How Seeing God May Be the Secret to Most Advanced Mental Health Treatments

During Seth Wilson’s last ketamine treatment, he intended to see his late mother. Wilson, a 41-year-old sommelier who owns a wine store in Chicago, has suffered from depression and anxiety since the age of 13 and sought psychedelic-assisted therapy to get better. Coincidentally, this session occurred on what would have been her mother’s 77th birthday. He put on sunglasses, headphones, and sat in a leather recliner as he was injected with 110 milligrams of the dissociative anesthetic ketamine.

Within seconds, he was thrown into the cosmos and felt his presence. His mother took him to experience his birth and showed him the afterlife.

“I remember being a part of this liquid world and as we are together in this space, she said, ‘your birth is my birth, and we are the same,'” Wilson says.

He says the experience helped him overcome the trauma of his mother’s death and helped him deal with his anxiety and depression by showing him that there is more to life than the physical world.

“This is the answer; that’s what it’s like to be beyond Earth, ”her mother told her. “It was an incredibly deep and moving experience.”

Humans have used psychedelics in cultural and religious rituals for thousands of years. Over the past 80 years, these potent substances have been adopted for the purposes of self-help, mental health and recreation. At the same time, Americans are becoming less religious. In 1999, 70% of Americans identified themselves as a member of a church, synagogue or mosque, but that number fell to 47% in 2020. The number of people affiliated with a religion has fallen: 29% of Americans identified themselves as agnostics or atheists in 2021, up from 18% in 2011, according to the Pew Research Center. Now that the psychedelic renaissance is underway and companies and nonprofits are rushing to get these molecules approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration as drugs when combined with therapy for In treating depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, one question seems important: is it the drugs, or are it divine experiences that make people feel better?

In our apostate culture, could the secret be that we all need a little spirituality and that these molecules are helping us?

For Wilson, he says the divine experience, coupled with multiple therapy sessions over three weeks, allowed him to achieve a breakthrough that decades of antidepressants and traditional talk therapy failed.

“We’re all looking for the ineffable and it’s so deeply personal,” he says. “I think the word ‘God’ can be a trigger for people, but it’s about this trust and faith that there is something bigger and greater than ourselves. And that this physical world doesn’t matter, and all our problems don’t matter, there is something bigger.

Alex Belser, Clinical Director of Cybin, a Toronto-based psychedelic therapy startup, has studied psychedelics for two decades and has conducted clinical trials with psilocybin and MDMA as potential treatments for depression, drug addiction, the disorder. of post-traumatic stress and obsession. -compulsive disorder.

Belser says that eliciting mystical-type experiences is one of the dominant theories as to why psychedelic-assisted therapy reduces symptoms in patients with depression, anxiety, and other conditions. In many clinical trials, patients are given the “Mystical Experience Questionnaire,” a 30-item self-report that is used to measure the effects of hallucinogens. The questions a patient answers are rather woo-woo – did you have a deep sense of oneness, a strong sense of dread, a sense of interconnectedness with others and all things, a sense of ineffability, a sense of? timelessness? – but he says that for many studies there has been a correlation between high mystic scores and a greater reduction in a patient’s symptoms.

“It’s a good predictor of the effectiveness of psychedelic drugs,” says Belser, who is a registered psychologist and psychedelics researcher at Yale University.

Belser says definitive conclusions cannot yet be drawn because the mechanism of action of psychedelic drugs is always a “black box” and one should not give too much weight to divine experiences.

Florian Brand, CEO and co-founder of Atai Life Sciences, a German listed bioscience company focused on psychedelics and mental health, says it’s still speculation, but the mystical experience seems to have some importance in patient outcomes.

“There could be advantages [from the mystical experience]”Says the brand.” I think there are several factors that could contribute to the effectiveness, but it is still early to say that it is the divine experience. “

“I think for a lot of people the connection to spirituality and the divine often plays a very powerful and interesting role in healing.”

Natalie Ginsberg, MAPS Global Impact Manager

Atai is the largest investor in Compass Pathways, a UK-based clinical stage company developing a patented form of psilocybin – the active compound in “magic mushrooms” – for use in conjunction with therapy to treat depression. After undergoing a psychedelic therapy session with psilocybin, Brand recounts the mystical experience that he helped her.

