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Research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs has gained traction in recent years, as indicated by the popularity of journalist ­Michael Pollan’s 2018 bestseller How to Change Your Mind. Studies have largely fo­­cused on psilocybin (the active compound in “magic mushrooms”), MDMA (also known as ecstasy), and LSD.

Growing evidence suggests that physician-supervised use of psychedelics can successfully treat mental-health conditions. A 2016 study found that psilocybin decreased depression and anxiety in patients with life-­threatening cancer. Another study from 2018 found that MDMA reduced PTSD symptoms in a group of military veterans, firefighters, and police officers.

In some cases, these therapeutic benefits can be achieved through microdosing, which involves taking a small dose of a psychedelic substance — typically 10 percent or less of an average dose, enough to potentially yield positive results without “tripping.”

“The drug is a skeleton key which unlocks an interior door to places we don’t generally have access to,” psychologist William A. Richards, PhD, told Scientific American. “It’s a therapeutic accelerant.” Richards works with the psychology department at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, home to the country’s leading program devoted to researching psychedelics and mental health.

The timing may be ideal for this “therapeutic accelerant.” Millions of people are facing mental-health challenges in the wake of the corona­virus pandemic. Though worldwide rates of depression and anxiety were on the rise before the pandemic, the many losses it caused exacerbated this trend. For instance, there has been a marked increase in posttraumatic stress among frontline workers and healthcare providers.

Tools to help with trauma recovery and emotional stability are needed more than ever. Psychedelics are not for everyone — particularly those who struggle with substance-use disorder — but they do appear to be a promising tool for mental-health providers to add to the toolbox.

This was excerpted from “The Future of Health” which was published in the July/August 2021 issue of Experience Life magazine.

Kaelyn Riley

Kaelyn Riley is an Experience Life senior editor.

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