What Does The Science Say? – Forbes Health

In the US, psychedelics continue to undergo medical trials, with some being granted a “breakthrough therapy” designation by the FDA, indicating that preliminary clinical evidence has shown the drug can demonstrate substantial improvement over currently available therapy.


A Schedule I drug, psilocybin is a naturally occurring hallucinogenic chemical that comes from certain types of fungi, which are often referred to as “shrooms” or “magic mushrooms.” Psilocybin is traditionally ingested orally via the mushrooms themselves, capsules, or food or drinks made with the mushrooms. Effects can include alterations in sensory perceptions (visual illusions and synesthesia), bodily orientation and emotional processing.

Studies have shown that psilocybin poses a low risk of toxicity and addiction. Furthermore, the FDA has granted psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy” designation twice in recent years. COMPASS Pathways, a mental health treatment company, received the designation for its psilocybin therapy for treatment-resistant depression in 2018. In 2019, Usona Institute, a nonprofit medical researcher, received the designation to continue its testing of psilocybin as a treatment for major depressive disorder.

Psilocybin-assisted therapy is also being tested as a treatment for various addictions (such as tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, opioids and marijuana), as well as certain conditions such as anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), cluster headaches, migraines and chronic pain.


A Schedule I drug, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), or acid, was first created in 1938 in Switzerland. LSD is known for facilitating a “trip” experience, which can involve hallucinations and “spiritual or mystical experiences” potentially involving visions, auditory distortions and a disjointed sense of space and/or time. LSD can be ingested through absorbent paper, tablets, saturated sugar cubes or via liquid form.

In the 1950s and 1960s, LSD was administered as a psychotherapy aid for the treatment of mood disorders and alcohol dependence. More recently, a very small MAPS study found that LSD and LSD-assisted therapy reduces anxiety with a lasting effect and no safety concerns when administered to patients with anxiety regarding life-threatening diseases.

Other studies have supported LSD’s use in psychotherapy, especially in the treatment of alcoholism, and the drug is currently being studied for its use in treating generalized anxiety disorder.


MDMA, also known as ecstasy or molly, was initially created in Germany in 1912 to help control bleeding. In the 1970s, MDMA was used alongside talk therapy, as it was thought to enhance communication. In the 1990s, MDMA was studied for its potential pain-relieving effects in terminally ill patients (although the results of the studies were not released).

A Schedule I drug in the US, MDMA can be taken as a tablet or powder. The drug typically induces feelings of “increased energy, pleasure, emotional warmth and distorted sensory and time perception,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

In 2017, the FDA granted MDMA a breakthrough therapy designation for the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to MAPS, which is also planning a small study around MDMA-assisted therapy for eating disorders and anxiety.

Additional studies done by MAPS have also found that MDMA can provide PTSD patients with decreased feelings of fear, increased feelings of well-being, sociability and trust and an alert state of consciousness. In one small study, 88% of participants with severe PTSD experienced a “clinically significant reduction in PTSD.” [symptoms] two months after their third session of MDMA-assisted therapy, compared to 60% of placebo participants.”

Ketamine and Esketamine

A Schedule III drug, ketamine was approved by the FDA in 1970 as an anesthetic. It can induce psychedelic effects including vivid imagery, and “mystical and peak” experiences. Ketamine can be administered via intramuscular injection or intravenously, or ingested as a powder, lozenge or nasal spray.

“Ketamine is an arylcyclohexylamine (a class of psychedelic drugs),” says Dr. Radowitz. “It acts on the NMDA receptor (which has been linked to memory and disease formation) to increase the levels of a different neurotransmitter, glutamate.”

“The effects of a ketamine infusion for therapy are felt within a few minutes,” continues Dr. Radowitz, and can last hours to weeks. Effects include deep relaxation, a sense of ease and peace and altered consciousness (feeling separated from your body, experiencing vivid daydreams or visual patterns or revisiting past experiences).

Esketamine, a derivative of ketamine, is FDA-approved as a nasal spray to treat otherwise treatment-resistant depression (which has not responded to at least two antidepressants). The esketamine spray—commonly known by its brand name Spravato—must be taken at a certified doctor’s office or clinic under supervision.

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