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Psychedelics are given a bad rap. Why? They’re stigmatized by society at large because they’re lumped in with more volatile drugs like cocaine, heroin, and meth. Just as marijuana is typically associated with the harder stuff. Of course, this generalization stems from ignorance. While hallucinogens or psychedelics like LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) can’t outright kill you, like anything else in this world, too much of a “good thing” can be bad for you.
In this case, moderation is paramount. A common query that crops up regarding psychedelics is whether they can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Can they soften the edges of mental illness? Did those hippies in the 1960s capitalize on something revolutionary that we’ve failed to grasp today?
Psychedelic is defined by Merriam-Webster as “of, relating to, or being drugs (such as LSD) capable of producing abnormal psychic effects (such as hallucinations) and sometimes psychotic states.” Now, it’s safe to surmise that psychedelics probably have a powerful impact on those who struggle with depression and anxiety. Their minds are already in a state of incessant ebbing and flowing. Ergo, their collective mental state may feel that psychedelics pack more of a punch.
Let’s dive into two popular hallucinogens, ayahuasca and psilocybin. How do they affect mental health? What happens when they join forces?
Healthline describes ayahuasca thusly:
“Ayahuasca — also known as the tea, the vine, and la purga — is a brew made from the leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub along with the stalks of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, though other plants and ingredients can be added as well.
This drink was used for spiritual and religious purposes by ancient Amazonian tribes and is still used as a sacred beverage by some religious communities in Brazil and North America, including the Santo Daime.”
Now, the primary ingredients in ayahuasca contain hallucinogenic properties. When these properties are combined, your central nervous system is heavily affected. Get ready to fall down the psychedelic trip rabbit hole with elevated euphoria and out-of-body experiences.
While ayahuasca has been utilized throughout history for religious ceremonies, folks nowadays use it to heal from past turmoil and open their minds. Once ingested, it can take between 20 to 60 minutes to take effect. The trip can last between two and six hours depending on the dosage. It’s strongly recommended that someone is present to supervise as you’ll be entrenched in an altered state of consciousness for several hours.
According to Healthline, it’s also recommended that those planning to take ayahuasca should commit to a vegetarian or vegan diet for two to four weeks prior to rid the body of impurities/toxins. Common side effects include:
“…vomiting, diarrhea, feelings of euphoria, strong visual and auditory hallucinations, mind-altering psychedelic effects, fear, and paranoia (4Trusted Source). It should be noted that some of the adverse effects, such as vomiting and diarrhea, are considered a normal part of the cleansing experience.”
As with anything, reactions to this psychedelic vary from person to person. No two bodies are alike. It’s not uncommon for some folks to experience severe anxiety and paranoia in tandem with feelings of enlightenment and clarity.
However, there can be potential benefits to consuming ayahuasca if you suffer from depression and anxiety. “Many people who have taken Ayahuasca claim that the experience led to positive, long-term, life-altering changes. This may be due to the effects of Ayahuasca on the neurological system. Recent research has shown that Ayahuasca may benefit health — particularly brain health — in a number of ways.”
Apparently, this particular psychedelic can facilitate the growth of new neural cells in your brain. It can improve mood, mindfulness, and “emotional regulation.” Check out the results of a recent study courtesy of Healthline:
“A study in 57 people demonstrated that ratings of depression and stress were significantly decreased immediately after the participants consumed Ayahuasca. These effects were still significant 4 weeks following the Ayahuasca consumption (11Trusted Source).”
Ayahuasca may positively impact those struggling with treatment-resistant depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and various addiction disorders. In fact, a recent study conducted yielded some interesting results. Twenty-nine people with treatment-resistant depression took a single dose of the psychedelic. This led to “significant improvements” in symptom severity as opposed to a placebo.
Additionally, ayahuasca has helped folks with drug dependency and mood disorders. “According to current research, Ayahuasca may protect brain cells and stimulate neural cell growth. It may also boost mood, improve mindfulness, and treat depression and addiction disorders, though more research is needed to confirm these effects.”
