A Different Kind of Dose

A Different Kind of Dose
By Patti F. Boyle

In 1972, Jerry Garcia told Charles Reich and Jann Wenner in a Rolling Stone interview that "To get really high is to forget yourself. And to forget yourself is to see everything else. And to see everything else is to become an understanding molecule in evolution, a conscious tool of the universe..." 

In mid-September, The Huffington Post published an article by Carolyn Gregoire entitled “Psychedelics Could Trigger a ‘Paradigm Shift’ in Mental Health Care”. The article reflects the current interest in hallucinogenic drug therapy for anxiety and depression, and a brief interview with a behavioral pharmacologist, Dr. Matthew Johnson, at John Hopkins University.  The “paradigm shift” would bring hallucinogenic drugs to psychotherapy sessions, whereby a patient would either orally ingest or be injected with psilocybin, the compound found in magic mushrooms,and hallucinate while in the company of a trained clinician.  

According to recent studies using fMRI brain scans, psilocybin slows down the interconnectivity between various brain hubs, two of which are of interest in psychological studies.  One of these brain hubs is thought to be responsible for filtering out unnecessary sensory information so that we are not overwhelmed by our perceptions. The other is associated with our sense of self, or how we sense our “selves” as the focal point of existence.  With our brain slowed down by psilocybin, and various filters switched off, we are allowed to perceive any possible perception or thought impulse, and our sense of self and personal vantage point dissolves.  Apparently, the hallucinogenic experience helps patients by creating a sense of connection with the universe, and by forgetting the self and personal worries.  

More research with hallucinogens has been conducted outside the U.S., but one research study in the U.S. as conducted during the years between 2004 and 2006 at UCLA.  Psilocybin-assisted therapy was given to terminally ill cancer patients reportedly suffering acute death-anxiety. The patients responded to psychological testing for depression and anxiety before and after the study, were explained the procedure, and participated with the guidance of a trained clinician.

Although the psilocybin study was small, 12 patients, the patients reported improvement in feelings of depression and anxiety after the completion of treatment. After two weeks, patients continued to report feeling improvement in levels of anxiety and depression, and after 6 months, feelings of depression remained improved. Additionally, patients reported feeling more empathy for the people in their lives, primarily family members and friends.

Recently, NYU completed a phase II study with 30 cancer patients, and the Heffter Research Institute is planning to launch a phase III study with 300 participants.  The outcomes of these studies, as well as other studies conducted in settings outside the U.S., have created momentum for the use of psilocybin-assisted therapy for depression and anxiety, as well as for addictions.

Although less talked about in scientific circles, there is a drug-free practice that has been shown to affect the same brain hubs and achieve the same outcome as psilocybin-assisted therapy, and that is the practice of meditation.  Although meditation has been practiced for thousands of years, drug therapy for mental health continues to surge in the modern world, and 95 percent of U.S. federal dollars designated for mental health research are spent on researching drugs. 

Ironically, the research, development and outcomes of modern antidepressant drugs do not show definitive results, and, in fact, these drugs are no more effective than placebo in many studies, or good old- fashion psychotherapy.  Still, in 2011, 35.7 million people used Zoloft, to name only one antidepressant medication, and 11 billion dollars was spent on antidepressants in 2010. 

If recent history is any indication, hallucinogenic-assisted drug therapy just may trigger a “paradigm shift” in mental health care. After all, the profits to pharmaceutical companies and associated industries would be enormous, and researchers like Dr. Johnson would continue to have a job.

But what if we resisted the persuasion of the media and advertising, perhaps find ourselves a good therapist or commit to learning and practicing meditation? What if we naturally found ourselves becoming an “understanding molecule in evolution, a conscious tool of the universe...”?  Wow. Wouldn’t that be a trip.


This is a commentary on the Huffington Post article  “Psychedelics Could Trigger A 'Paradigm Shift' In Mental Health Care”. You can read the full article at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/psychedelics-mental-health-care_55f2e754e4b077ca094eb4f0?utm_hp_ref=stronger-together