What Is Psychedelic Therapy? A Simple Guide to Benefits & Risks

Psychedelic therapy is a treatment that uses psychedelics, such as LSD and psilocybin, to help people with mental health disorders. Psychedelics have been shown to have a positive effect on a person’s mood, anxiety, and depression, and can be used in combination with other treatments. People who use psychedelic therapy often report improved mental health symptoms. If you’re interested in learning more about psychedelic therapy, then keep reading!

Psychedelic therapy is not a new concept, and has been used for centuries by indigenous cultures. The use of psychedelics in Western medicine began in the 1950s, but was quickly halted due to the political and social climate of the time. Psychedelic therapy was revived in the 1990s, and is now being studied by scientists and medical professionals around the world.

Psychedelic therapy is still in its early stages of research, and more studies need to be done to determine its efficacy. However, the preliminary data is promising, and psychedelic therapy may one day be an approved treatment for mental health disorders.

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How does psychedelic therapy work?

Psychedelics are drugs that alter your consciousness, so they can be used in a psychotherapy session to help you explore difficult thoughts and feelings. Psychedelics have been used for centuries to treat a variety of mental health conditions. They work by altering the way the brain functions, which can lead to improvements in symptoms. 

Some people may be concerned about using psychedelics because they don’t know how they will react. However, using psychedelics under the guidance of a qualified therapist is generally safe (though it can trigger psychosis in people predisposed to it and several other risks that we’ll get into). In fact, many people find that psychedelics help them gain new insights into their own minds and emotions. 

What is psychedelic therapy?
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Types of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy

There are several different forms of psychedelic assisted therapies and drugs used in today’s clinical and research settings, such as KAP, Psychedelic Integration Therapy and Transpersonal Therapy. But there are some commonalities. Most psychotherapy begin in the weeks leading up to the session where the psychoactive drugs are administered, followed by several integration sessions, where the lessons of the psychedelic experience are integrated into the subject’s life moving forward.

Here are some of the most popular psychedelic assisted therapy options:

Ketamine-assisted psychotherapy (KAP)

Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy (KAP) is a treatment that uses ketamine, a medication often used to treat anesthesiologists, to help change the way people think and feel. KAP can be used to treat a wide range of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder. KAP is a form of psychotherapy that uses ketamine in combination with other treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to help improve the patient’s condition.

Psychedelic Integration Therapy

Psychedelic Integration Therapy (PIT) is a treatment that uses psychedelics to help heal trauma. PIT is based on the theory that when we experience traumatic events, our brains create unconscious patterns that influence our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. PIT helps to dissolve these patterns by using psychedelics to facilitate psychotherapy. Psychedelic substances, such as LSD, psilocybin, and ayahuasca are used in order to help people resolve psychological and spiritual difficulties. PIT has been shown to be effective for treating a wide range of issues, including addiction, anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

Transpersonal Psychotherapy

Transpersonal psychoanalysis is a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes the individual’s spiritual journey and uses transpersonal techniques, which are aimed at working with the unconscious mind. With this type of therapy, the therapist helps the client explore their own innermost feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. Transpersonal techniques can help to access and work with different aspects of the self, and may be especially helpful in treating issues such as anxiety, depression, and trauma. This type of psychotherapy focuses on the development of self-awareness and personal growth. It is based on the belief that the therapist can help the patient connect with their own spiritual or transpersonal dimensions.

Psychedelic assisted therapy
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Neurological effects of hallucinogens

While there is still much to learn about the neurological effects of psychedelic and hallucinogenic compounds, there is evidence to suggest that they can have significant impacts on mental health and behavior.  

Psilocybin, or magic mushrooms, is a hallucinogenic drug found in many species of mushrooms. When humans consume psilocybin, it is absorbed into the bloodstream and travels to the brain. There, it interacts with serotonin receptors, causing changes in brain activity.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood, sleep, appetite, and sexual behavior. 

Some people describe psilocybin as a spiritual experience that can lead to insights, new understandings about the world, and feelings of peace, calm, awareness, warmth, relaxation, and euphoria. These changes can last for hours or even days after the mushroom has been consumed.

There is still much to learn about how these substances work on the brain, but the available evidence suggests that they could be valuable tools in the treatment of mental health disorders.

It’s important to be aware of the risks before using these substances and talk to a mental health professional prior to taking any hallucinogen. If you or a loved one are struggling with hallucinations, it may be helpful to seek out professional help.

