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Navigating Psilocybin for Depression

Psilocybin, a natural psychedelic found in over 100 species of naturally-growing mushrooms, has an ancient history, traditionally used in spiritual practices in Central & South American cultures. It is used as a focal point for ceremonial practices and spiritual growth, but also both in traditional healing and therapeutic use cases.

Because of its historical uses, natural cultivation, and potential for lasting impact on the user, psilocybin is now quickly growing in popularity as a research subject in Western medical & mental health for its potential in treating depression and other mental health conditions.

The Science of Psilocybin and Depression

Recent studies have tested psilocybin’s potential as a treatment for depression. First studied for its profoundly positive effect on the quality of life of palliative cancer patients, the research community is now fervently exploring other potential benefits of psilocybin experiences.

Each of those experiences studied ensured that subjects had access to comprehensive therapeutic support, which we believe is crucial to the outcomes.
Some highlights are:

What does Psilocybin Feel Like?

It is important to note that the experience can differ for everyone, but the broad strokes are that psilocybin can produce a range of experiences. Some commonalities are:

  • Altered perceptions of time & space
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Emotional amplification
  • Enhanced introspection
  • Mystical experiences and feelings of connectedness
  • Muscle relaxation, pain relief, drowsiness
  • Changes in perception, cognition, emotion

What is important to note about the feelings of connectedness is that a pervasive symptom of major depression is feelings of isolation and loneliness, so feeling profound connectedness during a psilocybin experience can be very impactful.

Negative-Valence Experiences

  • Muscle weakness, restlessness
  • Confusion, disorientation
  • Light sensitivity
  • Headaches
  • Nausea, vomiting, dizziness
  • Irrational or reckless behavior
  • Flashbacks
  • Psychological distress, e.g., anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia, dysphoria

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It is important to note that each experience is unique to the individual and is greatly influenced by both the client’s and practitioner’s mindset and physical & social settings, so optimal preparation before and integration afterwards is crucial to an experience.

Psilocybin-assisted therapy is not for everyone. This list of contraindications is based on research data through 2023, and is not exhaustive. Care providers need to remain aware of any new data released on contraindications for the medicines they work with.

  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Uncontrolled hypertension
  • Pregnant/lactating
  • Borderline Personality disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Hypertension

Psilocybin in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy for Depression

Incorporating psilocybin into therapeutic practice requires careful consideration, including creating a supportive environment where therapists and clients work together effectively. This includes understanding dosage, setting, and the client’s mental health history.

Working with the experiences catalyzed by psilocybin, clients and therapists can go deep into body responses, emotional experiences, complex belief systems, and more. Anecdotal and empirical evidence alike have shown that, while psilocybin itself can produce acute relief, the real lasting results are more likely when the client participates in deep self-work, using the medicine not as a “magic pill’ but as a catalyst for transformation.

While the peak can last as little as an hour or two, full psilocybin experience typically lasts anywhere from four to eight hours, granting ample time to therapeutically explore the benefits of the experience, but conversely meaning that it requires a significant investment in therapists’ time to fully facilitate a session.

How to Work With Psilocybin for Depression

Psilocybin is illegal in most places around the world, but there are some jurisdictions where psilocybin is legal for therapeutic use.

  • Australia: in a landmark ruling in July 2023, Australia became the first country to federally legalize both psilocybin and MDMA for medical use. The only way to receive a prescription, though, is from an approved psychiatrist, sparking debate over the accessibility of this ruling.
  • Oregon and Colorado: In a groundbreaking measure passed in 2020, Oregon legalized the supervised use of psilocybin. Colorado followed shortly after in 2022.
  • Jamaica: legal for consumption and therapeutic use. Jamaica is quickly becoming a popular destination for psychedelic retreats, using psilocybin in a more ceremonial setting.
  • The Netherlands: Psilocybin-containing mushrooms are still outlawed, while psilocybin-containing truffles – the fruiting body of a subterranean ascomycete fungus — are perfectly legal for consumption and use both in clinical and retreat settings.

Cultural Responsiveness and Inclusivity in Psychedelic Therapy

Due to the immensely vulnerable nature of this work, careful attention to the diverse needs of individuals from various cultural backgrounds is crucial. Beckley Academy’s training incorporates inclusivity as a core tenant, preparing therapists to approach non-ordinary states of consciousness with a nuanced understanding.

What is the Next Step?

Many organizations are offering psychedelic training programs, and it’s up to you to decide which course is right for you. With an international reach, Beckley Academy offers more than just a course; we offer a gateway to a community of forward-thinking professionals and a transformational learning experience that promises both personal and professional growth. Our learners come from diverse professional backgrounds, all united in their desire to explore more effective and holistic methods of healing, and find modalities that can address ongoing and systemic trauma.

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