Verywellmind delves into the effects of psilocybin or “magic mushrooms.” You may also know them as “shrooms.” Psilocybin is a naturally hallucinogenic and psychoactive compound that’s found in wild mushrooms. It’s considered to be one of the most popular psychedelics. Unlike ayahuasca, there’s this caveat attached to psilocybin:
“Psilocybin is classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning that has a high potential for misuse and has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”
Now, magic mushrooms can be consumed after freshly picking them or after mixing them in food or beverages. Common side effects after consumption include the following:
“…nausea, yawning, feeling relaxed or drowsy, introspective experience, nervousness, paranoia, panic, hallucinations, and psychosis.”
Of course, folks can partake in psilocybin for a wide array of reasons, but most commonly, they want to experience euphoria or an altered state of consciousness. Much like ayahuasca, it can “open the mind.” Side effects can kick in 20 to 40 minutes post-consumption. Said effects can last up to six hours. Naturally, it all depends on how much you take.
Psilocybin can induce anxiety and paranoia akin to ayahuasca. However, most consume those magic mushrooms in the hopes of achieving a peaceful, euphoric high. Again, it depends on the person. We’re all different, from our physical bodies to our mental makeup.
“More research is needed on the long-term, lasting side effects of magic mushrooms but it has been reported that users can experience long-term changes in personality, as well as flashbacks long after taking mushrooms.”
Psilocybin and Depression
While psilocybin appears to harbor more dangerous drawbacks than ayahuasca, a study conducted at John Hopkins Medicine reveals intriguing results. A crop of participants with major depression were given two doses of these psychedelics along with “supportive psychotherapy.” These two elements in concert with each other yielded rapid and drastic reduction in symptoms. Most folks showed significant improvement. Some even reported “remission” amid the four-week follow-up.
Despite the fact that several variants of major depressive disorder exist, a good chunk of these study participants reacted positively to the psilocybin/psychotherapy treatment. Granted, it should be noted that the therapy probably played a vital role in the success of this study. Chances are if these folks were left unsupervised and without mental health guidance that they’d struggle.
Exercise extreme caution when dabbling in psychedelics like psilocybin. Controlled dosages and supervision are crucial here.
What Happens When You Combine the Two?
There’s not much by way of scientific research that chronicles the effects of combining ayahuasca and psilocybin. I was only able to track down personal accounts via Google. Said personal accounts truly vary depending on their tolerance of psychedelics. While some folks had a grand old time tripping on “psilohuasca,” not everyone shared the same experience. It all depends on your body and your mental state. Not to mention, whether you consume large quantities in one sitting or carefully dole out your dosages.
If you exhibit a low tolerance of psychedelics in general, it’s probably best to steer clear of psilohuasca. Stick with one or the other.
Can Psychedelics Curb Symptoms of Depression?
Research has shown that yes, psychedelics can curb symptoms of depression, notably major depressive disorder. However, I wouldn’t resort to it if your depression is on the milder side and can be treated with antidepressants. Healthgrades is yet another reputable site that mentions a successful study involving people with treatment-resistant depression trying psychedelics. Namely, esketamine, a mind-altering drug, which was approved by the FDA in 2019.
As you can see above, both ayahuasca and psilocybin have been enlisted in various clinical studies to research their effectiveness regarding mental health disorder treatment. While these studies have proffered successful results, these drugs may not work for everyone.
Proceed With Caution
Take it in moderation. Exercise extreme caution. If you’re someone who’s dabbled with marijuana and experienced intense paranoia/anxiety, even on a small dosage, chances are psychedelics probably aren’t for you. However, if you do have treatment-resistant depression, hallucinogens like ayahuasca and psilocybin may be an option for you.
You should always take these psychedelics while under strict supervision from someone you trust. Never take more than you can feasibly handle. When in doubt, start on the lower end of the dosage spectrum and go from there.