Psychedelic therapy for depression, anxiety, alcoholism and other mental health issues
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The benefits of psychedelics and their various uses

  • Anxiety — There are a number of benefits associated with psychedelics when it comes to treating anxiety. These drugs can help to increase feelings of openness and trust, which can be vital in breaking down the barriers that prevent people from addressing their anxiety. Other benefits include reducing the severity of symptoms and increasing feelings of well-being. 
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) —  There is growing evidence that psychedelics, such as LSD and psilocybin, can be helpful in treating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). While there is still much to learn about the precise mechanisms by which psychedelics work in treating OCD, they appear to work by altering the way the brain processes information, which can lead to a decrease in obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.
  • Terminal illnesses — Psychedelics have been shown to have a range of benefits when it comes to treating terminal illness. From reducing anxiety and depression to increasing hope and spiritual growth, psychedelics offer a unique and potentially life-altering experience for those facing the end of their life.
  • Alcoholism —  Psychedelics have been shown to be effective in treating alcoholism, and can provide lasting benefits for those who choose to use them. Psychedelics work by altering how the brain processes information, and can help people overcome addiction by helping them to see the problem from a new perspective and explore their inner thoughts and emotions. This can lead to a greater understanding of why they drink and how to stop.
  • Smoking cessation —  Psychedelics offer a range of benefits for smoking cessation, including reducing cravings, boosting moods, and increasing motivation to quit. Johns Hopkins researchers report that a small number of longtime smokers who had failed many attempts to drop the habit did so after a carefully controlled and monitored use of psilocybin in the context of a cognitive behavioral therapy treatment program. 
  • Depression —  Psychedelics, including LSD, psilocybin, and ayahuasca, have been shown to be effective in treating depression. This is likely due to their ability to increase openness, decrease rumination, and enhance self-compassion.
  • Post-traumatic stress (PTSD) —  There are many potential benefits to psychedelics when it comes to treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Psychedelics can help people confront and process the memories that cause PTSD, which can lead to a reduction in symptoms. They can also help people connect with their emotions and heal from trauma.
  • Eating disorders —  Psychedelics, including LSD, psilocybin, and ayahuasca, have been shown to be effective in treating eating disorders. These drugs work by altering the user’s consciousness, which can lead to a more realistic and objective view of their environment and self. This can end up changing behaviors.

What kind of drugs are being looked at?


Ketamine is a legal medication that is commonly used in anesthesia and psychiatry. It has been shown to have antidepressant effects in humans, and it is also being studied as a possible treatment for addiction. Ketamine is the most-studied psychedelic drug for mental health therapy. Ketamine-assisted therapy involves between one and 12 sessions.


Psilocybin, a hallucinogenic compound found in certain mushrooms, is currently being studied as a potential treatment for a variety of conditions. It is most commonly used in therapy to treat anxiety and depression, but it has also been used to help treat addiction and end-of-life anxiety. 

Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD)

 LSD is most commonly used in therapy to help patients who suffer from anxiety and depression. However, it has also been used to help people with addiction, cluster headaches, and end-of-life care.

3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)

MDMA is most commonly used in therapy as an adjunct to psychotherapy. It has been shown to be effective in treating PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Additionally, MDMA has been shown to be a promising treatment for addiction to substances like cocaine and alcohol. MDMA-assisted therapy usually involves at least three sessions.

The potential downsides

What are the risks of psychedelic therapy?

Psychedelic therapy has been shown to be effective for treating a variety of mental health conditions, but there are also risks associated with the treatment. Before starting psychedelic therapy, it is important to discuss the risks with your doctor.

Psychedelic drug alter your perception of reality. While there is a lot of research being done into their potential benefits, there is also a lot of unknown about their side effects.

Psychedelics have been linked to an increased risk of psychosis in people with psychotic disorders or a predisposition to them. There’s also the risk, particularly with LSD use, of hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). This is a rare condition involving intense flashbacks and hallucinations.

Schedule I controlled substances

Psychedelics are classified as Schedule I controlled substances by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This means that the DEA has determined that there is a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use for these substances.

Limits on federal funding and research

While psychedelics have been used for millennia, their recent resurgence in the scientific community has come with some restrictions. Federal funding for psychedelic research is currently limited to studies that have already been approved by various government agencies that monitor Schedule I drugs.

When will psychedelic therapy start happening?

Psychedelic therapy is still in its early days, but it has the potential to revolutionize mental health care. While there are still many hurdles to overcome, such as gaining FDA approval, the potential benefits of psychedelic therapy are too great to ignore. Currently, only ketamine is widely available in the United States for therapeutic purposes, but it’s not currently covered by insurances and remains an expensive treatment. 

With recent changes in states laws in Oregon and Colorado, many states are taking it upon themselves to push the limits and changing headwinds in psychedelic research. It is believed that by 2025, Oregon and Colorado will both have greater access to legal psychedelic therapy options.

Additionally, there are other countries where psychedelics are legal so there are psychedelic retreats that offer therapy. From psilocybin to ayahuasca, spiritual and therapeutic tourism is gaining popularity as the stigma around psychedelics reverses and ground-breaking research continues to come out.