British Psychiatrists Advocate Psychedelics for Depression

Rob Wipond
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The journal Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology has published a review of what is known about psychedelic drugs’ biochemical effects in the human brain, their physical side effects, and their psychotherapeutic applications. “Hallucinogens have been part of spiritual practice for millennia, but controversy surrounding their mind-manifesting effects led to their proscription by the mid-20th century, largely without evidence of harm or toxicity and despite nascent data suggesting therapeutic utility in treating depressive illnesses,” writes a team of Kings College London psychiatrists.

“Depression causes a profound burden on society. These drugs offer at least the potential of better understanding the neurobiology of depression, and of providing novel therapeutic agents,” conclude the authors. “The weight of clinical need must overcome any weight of political hesitancy.”

Classical hallucinogens as antidepressants? A review of pharmacodynamics and putative clinical roles (Baumeister, David et al. Thorapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology. August 2014. doi: 10.1177/2045125314527985)

15 COMMENTS

  1. We should just have fun with this topic because the pharma companies will continue to work with governments to successfully block the legal use of psychedelics for depression and how can pharma make its billions off a natural drug ?

    Depressed ? no mushroom meds for you , how about some disabling “Abilify” ?

    Andy Behrman, a former spokesman for Abilify and Bristol Myers Squibb, discusses his side effects from Abilify, the “wonder drug” of Bristol Myers Squibb, http://youtu.be/9VzMZX4nBz8

    • Don’t you worry, they’ll find a way to patent the shit out of shrooms too.
      Plus I really don’t like the idea of treating depression with drugs of any sort unless it’s caused by physical illness or deficiency. It’s really not much different from telling someone to drink some scotch to relax and watch this person turn alcoholic. Psychodelic and other mind altering drugs should be legal and regulated for people who want them but they should not be treated as an answer (especially “medical” one) to life problems because it’s not difficult to predict that people will only get addicted to them as they provide temporary relief from the reality. It is true for alcohol, pot and LSD and for some psych meds. There are people who are OK with ECT even though it leaves them brain damaged. I don’t think that trauma or drug induced mood changes should be called medical treatment.

    • Har har!

      Seriously though…

      The use of ritual halucinogens for healing purposes has been part of numerous cultures for ages- Ayahuasca ceremonies of the Quichua Indians in the Amazon, MesoAmerican mushroom use, Peyote rituals in SouthEastern America, etc.

      I totally understand the use of these “psychedelics” within the context of tribe, culture and specified ritual. I am more leery of psychologists or medical professionals offering some industrial derivitave halucinogen as a way of “developing insight”, having a “breakthrough”, etc.

      The use of psychedelics in this way is devoid of larger integrated spiritual or cultural context and seem on a level of taking any manufactured drug to affect a cognitive or behavioral change. In this way, they can be misused and abused like any other drug.

      When I was a younger man, I had a few personal experiences with halucinogens that were life changing, including an experience with an Ayahuascero in Ecuador. I get that they can have a deeply transformative potential. At the same time, I don’t want the medical or mental health establishment any where near adminstering these agents. Engaging with sacred plants is not something that should not be comandeered by mental health “professionals.”

      • Is it really devoid of spiritual and cultural context though Johnathan?

        The emic and etic distinction that anthropologists make would seem important. I am trapped within a culture and my own spiritual belief system from which I could never escape.

        I do believe that if mental health professionals wish to study the effects of hallucinogens they should go ahead, and they will fail miserably. Why? Because they see the parts, but not the whole.

        I guess what I’m trying to say is that some things are to be experienced, not explained. Love being one example.

        I’ll certainly have a think about this more because I’m not fixed to any position on the matter. I rolled the dice a few times, and am glad I did. The “awakening” or wisdom that I gained can’t be taken from me. Some were not so lucky.

  2. Interesting Boans. I know back in the 60’s Leary, Alpert and others did extensive reserch into the use of halucinogens for therapeutic purposes. It led to Leary becoming somewhat messianic, being booted out of Harvard and then starting a movement to “tune in, turn on and drop out.”

    In a lot of ways, the use of psychedelics helped spark a revolution in exploring the “Self”, depth psychology as well as non-religious spiritual pursuits, metaphysical consciousness, etc.

    Some of that was undoubtedly good. Esalen comes to mind as a place that was influenced by this psychedelic revolution. At the same time, there was a dark side to that as well. Halucinogens can lead to extreme states that can precipitate long term psychosis for some. Leary himself acted as a pied piper of this revolution but also caused a lot of people to just get high without much personal effort. There was also a lot of narcisism involved in the wider drug culture that exalted personal freedom, even at the cost of personal health, family and interpersonal obligations.

