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  • In the 1950s, psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) were actively researched for their effectiveness in treating mental health conditions. However, legal and social issues put a stop to psychedelic research. 

    Psychedelics became associated with “bad trips”, including psychosis and paranoia. More recently, however, these drugs have received renewed medical attention. 

    When used in a clinical setting under the supervision of a medical professional, psychedelic drugs may have therapeutic potential

    What Are Psychedelic Drugs?

    Psychedelic drugs, also known as hallucinogens, are psychoactive substances that alter mood, perception, and cognition. They influence how you perceive time, the way you think, and how you feel. 

    Psychedelic drugs include:

    • psilocybin 
    • LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide)
    • ayahuasca
    • MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine)
    • DMT (N,N,-dimethyltryptamine)
    • ketamine
    • peyote

    Some psychedelics, like psilocybin and peyote, are naturally occurring. Others, like MDMA, are synthetic and made in laboratories. Plant-based hallucinogens were used by ancient cultures both medicinally and for spiritual purposes.

    Effects Of Psychedelics

    Psychedelics alter perceptions and may cause a positive sense of well-being and euphoria. Some produce hallucinations at high doses, while others may promote a sense of connection with others. 

    When used recreationally, psychedelics have the potential to cause harmful side effects. When abused, hallucinogens can cause psychotic breaks. 

    The use of psychedelics without the supervision of a healthcare professional can result in a “bad trip.” A “trip” describes the psychedelic experience that occurs under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs. 

    A bad trip is characterized by a frightening and stressful experience. Drugs that are bought from the street increase the risk of adverse effects because you may not be buying a pure version of the drug. 

    Effects of psychedelic drugs may include:

    • euphoria
    • increased sense of well-being
    • visual/auditory hallucinations
    • confusion
    • altered sense of time
    • blurred vision
    • impaired coordination
    • irregular heartbeat
    • rapid breathing
    • sweating
    • chills

    When used in small doses, psychedelic medicine may be beneficial in the field of mental health conditions. Smaller doses may improve brain function with a lower risk of serious side effects. 

    What Is Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy?

    Mental illness can negatively impact well-being and interfere with every area of life. Many mental health disorders cause mood and behavioral changes that can become difficult patterns to stop. Untreated mental illness can lead to substance abuse and addiction to self-medicate. 

    While there is a wide range of treatment options for mental health disorders, some take several weeks to work and cause unwanted side effects. Psychedelic therapy aims to make positive changes in the brain that alter thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. 

    How Psychedelics Could Work For Mental Health Disorders

    The medical field is interested in using psychedelic substances to improve symptoms of: 

    It is believed that psychedelics work by interfering with brain activity and allowing the formation of new connections between neurons (nerve cells). In addition, the psychedelic effects of these drugs may help some people face difficult memories, feelings, and trauma during psychotherapy. 

    Research On Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy

    There is a vast amount of clinical research on psychedelic drugs and mental health therapy. It is believed that psychedelics can produce rapid and long-term positive improvements on mental health disorders. 

    Compared to other drugs, psychedelics may be safer alternatives and carry a lower risk of addiction. According to a 2014 review, psychedelic drugs may improve serotonin levels in the brain, which is typically low in people suffering from addiction and other mental illnesses. 

    Clinical Trials

    Clinical trials on psychedelics found the following outcomes:

    • psilocybin improved symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) within 24 hours
    • use of psilocybin improved depression and anxiety symptoms within 6 months of treatment
    • 80% of individuals who received psilocybin for tobacco addiction remained abstinent
    • LSD significantly reduced anxiety symptoms 
    • a single dose of ayahuasca improved depression symptoms for three weeks

    FDA-Approved Psychedelics

    Most psychedelic use in psychiatry is still in the experimental stage. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved one psychedelic, esketamine, in the treatment of major depression. Another drug, psilocybin, is in an expedited process of FDA approval. 


    Ketamine is a powerful anesthetic that has also been used for its dissociative effects. Known by its street name Special K, ketamine can cause euphoria and visual/auditory distortions. When used recreationally, the drug can cause severe side effects and overdose.

    However, a form of ketamine has recently been FDA-approved for treatment-resistant depression. This prescription nasal spray, called esketamine (Spravato), is prescribed by clinicians when people with major depression have not responded to other antidepressants. 


    Psilocybin, or magic mushrooms, is a hallucinogen that has been used recreationally for thousands of years. It has also been extensively studied for its effects on symptoms of depression and anxiety in cancer patients. 

    It is particularly beneficial for treatment-resistant depression and has been given “breakthrough therapy” status by the FDA. 

    A breakthrough therapy status speeds up the approval process. Although it is not yet regulated by the FDA, psilocybin is approved for medical use in Denver, Colorado, and Oakland, California. 

    Mental illness often co-occurs with substance use disorders (SUD). To learn how Ark Behavioral Health supports dual diagnosis treatment, please contact us today. 

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on July 26, 2022
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