The Intersection of Psychedelics and Mental Health Treatment

Nov 28, 2023

Psychedelic artwork
By Sue Coyle

The use of psychedelics for healing is not new. There is evidence that ancient civilizations throughout the world used psychedelics for a variety of reasons for a very long time, extending well into the modern era. In fact, in the 1950s and first half of the 1960s, psychiatrists, researchers and other professionals were both studying and prescribing psychedelics to help patients struggling with their mental health.

By the end of the 1960s, however, a number of factors contributed to the decline of psychedelic use and research, including the War on Drugs and increased pharmaceutical restrictions. As a result, psychedelics largely fell by the wayside, deemed to be party drugs, among other things.

Recently, the bias around psychedelics has started to shift, however. Helped by mainstream conversations and publications, such as American journalist and author Michael Pollan’s book “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence,” the public’s understanding of what psychedelics are and can do is expanding and shedding light on work that has been growing since regulatory approval to research psychedelics in the U.S. resumed in 2000.

That work includes psychedelic-assisted therapy.

Psychedelic-assisted therapy can be used to assist individuals struggling with their mental health. And while it is neither a cure-all nor for everyone, the results are promising for those to whom it does fit. “It is not a panacea,” cautions Mary Cosimano, LMSW, psychedelic session facilitator at Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research.

As with anything, the use of psychedelics for mental health treatment can be offered in various ways. At present, ketamine is the only psychedelic the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved for treatment, though states have and may additionally take action to decriminalize other psychedelics. For example, on Jan. 1, Oregon became the first state to legalize adult use of psilocybin. In June, the FDA released a first draft of guidance to researchers studying psychedelic drug development.

Read the full feature story in the NASW Social Work Advocates magazine