Psilocybin Therapy as an adjunct to Depression
I sit at a table in a cafe and have a cup of coffee. Around me I see people I don't know, they talk to each other or look silently in front of me. A mother has a baby on her arm, an old couple sits close together so they can understand their conversation. The waiter walks around with a tray and looks a bit stressed. Are these people 'happy'? Are they happy that they are walking around here on this earth? Do they wake up feeling grateful, or would they rather not be here?
I ask myself these questions about the book 'How To Change Your Mind’, written by Michael Pollan. The subtitle: 'What psychedelics teach us about consciousness, dying, addiction and depression' immediately caught my attention. Sometimes confronting, sometimes a great relief: life gives and takes and it is up to us how we deal with this. There are certain tools that can help us to get a different view on the world and on ourselves. This doesn't happen by itself or with the help of a magic pill. Maybe almost everyone at some point in his or her life has to deal with a form of 'depression'. As an adolescent I certainly suffered from a certain form of 'feeling down'. It's a period when so much is coming at you and you just have to see a common thread in it. In my childhood I went looking for dragon eggs in the woods and everyone was my friend, but in adolescence I 'realized' that the world isn't always as magical and nice as I had always thought. The ups and downs that come with life make it so full and beautiful, but can sometimes take a toll. Bullying, the loss of a loved one, a disease, all these things can give a considerable dent in your view of the world.
The other day I talked to an old woman who told me that she slowly but surely rolled into a depression when she retired. Suddenly she didn't feel like she had anything to do that made sense anymore, she seemed to have no reason to get up in the morning. Her work was her zest for life and now she had to find another way to give meaning to her life. There are still stories known of people going through a difficult time, for a variety of reasons. Maybe you know it yourself, are currently in a depression, have you just got out of it, or feel you have to be careful not to be pulled into that black hole.
Psilocybin therapy. Something for you?
Have you seen a psychologist before? Taking the step to make an appointment can be very difficult. Recognising that you have a 'problem' and can't get out of it on your own is already a big part of the job. Whether you have an addiction, have had a traumatic experience or are troubled by thoughts that take away your lust for life, intervening in time and daring to ask for help requires courage. It can also be a long search to find the person you feel good with, who listens to you and can guide you. It is also good to know that you really are not alone. Science has been interested in the workings of the human psyche for years. It remains mysterious how our consciousness is constructed and why we are here. Especially as a scientist, these are questions that are not so easy to ask, because one is on slippery ice.
When I took Magic Mushrooms for the first time and experienced life in my trip, a new world opened up for me that I had never experienced before. Every object in the room seemed to have come to life and for the first time I looked really well. Not only my eyes suddenly possessed the gift of looking around with all the attention, my other senses were sharpened as well. They seemed to be adjusted and working on a different, higher frequency. My ears heard the bright whistle of the birds outside and my eyes slid over the objects in the room, everything was a work of art. I looked at the things around me with a different look and everything had more colour. The magical world had returned and I felt deep inside that I was right as a child and had always known it. As you get older you just forget that life is such a great gift. Deep inside me something seemed to buzz, my heartbeat was a rhythm full of joy and I felt the blood flowing through my veins. It was an indescribable feeling that let me know that it is very special that I am here. In a way, the mushrooms also seemed to warn me: "Remember this every day. It doesn't happen by itself and you have to do the hard work, we'll just show you something'.
The few days after the trip were special. The glow of the trip was still shining, but I saw her fade away. What remained were a few lessons and realisations. An example of this is that I realized that I had to stop smoking cigarettes, because this action was a form of self-destruction. The reason for my 'unhappiness' was largely due to insecurity and a lack of self-love. A first step in learning to love myself was therefore to 'quit smoking'. I am going to confess very frankly that this did not happen overnight. The times I tripped afterwards, the mushrooms kept repeating themselves. They also showed me other things I could integrate into my life. A few months went by and I talked to a good friend and also my 'trip sitter', about my experiences. What came up most of all was that I kept reminding myself of the beauty of life and could get myself out of negativity more easily.
Psilocybin can occasion a mystical-type experience
In 2006, a study was conducted that would bring about a major change in the general view of psilocybin. Researcher Griffiths and his team at John Hopkins University investigated whether and how participants could have a 'mystical experience' with psilocybin. The participants had never had psychedelics before. The research took place in several sessions, in which one participant was given either psilocybin or an active placebo (ritalin) and participated in several eight-hour sessions. During these individual sessions, the participant lay comfortably on a couch and concentrated on his or her experience. The researchers completed questionnaires that mainly focused on analysing the participant's behaviour and mood. Afterwards, the participant completed a questionnaire himself/herself. The results were meaningful and became clear 14 months after the initial survey, during the follow-up.
The majority of the 36 participants, namely 65%, considered the experience to be one of the most important events in their lives. You could put it on the same line as the birth of your first child or the death of one of your parents. More than a year after the survey indicated that there were still benefits to be gained from the experience. 64% noted that the experience with psilocybin had increased their sense of well-being and their satisfaction with life. As researcher Roland Griffiths puts it:
"These experiences seem life-changing and have much in common with the classic mystical experiences described throughout the ages. The persistence and strength of the effects did not disappear after 14 months, which is significant. It's one thing to have a meaningful experience, but 14 months later it can be hard to remember it. In this matter, however, you have an eight-hour session in a lab and 14 months later 60% tell you that it's among the top 5 most meaningful events of their lives".
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