Psychedelic Therapy: A Beginner's Guide

Louis Laves-Webb

July 24, 2019

Disclaimer: Psychedelics are powerful substances that can cause intense psychological harm, worsening of mental health issues, and can have extremely negative and pervasive consequences. Please understand and educate yourself fully before ever experimenting with any substance specifically hallucinogens. Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S and associates do not endorse the acquisition and use of any psychedelic substances outside of an approved medical setting. Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S does not condone or promote any use of illegal substances, obtaining such substances, or abuse of said substances. ** Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S, does not conduct psychedelic assisted therapy.

What is Psychedelic Assisted Therapy?

Psychedelic assisted therapy utilizes the controlled ingestion of a psychedelic drug during a lengthy therapy session to help facilitate a cathartic, spiritual, and/or profound psychological experience and healing opportunity.

Psychedelic assisted therapy has shown encouraging results as a treatment for conditions to include PTSD, anxiety, depression, and addiction. Initiated in the early 1960’s by two renowned Harvard Psychologists at the time Timothy Leary and Ram Dass, psychedelics in psychotherapy has always existed on the fringes of psychology.

This psychedelic approach to human psychology has continued in various forms until today with the most recent substances to include Ayahuasca, Ketamine, Psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA.

Types of Psychedelic Therapy

Ketamine Therapy

Though technically a sedative traditionally used for anesthesia during surgery, ketamine has psychedelic properties. Since it’s not a medically considered a psychedelic, it has the benefit of being classified as a Schedule III drug. This makes it much easier to get research approved for testing its efficacy, and researchers have taken full advantage of this.

Ketamine for Depression

Studies and research are demonstrating promising results from the controlled use of micro-doses of ketamine as a rapidly effective treatment for depression. This is of particular note because most depression treatments, your SSRIs and SNRIs, take months to start working.

In contrast, a single dose of ketamine acts almost immediately and reduces symptoms of depression within hours. It is believed the drug works by enabling the brain to more easily create new neural pathways, aiding patients in replacing harmful ways of thinking with helpful ones.

Multiple studies have already shown dramatic, favorable results.[1] Over half of the participants show fewer depression symptoms after just 24 hours. Remarkably, these same patients felt no meaningful improvement on any antidepressant medications.

Psilocybin and LSD Therapy

Psilocybin and LSD for Depression and Anxiety

Though studies on LSD and psilocybin for treating anxiety and depression have been more limited than those on ketamine, research has been assuring. In double-blind trials, patients have shown rapid and significant improvements in even treatment-resistant depression.[2]

High doses of psilocybin produce decreases in both self-rated and clinician measured levels of anxiety and depression. Not only that, these changes sustained when patients were evaluated six months later.[3]

Early results have been so encouraging, the FDA has given psilocybin a “fast-track” review process for depression treatment. As a result, the world’s largest ever psilocybin therapy clinical trial is currently underway.[4]

Psilocybin and LSD for Addiction

Both LSD and psilocybin show promising results for treating addiction. One study found that psilocybin quadrupled the best success rates we’ve seen for treating tobacco addiction.[5] A University of New Mexico study found psilocybin to be a clinically effective treatment for alcohol addiction.

Another study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham is testing psilocybin-assisted therapy for cocaine addicts with promising results thus far. In 2016, a Johns Hopkins study found that among patients with life-threatening cancer diagnoses, a single dose of psilocybin substantially improved quality of life and decreased depression and anxiety.

Meanwhile, studies on LSD’s capacity for curing chronic cravings date all the way back to the 1960s. Study subjects in Norway were treated for alcohol abuse at inpatient clinics using a small dose of LSD during a single therapeutic session.

Results from this study were unexceptional, but they intrigued enough researchers to inspire future studies. Larger studies produced more impressive results and found participants who took acid to be significantly more likely to stay sober than those who did not.

MDMA Therapy

It’s important to note here that MDMA is not the same as the recreational drug ecstasy, which is typically not pure MDMA and is mixed with additives like caffeine.

MDMA increases feelings of trust and compassion both towards others and oneself. This makes it excellent for treating post-traumatic stress disorder. In fact, one of the most proven uses of psychedelics for therapeutic purposes is MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD.[6]


PTSD is characterized by hyperarousal symptoms like anxiety, intrusive re-experiencing of traumatic experiences, and avoidance symptoms, including emotional numbing and withdrawal.

Typically, therapists use treatments like EMDR, prolonged exposure, and cognitive reprocessing. What separated MDMA therapy from these approaches in its effectiveness is that by synergistically using both biological and psychotherapeutic mechanisms, it’s able to directly target a patient’s stress reactions to triggers.[7]

In other words, MDMA allows patients to revisit memories of traumatic experiences while remaining calm and emotionally engaged. It literally blocks their fear response, greatly reducing activity in the amygdala, while increasing their range of positive emotions towards self and others.

In a few sessions, MDMA therapy can do what other psychotherapeutic approaches sometimes fail to achieve in years. It adjusts a patient’s relationship to a traumatic memory from one of anxiety, defensiveness, and grief, to one of acceptance, love, and even appreciation.

Not only does MDMA therapy change a patient’s relationship to their memory, but it also changes their relationship to their emotions about that memory.

The Bottom Line on Psychedelic Therapy

Psychedelic therapy is not the be all end all or the saving grace of your psyche. However, in a controlled setting, with micro-dosing, under the right conditions, and in consideration of no other mental health disorders that could be a contraindication to the use of psychedelics, a growing number of studies are showing some positive results pertaining to the use of psychedelics as an adjunct to psychotherapy:

  • Ketamine therapy is a candidate to be the first-ever rapid treatment for depression
  • MDMA therapy is accomplishing more in a few sessions than previous treatments for PTSD normally could in years
  • Psilocybin and LSD are promising treatment options for a number of conditions including addiction and depression

Although, there are not necessarily simple shortcuts to psychological healing, repairing of childhood wounds, or cultural underpinnings, the promising results of recent studies, does seem to indicate that psychedelics could be a viable adjunct to addressing mental health concerns.Louis Laves-Webb and Associates prides itself on being open and receptive to various forms of mental health treatment and modalities. Contact us today to begin your own healing journey.



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