and Foxy), and Salvia divinorum. 

Is there any difference between psychedelics and hallucinogens? These terms are often used interchangeably, though psychedelics are a more specific category of hallucinogens. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that psychedelic drugs are those that influence the way the brain processes serotonin (such as psilocybin and LSD). Another group of hallucinogens are dissociative drugs, which affect the way the brain processes glutamate (such as ketamine and PCP). Yet another group of drugs, like MDMA and salvia, may have both psychedelic and dissociative effects.

Initially, psychedelic-assisted therapy was considered a treatment of last resort for military service members and veterans who were not responding to other forms of therapy.

The use of psychedelics as a treatment for trauma and other mental health conditions has become more frequent and a more prominent topic of discussion in recent years. Initially, psychedelic-assisted therapy was considered a treatment of last resort for military service members and veterans who were not responding to other forms of therapy. According to the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin, roughly 20-30% of people with PTSD, childhood trauma, or other severe mental health disorders are unable to find resolution through conventional treatment methods. Through psychedelic therapy guided by a trained professional, some of these individuals can experience mental and emotional breakthroughs.

Psychedelic brain graphic

However, a growing number of people are taking ketamine — one of the most popular psychedelic drugs today — without the guided therapy experience. The New York Times reported that a Reddit group focused on ketamine therapy grew by 23,000 members between 2019 and 2023. The rise of telemedicine has enabled more people to get access to ketamine prescriptions. While some praise the use of the drug as something that helped them move past negative thoughts and severe mental hang-ups, others have cited how their use has gotten out of control or has had damaging side effects.

Are Psychedelics Safe?

The safety of psychedelics is a subject of debate, primarily because it depends on who is using them, how they are being used, how often, and how much. Research has shown that drugs like ketamine can help reduce depression, and psychedelic-assisted therapy has provided relief to those suffering from severe trauma conditions. Psychedelics do not have the addictive properties of drugs like opioids or stimulants, though frequent use can foster dependence. However, psychedelics can trigger episodes of psychosis for certain individuals, and long-term use has been associated with side effects such as heart valve damage.

LSD, MDMA, psilocybin, and ketamine have all been studied for their ability to treat PTSD and other mental health conditions, according to The Journal of Neuroscience. They have mood-modulating properties that can have a therapeutic effect on emotional processing. However, because these drugs and their effects are complex, context is distinctly important when it comes to whether their usage is safe.

Because these drugs and their effects are complex, context is distinctly important when it comes to whether their usage is safe.

While the FDA has not approved ketamine for the treatment of any psychiatric disorder, it did approve the development of a nasal spray containing a form of ketamine, esketamine, for usage in certain cases. The New York Times indicated that ketamine is only approved as an anesthetic, but doctors are allowed to prescribe it for other conditions

The Meadows’ Perspective on Psychedelic Treatment

How is Meadows Behavioral Healthcare viewing psychedelic-assisted treatment at this time? Here’s the perspective of our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jon Caldwell:

“If people are being prescribed [the FDA-approved] form of ketamine for depression, we typically allow that and continue that treatment when they come to our inpatient and outpatient centers,” says Caldwell. “I think there are really interesting and wonderful opportunities with psychedelic-assisted therapy and treatment. At the same time, in the field that we are in, we often see patients who have really struggled with psychedelic use.

“Take, for example, a psychedelic agent that has historically been used with a really powerful and robust process — for example, with a guide — with an environment that also supports healing, with music and ritual and nature. All of those things are part of the process,” says Caldwell. “But sometimes when we strip all of that down to a pill or to a very medicalized, sterile-type procedure, it changes the process. It changes the outcome. And so I think it’ll be very interesting to see how the field moves forward. We really want to approach psychedelic-assisted treatment in the most thoughtful and careful way possible.”

Help for Mental Health Conditions

If you’ve been dealing with mental health issues that are disrupting your life, Claudia Black Young Adult Center provides a safe haven for young adults like you to find healing and thrive again. We provide research-backed treatment using evidence-based therapies that can help you resolve the physical and psychological pain you’ve been dealing with. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you start on the road to recovery.