If there had been space for another chapter in Aftershock, it would have been devoted to exploring the renaissance of research into psychedelic-assisted therapy. Before they were banned in waves of legislation in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, compounds such as MDMA, LSD and psilocybin were starting to show great promise as tools to assist psychotherapists working to resolve severe presentations of trauma, depression or addiction. When taken under the right conditions, as part of a carefully structured process of psychotherapy, it seemed that these drugs could temporarily dissolve normally rigid boundaries in the psyche and allow people to safely confront their worst traumatic material. In some cases, they served as catalysts for what beneficiaries described as life-changing spiritual awakenings.
Lost decades followed the legislative crackdowns when researchers either gave up or went underground. But in more recent years, psychedelic science has enjoyed a mainstream revival, and a host of prestigious institutions are conducting clinical trials. To their most ardent enthusiasts, psychedelics promise to do for psychiatry what the telescope did for astronomy, and save many people from symptoms that might otherwise haunt them for a lifetime.
Among the leaders in the field is Dr Ben Sessa, a psychiatrist, author and researcher investigating MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD at Cardiff University. Dr Sessa is also a director of the annual Breaking Convention conference on psychedelic consciousness, taking place in London from July 30-June 2.
I heard Dr Sessa speak at a seminar on psychedelic therapy at University College London in January, and was so intrigued that I’ve allowed the 3-Minute Therapist to run a little longer than usual. Do visit Dr Sessa’s website for more on his books, research and on MDMA.
Many people are wary of psychedelics for a wide variety of reasons, and nobody’s suggesting they are suitable for everyone. Based on what I’ve learned this topic over the past few years, I believe that the U.K. should fund a much bigger research programme into their potential application as adjuncts to therapy−and any possible risks−as a matter of urgency. Evidence is building that the right combination of therapy and limited doses of these substances might yield breakthroughs for many people suffering from so-called “treatment-resistant” cases of trauma and addiction, whether they be service personnel or civilians.
At the many seminars, conferences and panels I attended on military mental health while researching Aftershock, I didn’t once hear the word ‘psychedelics’. If we’re serious about ensuring everyone suffering psychological injury has a genuine shot at healing, it’s time for some new thinking.
A powerful, personal story on psychedelic therapy, including the use of MDMA, by Mac McLelland in the new issue of Rolling Stone.
Psychedelic Marine, a new book by former Royal Marine Alex Seymour documenting his journey to the Amazon to drink the psychoactive plant medicine ayahuasca to heal PTSD he sustained in Afghanistan. More from Seymour on this blog.
The Psychedelic Science conference takes place in Oakland, California next month, where the international scientific community will come together to share research into the benefits and risks of MDMA, LSD, psilocybin, ayahuasca, ketamine, ibogaine, medical marijuana, and more.
Also, I enjoyed this fascinating 2013 documentary Neurons to Nirvana on psychedelic therapy.