Nav: Home

Can psychedelic drugs heal?

August 09, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO -- Many people think of psychedelics as relics from the hippie generation or something taken by ravers and music festival-goers, but they may one day be used to treat disorders ranging from social anxiety to depression, according to research presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

"Combined with psychotherapy, some psychedelic drugs like MDMA, psilocybin and ayahuasca may improve symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder," said Cristina L. Magalhaes, PhD, of Alliant International University Los Angeles, and co-chair of a symposium on psychedelics and psychotherapy. "More research and discussion are needed to understand the possible benefits of these drugs, and psychologists can help navigate the clinical, ethical and cultural issues related to their use."

Hallucinogens have been studied in the U.S. for their potential healing benefits since the discovery of LSD in the 1940s. However, research has mostly stalled since psychedelics were outlawed in the late 1960s.

A shift may be coming soon though, as MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, is beginning its third and final phase of clinical trials in an effort to win Food and Drug Administration approval for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, said Adam Snider, MA, of Alliant International University Los Angeles, and co-chair of the symposium.

Findings from one study presented at the symposium suggested that symptoms of social anxiety in autistic adults may be treatable with a combination of psychotherapy and MDMA. Twelve autistic adults with moderate to severe social anxiety were given two treatments of pure MDMA plus ongoing therapy and showed significant and long-lasting reductions in their symptoms, the research found.

"Social anxiety is prevalent in autistic adults and few treatment options have been shown to be effective," said Alicia Danforth, PhD, of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at the HarborUCLA Medical Center, who conducted the study. "The positive effects of using MDMA and therapy lasted months, or even years, for most of the research volunteers."

Research discussed also explored how LSD, psilocybin (known colloquially as "magic mushrooms") and ayahuasca (a brew used by indigenous people of the Amazon for spiritual ceremonies) may benefit people with anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

Adele Lafrance, PhD, of Laurentian University, highlighted a study of 159 participants who reported on their past use of hallucinogens, level of spirituality and relationship with their emotions.

Using hallucinogens was related to greater levels of spirituality, which led to improved emotional stability and fewer symptoms of anxiety, depression and disordered eating, the study found.

"This study reinforces the need for the psychological field to consider a larger role for spirituality in the context of mainstream treatment because spiritual growth and a connection to something greater than the self can be fostered," said Lafrance.

Other research presented suggested that ayahuasca may help alleviate depression and addiction, as well as assist people in coping with trauma.

"We found that ayahuasca also fostered an increase in generosity, spiritual connection and altruism," said Clancy Cavnar, PhD, with Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos.

For people suffering from life-threatening cancer, psilocybin may provide significant and lasting decreases in anxiety and distress.

When combined with psychotherapy, psilocybin helped a study's 13 participants grapple with loss and existential distress. It also helped the participants reconcile their feelings about death as nearly all participants reported that they developed a new understanding of dying, according to Gabby Agin-Liebes, BA, of Palo Alto University, who conducted the research.

"Participants made spiritual or religious interpretations of their experience and the psilocybin treatment helped facilitate a reconnection to life, greater mindfulness and presence, and gave them more confidence when faced with cancer recurrence," said Agin-Liebes.

Presenters throughout the symposium discussed the need for more research to fully understand the implications of using psychedelics as an adjunct to psychotherapy as well as the ethical and legal issues that need to be considered.

Session 1033: "MDMA-Assisted Therapy for Social Anxiety in Autistic Adults," "Psychedelics and Mental Health: A Study of Psychological Mechanisms of Therapeutic Action," "Mechanisms of Psilocybin-Assisted Psychotherapy for Existential Distress Associated With Cancer," "An Examination of Psychological Healing With Ayahuasca" and "A Guide to Ayahuasca-Related Clinical Issues for Mental-Health Practitioners," Symposium, Thursday, Aug. 9, 8 a.m. PDT, Room 306, Level Three-South Building, Moscone Center, 747 Howard St., San Francisco, Calif.

Presentations are available from the APA Public Affairs Office.
-end-
Contact: Cristina L. Magalhaes, PhD, at cmagalhaes@alliant.edu; Adam Snider, MA, at asnider@alliant.edu; Alicia Danforth, PhD, at adanforth@labiomed.org; Adele Lafrance, PhD, at adele.lafrance@gmail.com; Clancy Cavnar, PhD, at clancycavnar@gmail.com; or Gabby Agin-Liebes at gabby.aginliebes@gmail.com.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes nearly 115,700 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.

American Psychological Association

Related Depression Articles:

Tackling depression by changing the way you think
A thought is a thought. It does not reflect reality.
How depression can muddle thinking
Depression is associated with sadness, fatigue and a lack of motivation.
Neuroimaging categorizes 4 depression subtypes
Patients with depression can be categorized into four unique subtypes defined by distinct patterns of abnormal connectivity in the brain, according to new research from Weill Cornell Medicine.
Studies suggest inflammatory cytokines are associated with depression and psychosis, and that anti-cytokine treatment can reduce depression symptoms
Studies presented at this year's International Early Psychosis Association meeting in Milan, Italy, (Oct.
Is depression in parents, grandparents linked to grandchildren's depression?
Having both parents and grandparents with major depressive disorder was associated with higher risk of MDD for grandchildren, which could help identify those who may benefit from early intervention, according to a study published online by JAMA Psychiatry.
Postpartum depression least severe form of depression in mothers
Postpartum depression -- a household term since actress Brooke Shields went public in 2005 about her struggle with it -- is indeed serious.
Tropical Depression 1E dissipates
Tropical Depression 1E or TD1E didn't get far from the time it was born to the time it weakened to a remnant low pressure area along the southwestern coast of Mexico.
Diagnosing depression before it starts
MIT researchers have found that brain scans may identify children who are vulnerable to depression, before symptoms appear.
Men actually recommend getting help for depression
Participants in a national survey read a scenario describing someone who had depressed symptoms.
Depression too often reduced to a checklist of symptoms
How can you tell if someone is depressed? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) -- the 'bible' of psychiatry -- diagnoses depression when patients tick off a certain number of symptoms on the DSM checklist.

Related Depression Reading:

The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time
by Alex Korb PhD (Author), Daniel J. Siegel MD (Foreword)

How to Be Happy (Or at Least Less Sad): A Creative Workbook
by Lee Crutchley (Author), Oliver Burkeman (Foreword)

The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs
by Stephen S. Ilardi (Author)

The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness (Book & CD)
by Mark Williams (Author), John Teasdale (Author), Zindel Segal (Author), Jon Kabat-Zinn (Author)

The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression
by Andrew Solomon (Author)

The No-Bullshit Guide to Depression
by Steven Skoczen (Author)

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions
by Johann Hari (Author)

Depression & Other Magic Tricks
by Sabrina Benaim (Author)

Unfuck Your Brain: Getting Over Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Freak-Outs, and Triggers with science
by Faith Harper PhD LPC-S ACS ACN (Author)

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy
by David D. Burns (Author)

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Where Joy Hides
When we focus so much on achievement and success, it's easy to lose sight of joy. This hour, TED speakers search for joy in unexpected places, and explain why it's crucial to a fulfilling life. Speakers include inventor Simone Giertz, designer Ingrid Fetell Lee, journalist David Baron, and musician Meklit Hadero.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#500 500th Episode
This week we turn 500! To celebrate, we're taking the opportunity to go off format, talk about the journey through 500 episodes, and answer questions from our lovely listeners. Join hosts Bethany Brookshire and Rachelle Saunders as we talk through the show's history, how we've grown and changed, and what we love about the Science for the People. Here's to 500 more episodes!