Guest editorial: Even Utah is looking at psychedelic medicine now
These experiences will soon be more widely available and legally accessible in the U.S.
For thousands of years, indigenous cultures have utilized psychedelics as a form of healing medicine. In the mid-20th century, scientific exploration of their potential medicinal effects on mental health began, but this research came to an abrupt halt in the 1970s with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act. This legislation effectively shut down all government-approved psychedelic research. For the next three decades, investigations into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics were limited to small, unpublicized circles, and their findings were largely anecdotal.
Fast forward to the present day: There has been a surge in psychedelic research and growing public awareness about their potential to transform mental wellness and personal growth. Some jurisdictions in the U.S. have decriminalized certain psychedelics, and Oregon has even established a state-licensed therapy system utilizing psilocybin mushrooms. Many other states and municipalities are also exploring this space by conducting studies or establishing frameworks for the use of certain psychedelics for their mental wellness benefits. Recently, even Utah’s Senate passed a bill to create a task force to investigate the potential benefits of psychedelic medicine on mental health disorders. Ketamine, a synthetic psychedelic, has been approved for general anesthesia since 2019 and is now widely used in ketamine clinics throughout the country to treat depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
So why all the attention and hype around psychedelics? Why has research launched in this space and why are municipalities budgeting for research on how to implement potential legal frameworks?
To answer those questions, I want to call attention to a need we have: we are all affected in some sort by various insecurities, self-sabotage, anxiety, trauma, self-limiting beliefs, etc. that negatively impact our lives. These aspects of the human experience can lead to illness and prevent people from fully experiencing life. Traditionally, individuals have sought out therapy, coaching, pharmaceutical drugs, or relied on food, substances, or other habits to cope with these challenges. Alternatively, some people may ignore these issues altogether and create comfort zones to avoid confronting them. Unfortunately, these approaches only address the symptoms of the problem, rather than addressing the root cause. This is because the unconscious mind, which holds the entanglement of traumatic memories that inform our life experiences, is difficult to access directly. Even during psychotherapy, our natural defense mechanisms may prevent us from revealing the vulnerable aspects of ourselves wherein lies the key to unlocking and releasing our pain. This is where psychedelics come in, as they have the potential to facilitate deeper introspection and exploration of the unconscious mind, allowing individuals to confront and process their traumas and insecurities more directly. This potential for healing has driven the interest and research in the use of psychedelics for mental wellness.
Important to note is that the research and information existing in the psychedelic space is still largely anecdotal. We are still in the nascent stages of understanding exactly how psychedelics can produce mental health benefits over the long-term. However, during a psychedelic experience, a number of brain processes occur that may create remedial effects. For example, there is a region in the brain called the Default Mode Network (DMN) which is associated with introspective functions. To put it simply, this is where the “ego” resides. An overactive DMN has been linked to higher levels of anxiety and depression, while a less active DMN is associated with calmer states. During a psychedelic “journey,” the activity of the DMN significantly decreases, while connectivity in the rest of the brain increases; thereby connecting parts of the brain that typically do not communicate with each other. Research has shown that this reduction in DMN activity during a psychedelic experience can have lasting effects, and levels of anxiety and depression also appear to reduce. However, further research is needed to fully understand the long-term mental health benefits of psychedelics.
As a coach, one of my roles is to help people integrate their experiences if they have undergone a psychedelic journey. Through my work, I have heard many individuals share how their behavioral patterns, thought processes, emotional states, and memories that were previously buried in their unconscious or “blind spots” became conscious during their psychedelic experience. These connections made during a psychedelic journey can facilitate psychological flexibility and neuroplasticity, helping people to shape and change mindsets and patterns that were not contributing to their wellbeing. The psychedelic experience brings aspects of the unconscious mind closer to the conscious, where they can be explored and worked with. This allows for deep connections to be made and profound feelings about one’s reality to be manifested.
In the past, people have traveled to South and Central America to attend retreats for these experiences. However, with the growing interest and research in the field of psychedelics, these experiences will soon be more widely available and legally accessible in the U.S.
I am in no way recommending people undergo their own psychedelic experience, however. Psychedelics are powerful substances and the set and setting of the experience is of critical importance.
Bryant Pettey is a seasoned personal and workplace coach who has recently taken on a new initiative by establishing the Park City Association of Plant and Psychedelic Medicine. This organization aims to promote awareness, provide information, and advocate for the use of plant and psychedelic medicine, while fostering a supportive community for Utah’s Wasatch Back.
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