    I also agree when you say:

    “I do believe that if mental health professionals wish to study the effects of hallucinogens they should go ahead, and they will fail miserably. Why? Because they see the parts, but not the whole.”

    Exactly. A reductionist and scientific exploration of this subject will by definition miss the big picture and larger holistic and global effects of these very interesting drugs.

    Your first question: “Is it really devoid of spiritual and cultural context though Johnathan?”

    The experiences that I had on halucinogens were undoubtedly heavily spiritual in nature even though I didn’t take them in a ritual and culturally defined context. So certainly, powerful spiritual transformations can occur no matter the situation. But I think these drugs aren’t generally seen this way by most folks. Maybe I’m wrong there. They stimulate intense, complex, often confusing and totally overwhelming experiences…but I don’t know how many folks interpret those experiences in a transformational way. But in the context of indigenous traditions, they tend to always be used in a “spiritual” context centered around the native cosmology.

    Anyways, interesting stuff…

    • I did some hallucinogens such as shrooms and LSD in my early 20s, maybe more than a regular guy. I had actual quite severe problems with depression, anxiety, panic attacks, etc. I wouldn’t recommend people with this type of experiences to take hallucinogens. I had some very profound experiences and also some equally horrible experiences, often during the same trip. I’m still not against this type of drugs, but I’m not promoting them either. I used them maybe a bit too much and got a bit burned out too.

      After more than a decade of stopping experimenting with them, I see they had both beneficial and adverse effects on my later life. On one hand, I realised all the richness of experience, where I could be, and I started to appreciate some aspects of systems such as yoga, tai chi, chi kung, zen, etc. On the other hand, maybe I became a bit too eccentric in my social life because of in one part the drugs, and in one part reading too much of those 60’s gurus such as Leary and Lilly.

      • I mean, in the mental health scheme, psychedelics such as LSD, shrooms, mescaline, etc, maybe can at times maybe blow your mind so that you figure out your problems, because they’re all smeared on your face, and then you’re supposed to start to work on it in your regular life. Doing too much of those drugs may lead to you being diagnosed as psychotic, bipolar or schizophrenic, and then you’ll get pumped with antipsychotics, which will make your experience the opposite of those good moments on psychedelics.

      • Honestly, I don’t say that these drugs are terrible and should be illegal. I also don’t think psych drugs should be illegal. But pretending they’re medicine that is going to “treat depression” or whatever other “mental illness” is a ton of bs. These are all mind/mood altering drugs and people who want to alter their mind/mood will take them for the better or worse. But it is the ones who are desperate for this change that will most likely abuse them – the same is true for alcohol or pot – the easiest thing to become an addict is to use drugs as a solution to a problem. And sure, maybe using an occasional drug to make you feel better and maybe talk more openly about your problems or think them through from a different perspective is not necessarily a bad thing but it doesn’t mean they are “anti-depressants”. It’s absurd.

        • I agree they should not be considered “anti-depressants” but I do think its important to differentiate halucinogens from psychiatric drugs. On the one hand, psych drugs are relatively new, are industrially made, are often prescribed for daily use and tend to cause long term health problems.

          And on the other hand, the traditional use of halucinogens has been used as a spiritual, ritualistic and healing tool cross culturally. They are generally used infrequently, in a community setting and are not “prescribed” for regular use. They have been used to “treat depression” and “mental illness” in different cultures, but only in the context of that traditional society.

          I don’t see them as particularly addictive but they are definitley dangerous for some people to use due to their highly psychoactive and potent effects. At the same time, I really doubt the ability of the mental health system to use these drugs in any helpful manner.

          • Yeah, I’d separate traditional hallucinogens from drugs such as antidepressants, alcohol, pot, speed, heroin, even ketamine, etc, at least in their addiction potential. Their effects can be very powerful and not necessarily pleasant, especially if one’s suffering from mental issues to begin with. They’re not drugs you can escape your problems easily with, and they can easily create extremely bad trips. People also develop tolerance rapidly.

            However, they’re clearly very powerful drugs with lots of potential. Perhaps if we as society had some proper (social) rituals to use them in a healing manner, they’d be useful. I don’t know what these rituals would be like, but I guess it’s possible.

          • Perhaps these traditional hallucinogens may be useful for some people in the way that they can smear all one’s life and problems on face. “What! Why am I living like this!” .. followed by some kind of liberation, and perhaps a longer lasting change in lifestyle. However, at least in current drug culture this type of progress seems quite rare.

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