Medicine/Healing

The two things psychedelics can do to people with depression

The idea that you might actually be able to cure mental illness rather than just manage its symptoms inspired her to write to Robin Carhart-Harris [of Imperial College London], who hired her to help out with the [psilocybin] depression study, the lab’s first foray into clinical research. Watts guided several sessions and then conducted qualitative interviews with all of the volunteers six months after their treatments, hoping to understand exactly how the psychedelic session had affected them. Watts’s interviews uncovered two “master” themes.

The first [master theme] was that the volunteers depicted their depression foremost as a state of “disconnection,” whether from other people, their earlier selves, their senses and feelings, their core beliefs and spiritual values, or nature. Several referred to living in “a mental prison,” others to being “stuck” in endless circles of rumination they likened to mental “grid-lock.” I was reminded of Carhart-Harris’s hypothesis that depression might be the result of an overactive default mode network—the site in the brain where rumination appears to take place. The Imperial depressives also felt disconnected from their senses… The second master theme was a new access to difficult emotions, emotions that depression often blunts or closes down completely. Watts hypothesizes that the depressed patient’s incessant rumination constricts his or her emotional repertoire. In other cases, the depressive keeps emotions at bay because it is too painful to experience them. This is especially true in cases of childhood trauma… “The sheen and shine that life and existence had regained immediately after the [psilocybin] trial and for several weeks after gradually faded,” [one of the clients] wrote one year later. “The insights I gained during the trial have never left and will never leave me. But they now feel more like ideas,” he says. He says he’s doing better than before and has been able to hold down a job, but his depression has returned. He told me he wishes he could have another psilocybin session at Imperial. Because that’s currently not an option, he sometimes meditates and listens to the playlist from his session. “That really does help put me back in that place.” More than half of the Imperial volunteers saw the clouds of their depression eventually return, so it seems likely that psychedelic therapy for depression, should it prove useful and be approved, will not [necessarily] be a one-time intervention.

Original Article (Tonic Vice):
The two things psychedelics can do to people with depression
Artwork Fair Use: David Collins

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