Research published in Frontiers in Psychiatry adds to the ever-growing literature of clinical applications of psychedelic substances against depressive symptoms. In a nutshell, the research suggests (with preliminary evidence) that psychedelic substances can improve the mental health of individuals by making them more accepting of their distressing experiences.
You might say, “Alright, we get it, psychedelic stuff makes things seem less bad” and think “but things revert back to the way they were after a while.” And you wouldn’t be wrong, technically. While everyone eventually comes down from psychedelics, the new data suggests that their effects might last a bit longer than we assumed.
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One of the authors, Richard Zeifman, a Ph.D. student at Ryerson University and research intern at the Centre for Psychedelic Research details, “In contrast with the traditional pharmacological interventions, the effects of psychedelic therapy appear to last months and even years after treatment has ended. Understanding how psychedelic therapy leads to long-lasting mental health improvements across a range of conditions is not yet fully understood but is important for enhancing and delivering psychedelic therapy to individuals that may benefit from it.”
A transdiagnostic construct called experiential avoidance especially piqued the interest of the researchers. Shortly defined; it is the tendency to avoid situations that bring unpleasant feelings and thoughts.
The team recruited two groups of people through online advertisement, the first group consists of 104 people who had intentions of using psychedelics, and the second group consists of 254 people who had intentions of attending a psychedelic ceremony. Both groups completed surveys grading them on depression severity, experiential avoidance, and suicidal ideation. This surveying process was conducted repeatedly one week before and four weeks after the participants consumed the substance of their liking.
The findings showed that in both ceremonial and non-ceremonial settings, psychedelic use was associated with decreased experiential avoidance, which in turn decreases both suicidal ideation and depression severity. In the study; LSD, psilocybin, and ayahuasca were the most popular substances.
Zeifman told PsyPost “our results provide further support for the negative mental health effects associated with avoidance. This can be summed up with a saying that is often used in the context of psychedelic therapy, that ‘The only way out is through.”
Also, as aforementioned, the study relies on preliminary evidence for now. Zeifman mentioned that there were important limitations and said, “…our study was not conducted in the context of a controlled clinical trial or within a clinical sample. Accordingly, we are currently conducting research where we are comparing the effects of psychedelic therapy versus a traditional antidepressant (called escitalopram) on experiential avoidance.”