Recent research on psychedelics, particularly with classic serotonin 2A receptor agonists such as LSD, psilocybin, and ayahuasca, has brought about new hope for people with addiction issues. An ever-growing body of evidence suggests that psychedelics administered to suitable recipients can occasion positive transitions in behavior, which has resulted in a forceful upsurge of interest in their anti-addictive potential when delivered in a therapeutic setting.
Preliminary research, particularly regarding our two most socially accepted addictive substances — tobacco and alcohol — certainly looks promising. To date, classic psychedelics are the most extensively studied and appear to be the most capable therapeutic adjuncts. However, so-called “atypical psychedelics” like ketamine, MDMA, and ibogaine, which exert their psychoactive effects differently from the classics, are also showing promise.
After decades of disinformation surrounding these often mystical-experience-inducing compounds, their therapeutic properties are once again, yet altogether more tentatively, approaching the forefront of mainstream consciousness, and receiving what appears to be a much-deserved increase in serious attention from the medical community.
Humphrey Osmond, the well-known English psychiatrist and the man who conceived the term 'Psychedelic,' began studying the efficacy of d-lysergic acid diethylamide for addiction, otherwise known as LSD, while furthering his research as an expatriate in Saskatchewan, Canada, at Weyburn Mental Hospital during the 1950s.
The research team, led by principal investigator Osmond, began by treating alcoholics with LSD, in which they realized substantial rates of recovery. They believed that alcoholism was best treated biochemically, which would subsequently beg the question as to whether or not alcoholism was a serious mental health condition and not a consequence of weak character, as was commonly believed at the time.
The unprecedented abstinence rates observed in early studies fortified a public campaign that looked to advance LSD treatments for addiction, supported by the provincial Government, Alcoholics Anonymous, and the Bureau of Alcoholism. Although these organizations spearheaded the campaign, LSD as a treatment for addiction still faced many obstacles. With questions surrounding the methodological rigor of Osmond’s trials, research on LSD for alcohol addiction ultimately failed to meet the standards of the foremost authority on addictions — the Addictions Research Foundation.
With a bleak outlook concerning alcohol addiction already in sight, LSD soon became the foremost biochemical contributor to a counter-cultural movement symbolizing non-compliance and rebellion. Unfortunately, sensationalist propaganda pushed by the mass media swayed public opinion and fueled opposition to LSD’s status as an efficacious addiction treatment.
This contributed to the neglect of LSD’s demonstrated efficacy and the drug’s eventual banning with the passing into law of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. A 2012 meta analysis of six clinical trials conducted in the 60s and 70s involving over 500 participants found that LSD had beneficial effects on alcohol misuse.
With 8 million deaths per year projected by 2030, it comes as no surprise that tobacco addiction remains a constant health consideration continuing into the ensuing decade. In recent years, however, psilocybin, the psychoactive component of so-called magic mushrooms, also a classic 2A receptor agonist, has been shown to produce significantly high abstinence rates when used in tandem with supportive therapy.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that two to three doses of 20 and 30 mg/70kg of psilocybin, administered in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), resulted in considerably higher abstinence rates compared to traditional medication or therapeutic practices. In a follow-up study conducted twelve months later, 60% of the participants were "biologically confirmed as smoking abstinent," which compares favorably to the less than 31% abstinent rates typically seen with the current most effective approved smoking cessation medication.
While this study was not spiritually focused, it's important to mention that participants reported increased levels of spirituality concurrent with an improved smoking cessation outcome, which is consistent with previous pilot survey data in which 78% of substance-dependent participants stated that spiritual resources would be beneficial when attempting to refrain from smoking. This contribution to the addiction literature raises important questions regarding the apparent relationship between spirituality and addiction recovery.
Fortuitously, it's not just smoking-addicted folks that may benefit from this mystical mesh of mycelium embedded beneath our feet. Psilocybin, when used in conjunction with psychotherapy, has recently been shown to produce "robust decreases" in the consumption of alcohol compared to placebo (diphenhydramine) and psychotherapy
The traditional Amazonian psychotropic brew, ayahuasca, has also been seen to have potential medicinal efficacy in treating substance addiction. This concoction, rich with psychoactive ingredients, namely the bark of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the leaves of the Psychotria Viridis bush, is administered in ayahuasca centers throughout the world, but most commonly in the Amazon, to which the brew is native.
