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Psychedelic Drugs Being Used to Treat Depression

One might never expect that magic mushrooms could be used as a treatment option, but clinical trials doing just that have been conducted in cancer patients at both Johns Hopkins University and New York University (NYU). Particularly, researchers are studying the effect of the active ingredient in magic mushrooms – psilocybin – on a potential reduction in symptoms associated with such mental illnesses as depression and anxiety.

Magic mushrooms have been said to cause a shrinking of one's sense of self, and this shrinking has also been connected to long-lasting changes in one's perspective on reality. These changes are believed to cause a potential reduction in the symptoms associated with conditions affecting one's mental state. David Nutt, the director of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, had previously spoken with Business Insider about this connection.

According to Nutt, one characteristic that certain conditions like anxiety, depression, and addiction all share is overly strengthened connections in particular brain circuits. What this means is that the brain gets caught up in a particular pattern of thinking or processing that is driven by the brain's "control center." What both brain scans and multiple clinical trials have shown is that psychedelic drugs seem to reduce the activity that goes on in these circuits, providing relief to the test subject for weeks, months, or, in some cases, even years.

Preliminary research is presently being conducted to determine whether psychedelics may one day be used in a controlled environment as a way to treat mental illness. As Nutt puts it: "psychedelics disrupt that process so people can escape… At least for the duration of the trip, they can escape about the ruminations about depression or alcohol or obsessions. And then they do not necessarily go back."

According to researchers, the ability of psychedelic drugs to cause significantly positive changes in one's personality can help doctors treat the illness itself by allowing them to get into the patient's psyche, as opposed to the anti-depression medications that are currently on the market that treat the symptoms of the condition, rather than the core condition itself. As psychiatrist Ben Sessa recently said, "our current model [is to] take daily medications to mask symptoms." This does nothing to treat the actual problem.

Psychedelic drugs are not to be thought of as the be-all, end-all to a mental illness either. However, they can be combined with therapy in order to help people get at and resolve their underlying issues. The drugs are used as a way to enhance the relationship that already exists between a patient and his or her therapist.

Julie Holland is a psychiatrist who is currently overseeing a study involving MDMA and psychotherapy in veterans who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Holland sees the usage of psychedelic drugs in therapy as a potent way of addressing patients' issues, issues that they might otherwise never confront while on their existent prescription medications.

As Holland puts it, these medications essentially "[sweep] symptoms under the rug." Psychedelic psychotherapy, she says, " takes the rug out back and beats the hell out of it and vacuums the floor and puts the rug back down."