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Can we treat mental illness with hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens Medical Uses

Research is showing promising signs that hallucinogens can indeed play a part in the treatment for mental illnesses and other conditions. How?

A key component of 12-step recovery programs is the processing of personal memories that produce shame, hurt or resentment, followed by voicing these feelings to another human being. You don't need to be a 12-step veteran to understand that it can be quite a time-consuming and less-than-appealing ordeal to search the depths of one's mind for hidden, painful events.

Many people who consume hallucinogens gain the ability to access and relive memories and events from the past. Some users can revisit traumatic episodes that had been more or less sealed off by the mind, enabling the user to come to terms with the event, gain new understanding of the circumstances surrounding it and psychologically put it to rest [source: Grinspoon]. This unique trait of hallucinogens can directly help those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) [source: Shroder].

Patients with terminal diseases who have trouble coming to terms with their imminent mortality appear to benefit from the use of MDMA, psilocybin and other hallucinogens. These substances provide users with the ability to detach themselves from their worldview, their sense of self and their surroundings, allowing those facing death to gain new perspective on their situation. Instead of spending what remains of their lives crippled by fear, anxiety and depression, dying patients report being able -- after using hallucinogens -- to see the importance in making the most out of the rest their lives, and also to come to terms with mortality [source: Randerson].

Hallucinogens may also provide relief for those suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). There are about 6 million people with OCD in America alone [source: Frood]. There have been noted instances of individuals with OCD self-medicating with psilocybin, which was reported to diminish OCD symptoms and behaviors [source: Perrine]. Interestingly, even though tolerance of the hallucinogens diminishes or eliminates their psychedelic effects with daily usage, the positive psychological benefits continue. Psilocybin appears to diminish the number of certain serotonin receptors associated with OCD and anorexia. Psilocybin provides relief to symptoms primarily only when the patient is directly under its influence, though some OCD sufferers have enjoyed weeks or even months of symptom-free living after they stopped using it [source: BBC].

Alcoholism and addiction to cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin have been successfully -- and often almost immediately -- cured with the use of the African hallucinogen ibogaine, which is derived from the root of a plant [source: Lotsof, et al]. Ibogaine creates a 36-hour hallucinatory experience during which users are able to access repressed emotional feelings, which can seem at times to appear one after the other, as if presented on flip cards. The 36-hour experience itself provides a break in the addiction cycle, but the emotional experiences reported by users seem to provide a new understanding of self and of the problem substance that eradicates the desire to continue feeding the addiction. The lack of withdrawal symptoms in many patients after using ibogaine is fascinating, especially considering the notoriously unpleasant symptoms heroin addicts usually experience when they go without the drug.

Although scientists, researchers and psychedelic travelers still can't explain exactly how or why hallucinogens so profoundly alter and affect the human mind, it appears that some of the secrets still held by these substances may hold the key to healing or even reshaping the conscious, sober mind.

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