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Using Psychedelics to Treat Depression: The Pros and Cons

A man suffering from depression.
The FDA gave psilocybin therapy for depression a Breakthrough Therapy designation in 2018.

Depression is so much more than just feeling sad. In temporary moments of sadness, you know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. But when you’re suffering from depression, that light is barely visible, if at all.

When depression strikes, it doesn’t let go. Like a parasite, depression slowly sucks the life out of you. Feelings of worthlessness and guilt take over and you lose the ability to tell the difference between up and down.

Despite the doom and gloom associated with depression, there is hope and constant progress to fight depressive symptoms. Since the 1980s, antidepressants have been used to combat depression.

And today, science is turning to a new wave of potential depression-fighting drugs: psychedelics like psilocybin. This article will review the history of antidepressants and the pros and cons of using psychedelics to fight depression.

What are Antidepressants?

Antidepressants like Prozac, Zoloft and Lexapro have been used for over 30 years and are some of the most widely prescribed medications in the world. While they are primarily used to combat depression symptoms, they are also used for anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other psychiatric issues.

Unfortunately, these drugs all come with their own sets of side effects, including insomnia, headaches, nausea and muscle pains. Those on antidepressants have also reported diminished sexual desire and are at risk for more serious issues like internal bleeding due to reduced blood clotting.

While 40-60 percent of patients experience relief on antidepressants, it’s not uncommon to suffer from all the negative side effects of the drug without any relief for depression or anxiety. This leads to a game of trial and error for the patient, switching between antidepressants to see which one works the best.

Psychedelics for Depression Treatment

Treatment-resistant depression affects an estimated 100 million people around the world, rendering current antidepressant medications virtually useless. This is what researchers at Johns Hopkins University and COMPASS Pathways want to fix by exploring the benefits of psychedelic drugs.

Preliminary research has shown some promise in psychedelic drugs treating depression and anxiety, leading the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to grant a Breakthrough Therapy designation to psilocybin therapy.

This Breakthrough Therapy designation allows for a more efficient pathway to approving new drugs that show greater advantages of treating conditions like depression over the current medications on the market. It also gives scientists greater opportunities to test psilocybin and create depression and anxiety treatments that include the drug.

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The Pros of Psychedelics for Depression

Psilocybin has gained significant attention over the years because of the way it alters the brain and regulates mood. For example, the hallucinogen is known to trigger feelings of relaxation and spiritual experiences that can help improve an individual’s mood.

In a 2015 study conducted at Imperial College London, researchers found that psilocybin treatment mixed with psychological support rendered the safe and positive results they were looking for. Other studies have found that psychedelic drugs can help cancer patients find relief from feelings of depression and anxiety they experience during their cancer treatments.

These early findings have sparked additional research, but more is needed to combat the negative effects psychedelics can have on a user.

The Cons of Psychedelics for Depression

Psychedelic drugs like psilocybin change the way the brain works and how the body’s central nervous system communicates. As a schedule I drug, psilocybin has a high potential for abuse, causing symptoms like anxiety, paranoia, psychosis, disorientation and other unwelcoming side effects that can put the user and others around them at risk.

While psychedelic drugs in controlled doses can lead to positive results in treating addiction, abusing the drug on your own can actually aggravate depression and cause other unwanted side effects.

If you or a loved one is struggling with drug abuse to cope with issues like depression or anxiety, it’s best to seek help from an addiction treatment center that is capable of treating dual diagnosis disorders in a safe way.

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At The Raleigh House, we provide premiere substance use disorder and co-occurring conditions treatment. Our wellness lodge called The Ranch is unlike any addiction treatment facility in the Denver area, giving you a safe, comfortable and supportive environment near the mountains for you to heal from addiction and learn ways to recover from and cope with feelings of depression.

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