The two main biological systems involved in stress response, ie. the sympathetic system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA), I described in the article Biology of stress. Now a little bit more about corticoliberin, as well as the locus coeruleus in the brainstem, dopaminergic and serotonergic system and the amygdala, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Corticoliberin (Corticotropin-releasing hormone…
Already in the 50’s it was noted that psychedelic drugs, also called hallucinogens may have a therapeutic effect. Some studies of these years have shown that these substances can be helpful in treating addiction and alleviate the psychological suffering of terminally ill patients. In the 60’s, researchers in the US found that LSD and DPT given to patients in the advanced stages of cancer alleviate depression and reduce the fear of death. Unfortunately, spreading of taking psychedelics in society resulted in the 70’s in adding it to the list of banned substances and the cessation of funding for research on their effects.
In recent years, however, there is return to the research on hallucinogens. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University began in 2001 study of psilocybin which is found in many species of fungi. It turned out that mystical states (such as a sense of union with the world, the sense of being beyond time and space), which is caused by taking this substance may cause long-term beneficial effects. One of the volunteers participating in the experiment, more than a year later admited that she treats this mystical experience as the most personal and the most important in terms of a spiritual event in her life. She said that the experience has accelerated her internal development, she has become a more loving and willing to discern in people beating from them divine light. Also, other respondents in the questionnaires filled out after 2 and 14 months of experience, stated that they increased their self-confidence and a sense of inner satisfaction, they tolerate frustration better and their nervousness has decreased.
Psilocybin, like psilocin, mescaline, DMT and LSD works in brain cells via serotonin receptors. In addition to its effect on healthy people, it is examined also whether mystical experiences can alleviate behavioral and psychiatric disorders. It seems that hallucinogens can very quickly cause such changes in mood and behavior that achieving it by means of psychotherapy would take many years.
In 2004-2008, the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center conducted a study in which psilocybin was administered to 12 patients with advanced cancer. It has been shown that less anxiety and improved mood persisted for several months after taking the substance. Just as in the study 40 years earlier in patients also decreased fear of death. A small number of respondents did not let to make certain conclusions, but prompted other scientists to begin similar studies, but with higher doses of psilocybin and LSD.
There are also ongoing studies, during which it is checked whether psilocybin is helpful in the treatment of smoking addiction and to alleviate the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Other psychedelics seem to have medicinal properties too. It was observed, among other, that a low dose of the anesthetic ketamine can more rapidly alleviate depression than fluoxetine and other common drugs. It was also shown that MDMA helps patients with posttraumatic stress disorder who are unresponsive to conventional therapy.
In addition to the many beneficial effects, the use of hallucinogens can also cause a negative experience. In studies at the University of Johns Hopkins, one third of respondents had experienced severe fear after taking psilocybin, and one fifth even paranoia. In some for a few days maintained visual disturbances or other sensory dysfunction. In anyone however side effects were permanent.
In the future, through the use of neuroimaging of the brain, researchers plan to further explore the physiology of mystical experiences. They also hope to explain how the mystical experience change attitude and approach to life.
Roland R. Griffiths i Charles S. Grob „Psychodeliczne terapie”, Świat Nauki, 1/2011