Treating Depression with Psychedelics

Depression is a challenging and often long-term condition that can be very difficult to treat. In clinical studies, psychedelics have shown significant long-term positive impact on mood, even when used in just a single session.

Many people who have suffered from depression and later recovered find that they need a combination of approaches to stay healthy. Good nutrition, exercise, more time with friends, lower stress, and personal introspection (through therapy, psychedelics, or meditation) can be a powerful combination.

For decades, psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms and LSD have been used in clinical studies, private therapy, and at home to alleviate depression. More recently, the prescription medication ketamine has shown incredible results for depression.

Here’s one man’s story from a recent clinical study, as reported in the New York Times:

As a retired clinical psychologist, Clark Martin was well acquainted with traditional treatments for depression, but his own case seemed untreatable as he struggled through chemotherapy and other grueling regimens for kidney cancer. Counseling seemed futile to him. So did the antidepressant pills he tried.

Nothing had any lasting effect until, at the age of 65, he had his first psychedelic experience. He left his home in Vancouver, Wash., to take part in an experiment at Johns Hopkins medical school involving psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient found in certain mushrooms.



Today, more than a year later, Dr. Martin credits that six-hour experience with helping him overcome his depression and profoundly transforming his relationships with his daughter and friends. He ranks it among the most meaningful events of his life, which makes him a fairly typical member of a growing club of experimental subjects.

Clinical studies like this one that use psilocybin and LSD to study depression have a very simple protocol. Participants are invited to come to a research room that has been setup to feel comfortable and they take a dose of the substance. A researcher sits with them for the duration of the experience (typically 4-6 hours) and may talk them through any anxiety that arises. But generally, the participants simply remain quiet and feel the experience, following where their thoughts and feelings take them.

This setup can be replicated at home or in another comfortable setting. The most essential elements are a comfortable space, plenty of time to stay in the experience, and someone you trust who can support you during the experience.

The mechanism by which psychedelic experiences alleviate depression is not completely clear to researchers, but there are a few theories. One mechanism may be that the drugs directly open pathways in the brain that are normally inhibited, allowing emotions to flow more freely and helping people feel more grounded and connected. But the mental experiences and explorations that occur while taking psychedelics seem more likely to be responsible for the long term impact. This may explain why people who use psychedelics recreationally do not automatically experience the same benefits as individuals who use these substances in a more directed and focused environment. The mental experiences that consistently arise -- feeling more connected to the universe, being able to openly face fears and challenges of life, seeing your relationships more clearly, and feeling a stronger relationship to your own religious traditions -- all seem to transform an individual’s perspective on their life.

If you are interested in learning how to use ketamine, mushrooms, or LSD to treat depression, please read our Ketamine Guide, Mushroom Guide, and our LSD Guide. MDMA has not received as much attention in the context of depression, but because it shows such powerful effects in enhancing psychotherapy and resolving painful memories and experiences, it should also be considered. Here is the MDMA Guide.

Research and Articles about Depression and Psychedelics

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