Thousands of substance-addicted souls travel to the Amazon each year to participate in rehabilitative ayahuasca retreats aiming to rid themselves of dependence, be it psychological or physical, with many reportedly doing so with great success. Traditionally used for shamanic healing and religious purposes right across the continent of South America, the therapeutic effects of ayahuasca used in both naturalistic and controlled settings are being researched more so than ever, garnering impressive results.
Findings to date seem to suggest that the most potent anti-addictive effects of ayahuasca may be produced when it is consumed as part of a traditional ceremony, indicating that the brew’s therapeutic potential may be intimately tied to ritualistic use and the unique altered state of consciousness induced in this setting.
Under the influence of ayahuasca, users report experiencing profound realizations of drug-induced self-destruction and being guided instead towards a path of deep self-awareness on which they acknowledge that addiction may “lead to their ruin” unless a drastic behavior change is achieved.
It's not called the “vine of the soul” for nothing, folks.
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5-MeO-DMT (5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine) is a short acting, serotonergic psychedelic, found naturally in the venom of the Sonoran Desert Toad (Bufo Alvarius). 5-MeO-DMT is gaining popularity as an effective tool for spiritual exploration and healing due to its extremely powerful psychoactive effects.
What is unique about ayahuasca is that it is a concoction of two plants, the combination of which is essential for the ayahuasca experience. Combining two plants to use as medicine may not seem groundbreaking in and of itself, but the fact that if one is taken without the other, the experience is entirely different, and arguably non-existent, is what makes the discovery of ayahuasca so surprising.
For millennia indigenous-American tribes have consumed N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) as a key ingredient in sacred botanical brews, such as ayahuasca, and snuffs, such as yopo, as part of religious ceremonies in Central and South America.
Ibogaine is a naturally occurring indole alkaloid derived from the roots of an threatened species of perennial rainforest shrub called Tabernanthe iboga. Ibogaine, which is believed to have potent anti-addictive properties, has been used by the indigenous peoples of central west Africa for centuries.
Though ketamine gained a reputation for being dangerous and easily misused and abused, it wasn’t until 1999 that the US classified it as a Schedule III controlled substance. While it is often associated with the party scene, ketamine therapy is helping change the lives of many with severe depression, PTSD, OCD and even chronic migraines.
In 1938, a Swiss chemist by the name of Albert Hofmann, working out of Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, became the first man to synthesize Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD). Active at the microgram level (one-thousandth of a gram), LSD is the most potent psychoactive drug known to humankind.
The MDMA molecule bears structural resemblance to stimulants and some psychedelics, invoking feelings of euphoria, empathy, and boundless energy. MDMA also intensifies sensory perception, enhancing one’s appreciation of music and color which makes it one of the most popular drugs among festival-goers and electronic dance music fans alike.
In the 16th century, Spanish chroniclers attempted to eradicate ritual use of peyote cactus among indigenous American cultures, which led to the plant’s eventual prohibition in 1720. In the face of adversity, several indigenous communities righteously persevered, continuing and preserving their sacred practice in clandestine secrecy, and even managing to spread it widely over the last 150 years.
Peyote is a green spineless cactus that contains the classic psychedelic compound mescaline. Numerous Mesoamerican cultures, including the Huichol (Wixárika), the Cora (náayeri), the Tepehuanes, the Tonkawa, the Mescalero, and the Tarahumara (Rarámuri) have long regarded the plant as sacred, using it in spiritual and healing ceremonies for millennia.
While evidence suggests that psilocybin mushrooms have been historically used in ritual settings for spiritual and medicinal purposes, they have gained popularity for recreational use, and clinical research on the therapeutic effects of psilocybin is promising.
Salvia is a psychotropic flowering herb from the Lamiaceae, or mint, family. Salvia’s large green leaves contain the powerful psychoactive compound, salvinorin A. Salvia leaves are used for medicinal and religious purposes by Mazatec shamans in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, and they are often used recreationally in the west.
Since prehistory, San Pedro has been instrumental to Peruvian cultural traditions. in northern Peru in particular, it has been a tool to facilitate the shaman’s ‘‘journey’’ for healing purposes. Throughout this period, the visionary cactus has been known by many names, including huachuma or achuma.