“From a spiritual standpoint, I can personally say that I was not at all religious or spiritual before undergoing my very first session of psilocybin-assisted therapy,” Brand explains. “Coming out of there definitely has a different access to spirituality than going into the session.”

Lars Christian Wilde, president, CEO and co-founder of Compass Pathways, explains that patients have different ways of describing a mystical experience, but regardless of the description, an intense experience correlates with a positive treatment outcome.

“Some people say, ‘Wow, I have met God,’ while others say, ‘Wow, I understood that my ego is an illusion,’ says Wilde. ‘Depending on your cultural background, you have a different way to describe this experience, but indeed, it seems to be of critical importance to the therapeutic effect of not only psilocybin, but probably many serotonergic substances. “

In November, Compass Pathways released data from its highly anticipated Phase 2b clinical trial of psilocybin-assisted therapy for treatment-resistant depression. The study found that patients who took a single psychedelic dose of psilocybin, 25 mg, in conjunction with treatment reported an almost immediate and significant reduction in depressive symptoms that lasted for weeks compared to patients who received one. dose of placebo.

Wilde says more research needs to be done, but it appears that when a person has an intense psychedelic experience, they “have a stronger reset effect on the brain.”

The reason psychedelic drugs relieve symptoms of depression and PTSD in clinical trials are thought to be due to signaling from the 5-HT-2A receptor, which triggers something called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity helps the brain form new neural connections that are believed to generate rapid and lasting positive effects on mood. In a series of studies, psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy and MDMA-assisted therapy provided almost immediate reductions in symptoms of depression and PTSD after a single high dose. The effects last for months in some patients.

Prescription sales for depression are estimated at $ 50 billion per year worldwide, while the mental health market accounts for approximately $ 100 billion in annual sales. Biotech analysts say FDA-approved psychedelic-assisted therapy could grab billions in annual sales if approved by the FDA.

Natalie Ginsberg, head of global impact for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, says there is a great history of the intersection between psychoactive drugs, religion and healing. From healers of indigenous cultures to the role of cannabis in Judaism, the drug is mentioned in the Torah and was found on an altar outside of Jerusalem from 800 BC onwards.

“I think for a lot of people the connection to spirituality and the divine often plays a very powerful and interesting role in healing,” says Ginsberg.

PPsychedelic research pioneer Rick Doblin, who founded the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in 1986, has dedicated his life’s work to psychedelic drugs. MAPS is currently trying to market MDMA-assisted therapy as an FDA-approved treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. In May, his organization released data from its phase three trial of MDMA-assisted therapy with overwhelmingly positive results. The double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that 67% of participants who received MDMA in combination with psychotherapy no longer qualified for a diagnosis of PTSD, compared to 32% in the placebo group. Doblin expects FDA approval to take place within the next two years.

But Doblin says that at least for PTSD patients who are on MDMA-assisted therapy, there is no link between mystical experiences and better treatment outcomes. “It doesn’t seem to be happening and to be important in reducing the symptoms of PTSD,” Doblin says.

Doblin says the mystical experience seems to have some benefits, especially for people with depression, but it’s safe to give these types of experiences too much credit.

“There are people who improve without having a mystical experience and there are people who have a mystical experience without improving,” says Doblin. “Correlation is not the same as causation.”

Doblin says it’s important to realize that drugs aren’t therapy, but drugs improve therapy. The risk of over-emphasizing having a mystical experience, Doblin explains, is that you may avoid addressing and resolving the issues that brought you to therapy in the first place. The point is to treat your problems, not to avoid them.

“You [don’t want to] Just talk about, how, ‘Oh, I’m one with the universe,’ but then you come back down and yell at your wife, ”Doblin says.

“The best way to look at it is like the rainbow specter,” Doblin continues. “There’s all these different colors, and they’re all layers of consciousness, and you need them all together. If you focus only on the biography, as Freud did, and ignore spirituality, it is incomplete. But if you focus only on the spiritual and not the biographical, it’s just as incomplete.

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