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From Taboo to Treatment: The Evolution of Psychedelics in Psychological Healing

Updated: Feb 20


You're a man looking at the world through a keyhole. You've spent your whole life trying to widen that keyhole... to see more, to know more. And now, on hearing that it can be widened, in ways you can't imagine, you reject the possibility.


No, I reject it because I do not believe in fairy tales about chakras or energy or the power of belief. There is NO such thing as spirit! We are made of matter and nothing more. You're just another tiny, momentary speck within an indifferent universe.


You think too little of yourself.


Oh, you think you see through me, do you? Well, you don’t. But I see through you!

(The Ancient One pushes Dr. Strange’s astral form out of his body. Dr. Strange watches in his astral form outside of his body, as his physical form begins to fall to the ground. The Ancient One calls his astral form back into his physical form.)

What did you just do to me?


I pushed your astral form out of your physical form.


What’s in that tea? Psilocybin? LSD?


It’s just tea…with a little honey.

Shrooms, Acid, Molly, Aya, K….all of these are nicknames for psychedelic drugs. I’m talking about Psilocybin, LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide), MDMA (3,4-Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine) Ayahuasca, and Ketamine. All substances that have been on the government’s list of “no-no’s” starting with LSD in the 1970’s. We could discuss reasons why in an entirely different post, but this post is going to focus on why the government is starting to act like the cool parents and saying “Alright, if you’re gonna do it, we’d rather you do it in the house where you’re safe.”

Since the time of ancient humans, we have been consuming psychedelic substances from fungi, plant roots, cacti, seeds and bark. Shamans and Medicine Men would use these substances to help heal their people. However, the modern view of the Western World has always seemed to view "spiritual" healing as less than clinical, until now. So let us explore the evolution of psychedelics in psychological healing.

psychedelic therapy

Some History

After synthesizing the compound, Albert Hoffman discovered the psychoactive effects of LSD by testing it on himself in 1943. He also was able to isolate and synthesize the compound Psilocybin in 1959. By 1949, his laboratories, Sandoz Laboratories, was distributing LSD to researchers all over the world. By the 1960’s, there were over 40,000 individuals as test subjects with over a thousand peer reviewed studies being published, including research conducted by the United States Army on soldiers from 1955-1967.

In the 1960’s, there was a rapid increase in the use of LSD and other psychedelic substances by the counterculture…hippies. Out of fear, governments all over the world then decided to place extremely strict limits and regulations on any research using LSD or psychedelic substances. Sandoz Laboratories halted production of LSD in 1965. LSD research was discredited, pharmaceutical companies sabotaged studies, and scientists and researchers were painted as con men. In 1970, when the Controlled Substances Act was passed, all psychedelics (including cannabis) were placed on the most restrictive tier of the bill, Schedule I. By 1980, all research using these substances stopped.

Fast forward twenty years to 2000, the advances in science and technology allowed us to understand these substances differently, in terms of how they affect the body, the brain, and the level of dependency each substance has on animals and humans. By 2014, many governments, including the US, were beginning to have a change in opinion regarding whether these substances should be identified as Schedule I substances; and are beginning to allow more research to be done using these substances, with strict regulations on how the research can be conducted.

A Dose of Now

So, what is it exactly that we have discovered about these substances? Who do they help? What are the clinical uses? How do they help? What do they do? How does therapy fit into this?

As of 2021, research facilities around the world have been conducting research into how psychedelics can help people like you and I heal from our traumas and mental health problems. Research includes how psychedelic psychotherapy can help with; Substance Use Disorder, Terminal Illness (not in terms of healing the illness, but coming to terms with living with it for as long as one can), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, Anxiety, OCD, and in reducing criminal behavior.

Psilocybin, in particular, is extremely exciting as one of the effects of it is neurogenesis. Literally, the birth of new neurons and neural networks in our brain. This allows us to actually think about things differently because it is creating new paths in our brains for our thoughts to travel, and the perspective to see old thoughts differently. From a very basic standpoint, we can look at our experiences and our own thoughts without making it personal, almost taking our ego out of the equation. This is another effect of psilocybin called Ego Death. LSD has a similar effect called a Cognitive Shift. The best example of this is that of Astronauts who, after being launched into space, experience a cognitive shift due to seeing exactly how small the individual is in comparison to the size of the planet, solar system, galaxy, etc.

A typical psychedelic therapy session looks like the client laying on a couch, listening to music while the substance works its magic. During this experience, we gain perspective, insights, and realizations about our lives and histories. For some that may be enough, however, for others it is just the beginning. The therapy part comes after the substance wears off (or during if the client is willing) where the therapist will ask open-ended questions about the realizations or insights. Once we have a grasp of those, we can then use CBT, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or other treatment modalities to help us strengthen and maintain the insights or realizations post-trip.

Maybe psychedelics are scary to you and you’re hesitant to try them. That’s fine. Many of us who have used psychedelics understand that it can be intimidating. I’d like to leave you with a quote from psychologist Timothy Leary (perhaps one of the most outspoken and well-known advocates of the benefits of psychedelics), “You’re only as young as the last time you changed your mind.” Knowing what we know about psychedelics now, changing our mind may not necessarily be a bad thing.

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