Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy for Mental Health and Substance Use

There has been a resurgence of interest in the potential of psychedelics to help individuals battling mental health and substance use concerns. This newfound curiosity stems from various factors including scientific advancements, a growing mental health crisis, and a shift towards a more holistic approach to treatment. As we dive into this topic, we will explore the science behind psychedelic-assisted therapy and its role in healing from the past. 

Understanding Psychedelics 

Psychedelics encompass a range of substances known for their mind-altering effects. Among the most recognized are psilocybin (magic mushrooms), LSD, MDMA (found in ecstasy and/or molly), DMT, ketamine, and Ayahuasca (mostly used in ceremonial rituals). While these substances have been traditionally associated with recreational use, recent research has unveiled their potential use for therapeutic purposes. 

Why the Renewed Interest? 

There are a few reasons why now scientists are looking towards psychedelic-assisted therapy for mental health. Some of them are: 

  • Addressing the Mental Health Crisis: Conventional psychiatric treatments often focus on symptom management rather than addressing underlying traumas. Psychedelics offer a pathway to healing by allowing individuals to confront and process negative emotions at their core. 
  • Scientific Advancements: Prominent figures in academia, including renowned researchers and institutions like Harvard and John’s Hopkins, have begun exploring the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. This shift towards evidence-based research has lent credibility to their medicinal value. 
  • Cultural and Environmental Shifts: Amidst increasing authoritarianism and environmental degradation, there’s a growing sense of disconnection and existential angst. Psychedelics offer a way to reconnect with yourself, others, and the world at large, fostering a deeper understanding of existence. 

The Therapeutic Potential  

Psychedelics hold promise for treating mental health disorders and substance use concerns for several reasons: 

  • Emotional Processing: Psychedelics facilitate the exploration and processing of negative emotional experiences, leading to profound therapeutic insights by dismantling psychological defenses. 
  • Neuroplasticity: Research suggests that psychedelics promote increased neuronal connectivity in the brain, fostering a sense of interconnectedness and wholeness, which are integral to mental wellbeing. 
  • Ego Dissolution: Psychedelics challenge rigid thought patterns and narratives, offering individuals an opportunity to transcend their ego and embrace new perspectives, ultimately promoting personal growth and self-awareness. 
  • Opening Critical Periods: Neuroscientists are starting to show that psychedelics can re-open critical periods in studies of animal models. These are periods that can influence brain development; periods that were formerly thought to be static once formed.  

Evidence-Based Research 

Numerous studies have demonstrated the efficacy of psychedelics in treating various mental health and substance use conditions: 

  • Notably, MDMA-assisted therapy has shown remarkable success in treating PTSD, with approval by the US FDA anticipated soon. 
  • Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, is being explored as a potential treatment for depression and substance use disorders (alcohol and tobacco). 
  • Ketamine and Ibogaine have already been approved for hard-to-treat depression in some jurisdictions.  

Navigating the Treatment Landscape 

When considering the therapeutic use of psychedelics, it’s essential to differentiate between recreational and therapeutic contexts: 

  • Psychedelic-assisted therapy involves guided sessions with trained professionals, emphasizing intentionality, preparation, and post-session integration. 
  • Safety remains paramount, with controlled environments and support systems in place to mitigate potential risks. 

Addressing Concerns 

While psychedelics offer significant therapeutic potential, it’s crucial to acknowledge potential risks and limitations. Individuals with a family history of psychosis should exercise caution, as psychedelics may exacerbate underlying mental health conditions.

Microdosing, a practice involving the consumption of small, sub-perceptual doses, remains a topic of ongoing research, with mixed evidence regarding its therapeutic benefits. 

As we navigate the complexities of mental health and substance use, psychedelic-assisted therapy offers a beacon of hope, illuminating new pathways to healing and transformation. Through rigorous research, responsible practices, and compassionate care, we can harness the healing power of psychedelic-assisted therapy to create a brighter, more expansive future for all. 

While psychedelic-assisted therapy shows very promising results, the research is currently limited to a small set of conditions and populations. As with any type of treatment, it is not going to be effective for everyone. It is helpful (and sometimes extremely helpful) for some people with the help of trained professionals who value and respect this medicine. 

Psychedelics are not currently legal in most jurisdictions and ALAViDA does not endorse obtaining psychedelic-assisted therapy without a medical practitioner, a trained guide, or within a research study context. If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you with Substance Use, please click on the ALAViDA TRAiL to find out more. 


About the author: 

Dr. Terri-Lynn Mackay, C.Psych, is the Mental Health Director of ALAViDA Substance Use, a product of LifeSpeak Inc. She leads a care team who provides members with compassionate, non-judgmental, evidence-based care. In her previous roles, Dr. Mackay served as the Director of Operations for the Canadian mental health pandemic response, the Associate Director of Counselling Services at the University of British Columbia, an Associate Professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the Provincial Director of Innovation and Partnerships for the Canadian Mental Health Association. Dr. Mackay holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology and a master’s degree in behavioral Neuroscience.