About 7-8% of the global population will have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lives. About 8 million adults have PTSD during a given year. This is only a small portion of those who have gone through a trauma.

Psychedelic Treatment for PTSD

In the United States, more than three million people including thousands of veterans are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The key symptoms associated with PTSD encompass unwanted memories of trauma, anxiety, heightened reactions, and depression. Emerging imaging research shows that PTSD affects brain areas such as the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and hippocampus, which are responsible for the regulation of emotions, high-level functioning, and memory respectively. PTSD is not diagnosed unless the symptoms last for at least one month and interfere with work and home life or cause a significant amount of distress. Doctors will perform a physical examination to determine medical problems that could be causing the symptoms followed by a psychological examination to discuss events and experiences that trigger these thoughts.

Treatment Options

Traditionally, doctors have relied on two main options in the treatment of PTSD: psychotherapy and prescription antidepressants.


Psychotherapy involves the use of psychological methods through regular and personal interactions to help an individual change in the ways they deem appropriate for their well-being. The main psychotherapy procedure used with PTSD patients is cognitive processing therapy, which teaches patients to take charge of the thoughts that trigger traumatic events. In most situations, patients have been reported to blame themselves for what happened in their past. However, cognitive processing teaches patients new and helpful ways to look at their experiences and past events from a new perspective.

Prescription Antidepressants

Antidepressants have been used to act on the hippocampus, which is involved with memory formation to counteract the effects of stress. The two main types of antidepressants include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors.

Alternative Treatment: Psychedelic Drugs

The complex nature of PTSD makes pharmacological treatment targeting a specific neurotransmitter in the neural system insufficient. While the FDA has only approved paroxetine and sertraline for the treatment of PTSD, the disease continues to become a chronic illness. Depression continues to cripple the healthcare sector globally with the treatment-resistant depression continuing to affect over 100 million people in the glove. These figures have triggered an insatiable need to use alternative medicines to treat PTSD symptoms. If you have been struggling to deal with PSTD, there is new hope as emerging clinical trials show that psychedelic medicines can be used to help alleviate PTSD symptoms and side effects of antidepressants.

Scientific Evidence of Success of Psychedelic Drugs in Treatment of PTSD

Psychedelic drugs (hallucinogens and entactogens) are a category of compounds that induce a wide range of cognitive, psychological, emotional, and physical effects in the body. Formal medical research into the potential medical used of psychedelic substances beginning in the 1950s produced promising results that were only published in journals. The research came to a halt in the 1970s when the FDA cracked down against these substances due to political rather than scientific controversies putting a stop to further studies and research that could prove their therapeutic use.

Scientists have been fascinated with the mind-altering effects of naturally growing psychedelics found in magic mushrooms, which contain several compounds including psilocybin and MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine) known by the street name ecstasy, can be used to treat PSTD. In a clinical trial by independent investigators in four different countries, MDMA was administered to cancer patients who reported to be free from depression and anxieties. In New York University, Stephen Ross a psychiatrist, conducted a similar study among terminally ill cancer patients using a two-arm clinical trial where he found that a one-time treatment using psilocybin quickly brought relief from distress that lasted over six months among his patients. The patients who had further been diagnosed with serious psychological distress associated with cancer were reported to be free of distress after the use of psilocybin.

In another study conducted in 2013 on mice in the University of South Florida, psilocybin was seen to stimulate neurogenesis, which is the growth and repair of brain cells in the hippocampus. In the study, mice administered with psilocybin were able to overcome fear conditioning far better than mice that were not given a sham of the drug.

Clinicians further believe that antidepressants and psychotherapy do not work well in patients who have suffered chronic PTSD and multiple traumas. Research from the Medical University of South Carolina presented to the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology in December 2019 revealed that a combination of psychedelic drugs and traditional psychotherapy procedures holds promise in the successful treatment of PTSD.

In all these investigations, the researchers aimed at reviewing the success of psychedelic drugs to treat trauma-related disorders and depression. They also address controversial issues among politicians concerning the safety and neurobiological functions of these treatments. With this evidence, the FDA has in the past few years granted both psilocybin and MDMA breakthrough therapy designation for PTSD acknowledging that they may approve existing therapies and expedite further review and development of these substances for use.

Safety and Potential Side Effects

Since psilocybin and MDMA induce psychologically challenging experiences, their potential side effects include occasional episodes of nausea, vomiting, and physical discomfort, anxiety, and confusion. However, therapists claim these experiences are a result of the therapeutic process. Although some patients may feel emotionally unstable in the initial days, they are not likely to cause any serious health problems. Nevertheless, the use of these drugs should be accompanied by psychotherapy to help support patients who may feel emotionally unstable. The main concern with these drugs is that they increase the heart rate and blood pressure and their interaction with cardiovascular drugs.

Psychedelic Renaissance

As we enter into a psychedelic renaissance, we expect to see the FDA approve the clinical use of psychedelic drugs as a new treatment option for PTSD. Despite the bad reputation that these substances have acquired in the past as drugs that give you great happiness and sex and take you on a spiritual journey of self-exploration, their use can be put into medicinal use to relieve PTSD and chronically ill patients from the distress of their thoughts. Under utilitarianism ethics, an action is right as far as it promotes happiness and the greatest happiness of the greatest numbers should be the guiding principle of conduct. At Sage Brains, we aim at promoting this happiness by keeping you up to date with the recent developments and clinical trials aimed at improving brain health.

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