4 Reasons Why Psychedelics Could Change The World Of Psychopharmacology
New research shows that psychedelics could emerge as a dominant treatment for many mental health disorders.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | April 1, 2022
Therapeutic psychedelics like LSD, psilocybin, and ayahuasca often get a bad reputation because of a lack of awareness, poor regulation and administration, and frequent misrepresentations in the media. However, emerging research shows promising results and makes a strong case for a future where psychedelics are a regular part of psychopharmacology.
According to Brandon Weiss of Imperial College London, "Psychedelic experiences are associated with profound changes in the way people relate to themselves, others, and the world around them. They seem to indelibly elicit a sense of meaning that individuals rate as the foremost meaningful in their lives."
Researchers in this field have, through their studies, distilled for us the following reasons why psychedelics show immense promise:
1. Psychedelic experiences can result in positive personality changes
Studies have shown that after having certain psychedelic experiences, people reported that they were not as quarrelsome or critical in their interactions with others. People also reported that they were less easily upset by things and less anxious.
2. Psychedelics are effective for people with high neuroticism
Researchers have also found that people who showed greater reductions in anxiety were more anxious before their psychedelic experience. In fact, an ayahuasca study suggested that reduced neuroticism after a psychedelic experience can stay persistently low for over three months. More research is required in this area of psychedelic research, but the initial results are promising.
3. Psychedelic experiences may increase empathy
Another observed benefit of a psychedelic experience was an increased ability to occupy the mental perspectives of others, especially among people who were initially low on this ability.
4. Psychedelic experiences can lead to a feeling of connectedness with nature and people
People have also reported an increased perceived belonging to their community and society after a psychedelic experience. Psychologist Sam Gandy of Imperial College London also emphasizes the 'feeling of awe' in their study, which is a commonly reported component of a psychedelic experience.
According to Gandy, "The experience of awe encompasses encountering vastness that transcends one's current frame of reference. It is tied to the feeling of experiencing something much greater than the self, with the identification of a 'small self' in this context. It is a complex emotional state that is linked to feelings of interconnectedness associated with both contact with nature and with the action of psychedelics."
But there's still much more to learn...
While the benefits of psychedelics are varied and powerful, researchers have also pointed out that they might lead to certain negative side effects in some cases. Here are some of the side effects researchers have found:
- A small percentage of people reported negative side effects after an ayahuasca induced psychedelic experience including difficulty relating to people, hypersensitivity, flashbacks/recollections of adverse subjective experiences during the ceremony, distressing dreams, hallucinations, speech impairment, brain fog, and difficulty concentrating.
- Psychedelics may also carry risks including the potential for hallucinogen-persisting disorder, a condition characterized by persistent hallucinogenic effects including perceptions of light and sound.
- Psychedelics are also considered to place individuals at heightened risk for psychosis. Because of this, current studies are careful not to include people with a family history of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
Researchers seem to agree that, all things considered, the pros of psychedelics in clinical settings outweigh the cons enough to at least warrant more extensive, large-scale studies.
"Studies that would be very helpful toward this end include those that use a disharmony-focused therapy — such as components of Dialectical Behavior Therapy — and recruit people who are low in agreeableness to start," says Weiss. "Should the changes we observed here find replication, countless interesting questions emerge: most intriguingly, what are the mechanisms for why these changes are taking place in people's psychology and in their neurobiology."