Why do people with depression take Psychedelics?

2022-01-02 11:11:46
Posted on Jan 03, 2022 | Author Dr. Bhavna Barmi

Psychedelics, also known as hallucinogens, are a class of psychoactive substances that produce changes in perception, mood and cognitive processes. They affect all senses. They can alter a person’s thinking, sense of time and emotions. They can also cause a person to hallucinate- perceptual manifestations of things that do not exist in reality or distort reality. 

There are different kinds of psychedelics. Some occur naturally in trees, vines, seeds, fungi or leaves while others can be made in laboratories. Some common ones are LSD, DMT, magic mushrooms or Psilocybin. 

Depression is a mental illness that frequently co-occurs with substance abuse. This relationship is bi-directional, meaning that people who abuse substances are more likely to suffer from depression and vice versa. It was found that almost one-third of adults who abuse substances also suffer from depression and 18% of individuals with major depression have a drug use disorder. 

Depression has recognizable symptoms like excessive fatigue, low mood, irritability or anger, change in sleep and appetite, low concentration and pleasure in activities. People who are depressed may drink or abuse drugs to lift their moods or escape their feelings. Psychedelics usually provide a sense of “high”, an elevated sense of feeling, thoughts and activities, that motivated individuals to indulge further. 

Psychedelics like magic mushrooms have been used for years in cultures all across the world. Some are used as part of rituals whereas some use it to increase ability to work. Once dismissed as dangerous, these drugs are now gaining mainstream acceptance as helpful in therapeutic and recreational treatment. Several small studies suggest the drugs can be safely administered and might have benefits for people with intractable depression and other psychological problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Psychedelics can affect different people differently depending on their size, weight and health. The amount of time, regularity of use, dosage, strength of the drug and family history with psychedelic consumption also play an important role. For some people the effects can be negative and for the same reason it may benefit others as they tend to inhibit some parts of the brain and reinforce other parts. It can produce feelings of euphoria, a sense of relaxation and well-being, alter concentration, breathing and create numbness. 

These effects are the reasons why people with depression use these drugs. People with depression get locked up into ruminating thought patterns and negative feelings or numbness. These drugs tend to activate a therapeutic dreamlike state that intensifies sensory perceptions and memories can pop up like little films. 

Research on the exact mechanism of psychedelics and their effects in the human brain is not clear. However, it is believed that they may “reset” the brain. Their effects have been considered as:

 

? Creating mystical or psychedelic experience: Intense meaningful experiences under the influence may shift a person’s mindset or belief system, causing them to think or behave differently. These experiences are manifest as hallucinations under influence. 

 

? Increased suggestibility: People using psychedelics may be more suggestible. This can make them more responsive to positive suggestions from the therapist or to benefit from their own hallucinations. However, they may also get negatively guided through these hallucinations. Therefore, it is important for therapists to guide this suggestible state of the client and make the person more open to positive ideas discussed in therapy.

 

? Neurotransmitter changes: Many mental health drugs act directly on neurotransmitters to change mood like antidepressants. 

 

Recent Research has suggested that a couple of doses, a controlled amount of a psychedelic drug may treat depression. A research study conducted by Griffiths, John Hopkins in 2021 revealed that magic mushrooms were as good a treatment for depression as a gold standard antidepressant. It is believed that the drug might help loosen the brain’s fixed pathways, which can be “rest” with talking therapy afterwards. The idea behind psychedelic therapy is that the receptive state that the drug confers opens the door to fresh ideas about how to think about the past and future, which the therapist can reinforce.

Research on how psychedelics can be used to treat mental health conditions is still in its early stages. It is also unclear how treatment involving psychedelics can be used in the world as patients will have to be monitored and the doses must be regulated.

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