Deccan Chronicle.| Swati Sharma
Psychedelics may take you on a trip but they have all it takes to save lives or at least improve them
According to experts, while psychedelic drugs can take you on a trip, they can save lives, or at least improve them.
Fans of Miley Cyrus might remember her telling the world that ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic brew made from the Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis plants, is one of "the favourite drugs" she’s ever done.
Another once, Kristen Bell, The Good Place star shared that she’d taken hallucinogenic mushrooms (magic mushrooms) for her birthday. She said she’d become curious about psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, after reading Michael Pollan’s book How to Change Your Mind.
Miley and Kristen are not alone; an increasing number of celebs have been trying out psychedelics. Now, various studies show that ayahuasca therapy may be effective in the treatment of depression and addiction.
Such psychedelics have, in fact, been a part of India’s culture across different eras — from somarass to bhang — going way back to the Vedas. Soma, the Indo–Iranian psychoactive beverage, is broadly believed to be a strong hallucinogenic, making those who consume it feel happy, light and motivated.
So what are psychedelic drugs?
According to experts, while psychedelic drugs can take you on a trip, they can save lives, or at least improve them. Also as per experts, people suffering from depression or trauma or those who’ve buried themselves in their past stand to benefit a great deal.
Amituofo Kumar of Somaa Foundation, an Indian NGO on Research & Integration of Entheogentic/Psychedelic plants, cautions that psychedelic therapy requires special care and supervision as compared to a typical psychiatric medication. "Psychedelic drugs are mind-manifesting agents that are natural or synthetic compounds, which have the ability to rewire and activate the pineal gland, a pea-shaped gland in the brain," states Amituofo Kumar. "Entheogens, natural compounds found in hundreds of plant species, have cultural and ritualistic uses within indigenous communities."
The game-changer in mental health
Mental health is an extremely overlooked issue in India, which has considerably worsened since the pandemic.
Dr Gorav Gupta, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, Tulasi Healthcare, is positive about the use of psychedelic drugs for bettering mental health. "Suicide deaths attribute to at least one-third among females and one-fourth of males. Most of this illness and death goes unnoticed," he says. "WHO estimates an alarming 30 crore people suffering from depression/anxiety, with at least 10 crore of these failing to respond to anti-depressants. While there’s been a dearth of a major breakthrough in the treatment modality for various mental disorders for decades, psychedelic therapy, in its clinical research phase, has shown tremendous outcomes."
Dr Prerna Kohli (MPhil, PhD), Clinical Psychologist and Founder, MindTribe.in, however believes that a flip side to undergoing such treatment is its illegal nature in large parts of the world. "Patients under ‘special treatment programmes’ are asked to self-monitor their consumption and behavioural patterns, which leads to a lack of a holistic medical understanding of the effects."
Research bodies have also warned of effects that patients may undergo due to over-consumption," she states.
Some documented effects include paranoia, confusion, auditory and/or visual hallucinations, dissociation and depersonalization and distressing automatic thoughts. Also, if patients are found consuming such drugs in places where they’re illegal, they might risk a penalty.
Ayahuasca for trauma and addiction
According to some in the field, ayahuasca helps activate the pineal gland, which allows us to open the dimensions between death and birth.
According to Dr Anish Anand, Consultant Internal Medicine, Apollo Hospitals, psychedelic therapy is the use of plants to induce hallucinations to treat mental health diagnosis such as depression. "Some of the compounds used include psilocybin mushrooms and mescaline. These medications may often give immediate improvement. These medications may also help to overcome addiction, eating disorders and PTSD," he says. "These drugs are generally safe and alter perceptions and mood. At the brain level, they may act as partial agonists of serotonin. In India, they were used for a long time as traditional plant treatments. In fact, Patanjali in his yoga-sutra had mentioned the mystic powers from certain herbs or healing plants."
Dr Kohli shares with us that psilocybin apparently gave patients a sort of ‘kick start’ requisite to break out of their depressive state. "Research showed lasting effects of psilocybin for up to five weeks after consuming just two doses. Moreover, the drug also seemed to react faster unlike anti-depressants, which are known to take years," says Dr Kohli.
Psychedelics being a part of retreat structures Amituofo believes that healing as a community is the absolute key to rejuvenating our society.
"Working with entheogens is not easy as a lot of pain can surface and the patients may feel that they need to escape," Amituofo shares. "So we need a supporting week of scheduled ceremonies and retreats to give us the focused time to go deep inside the treatment. The main aim of using Ayahuasca, Iboga, etc. is to trigger the stimulation of happiness hormones (serotonin); they can be used for treatment-resistant depressions."
Amituofo believes that with the potential of minimal toxicity, the effects of this therapy is long-lasting providing patients a sense of well-being and satisfaction. But he cautions these drugs to be administered — orally or through injections — only under expert supervision.
"Patients are made to listen to feel-good music and talk-therapy on ‘let go of the past’," he states, adding that psychedelic drugs start working within 1–2 sessions unlike standard psychotherapy, which may take up to months to start working.
Dr Kohli also agrees that the use of psychedelic therapy would require immense training for mental health professionals. "It’s an essential before they’re ready to work with clients in their deep state of vulnerability," she adds.
- According to Dr Mohan Krishna Narasimha Kumar Jonnalagadda, Senior Neurologist, Yashoda Hospitals, Psychedelics are classified in to two groups: classic psychedelics and entactogens.
- Ergot fungus from Eurasia, morning glory and peyote cactus from Central and North America, and the ayahuasca brew from the Amazon are some of the naturally available classic psychedelics and have been in use in recreational/spiritual activities for centuries.
- The second class of psychedelic substances, the entactogens, includes methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), which acts primarily as a serotonin-releasing agent and has effects that somewhat overlap but are substantially distinct from classic psychedelics.