Psychedelic therapy is entering a renaissance period. A time of renewed interest, scientific vigor, and newfound potential to help and assist those in need of health and healing.
Research and clinical studies being done on psychedelic medicines and therapeutic modalities are reaffirming and demonstrating the safety, efficacy, and profound potential of these healing experiences. When administered safely and properly, psychedelic medicines help treat a range of physical and mental health conditions.
But what exactly is meant by “psychedelic therapy?” What do the experiences look like? How are they done properly according to current science and collective understanding? This resource will provide some much needed clarity around the key mechanisms and protocols of psychedelic therapy, taking a look at its profile to date, what science is currently underway, and where psychedelic therapy is heading.
With a number of different experiences, practitioners, and modes of administration, the world of psychedelic therapy is nuanced. Understanding these nuances is of the utmost importance to help further collective understanding on how to best serve the communities that benefit from these experiences, and how to truly unlock the healing potential granted by psychedelic compounds, the associated experiences, and the wealth and wisdom of the practitioners who facilitate and administrate them.
The history of psychedelic therapy begins in the 1950’s, with the original coining of the term by Canadian psychiatric researchers, including pioneer Humphrey Osmond. Much like our earlier definition, it involved the application of a single high-dose of a psychedelic after a series of psychotherapeutic preparation sessions in the treatment of substance abuse disorders, largely related to alcohol in the early days.
Throughout the 40’s and 50’s a number of psychedelic compounds were being synthesized, or introduced in larger scales to the scientific and “psychonautic” communities. As these were introduced, a series of clinical and scientific study trials inevitably followed. The potential and promise of these substances was not ignored by the academic community in any way.
Despite the closing off of access and study in the 60’s and 70’s, psychedelic therapy and the potential of psychedelic compounds were favorably received and welcomed by the clinical and scientific community in the early days. Some researchers, such as psychedelic psychotherapeutic legend Stanislov Grof, came out with the statement:
“In one of my early books I suggested that the potential significance of LSD and other psychedelics for psychiatry and psychology was comparable to the value the microscope has for biology or the telescope has for astronomy.”
In other words, an important tool with the potential to significantly accelerate and move the entire psychiatric and psychedelic field forward.
Studies began and were completed across a variety of fields and factors: everything from addiction recovery, treating depression/anxiety, inducing mystical experiences, managing substance abuse, and mitigating end-of-life anxiety. Numerous sanctioned studies were done across the globe during these decades. In the process, a number of best practices, protocols, and programs were developed to help systematize and contain what has the potential to be an intense or provocative experience for the client. These studies are the birthplace of “Set & Setting”, a hallmark concept in psychedelic therapy today.
LSD was a focal point for many studies across North America and Europe during this time. This compound was a major focus, given the potency, the ability to synthesize easily in a controlled environment, and the reliability of the method of administration. It also proliferated into the public through illicit channels and became a central piece in the countercultural movements throughout the 60’s, influencing many major figures, and creating ripples in cultural consciousness that would last for decades to come.
After these ripples came large-scale lockdowns and bans against psychedelic compounds and associated research and studies. Alongside this “war on drugs” came sweeping laws and regulations preventing the access, possession, and study of these compounds. The scientific and clinical communities working in psychedelic therapy would enter a dark period for research that would last for over two decades across the majority of the world.
Then, beginning with Dr. Rick Strassman’s work to investigate the effects of N,N–DMT (DMT) in the 1990’s, the academic and scientific communities have increasingly been able to work more and more with these compounds and experiences in controlled studies with FDA oversight. Many have coined this period, leading up to the present day, a “psychedelic renaissance.” Researchers and organizations were able to pick up where the research left off, and continue exploring the profound potential of psychedelic compounds and therapies in service of helping and healing those who are in need of it.
At present, there are many funded studies underway across private organizations, research institutes, and universities. These institutions are looking at a variety of conditions —such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD— and finding the compounds, protocols, dosages, and experiences that will help alleviate their symptoms.
Funding and public attention is flowing into the space faster than ever before, more favorable legal and regulatory environments are taking shape, and the momentum for increasing access and awareness is gaining momentum.