Researchers have found that psychedelic drugs improve mental health by helping individuals better accept their emotions during distressing experiences.
For the study, the researchers studied 104 people who planned to use a psychedelic substance in a non-ceremonial setting, as well as 254 who planned to use them in a psychedelic ceremony. Both groups were assessed for depression severity, experiential avoidance, and suicidal ideation a week before and four weeks after their psychedelic experience.
Throughout the study, the researchers noted that magic mushrooms (in which the psychoactive ingredient is psilocybin), LSD and ayahuasca (in which the psychoactive ingredient is DMT) were the most frequently used substances by the participants.
All in all, they found that using psychedelics both in ceremonial and non-ceremonial settings was linked to a decrease in experiential avoidance. This was then linked to a reduction in depression severity and suicidal ideation after four weeks of using the drugs.
“Our findings suggest that one of the reasons that psychedelic therapy has positive therapeutic effects is that it helps individuals to be less avoidant and more accepting of their emotions, thoughts, and memories (even though such experiences may be distressing in the short-term),” says Richard Zeifman, one of the study’s researchers.
“More broadly, our results provide further support for the negative mental health effects associated with avoidance. This can be summed up with a saying that is often used in the context of psychedelic therapy, that ‘The only way out is through.”
Although interesting findings, the researchers warn that they come with limitations as they were not the result of a controlled clinical trial. The researchers are thus currently conducting research to compare the effects of psychedelic therapy and traditional antidepressants on experiential avoidance. Findings from this study will help confirm the mechanisms by which psychedelic therapy works to relieve mental health issues, as well as how they differ from those by pharmacological treatments.