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Here’s the Scoop on Psilocybin-Assisted Psychotherapy

Posted by Isabella Zar on
Here’s the Scoop on Psilocybin-Assisted Psychotherapy

The world is rapidly changing. 2020 has pretty much shattered the old way of being, while 2021 feels like it’s ushering in a new paradigm. Is it a coincidence that psychedelics, particularly magic mushrooms, are also experiencing a transformation regarding their social acceptance? Maybe — but probably not. 

If the 2020 US election provided any insight, it’s that society is ready to heal and people are done with the Drug War getting in the way of that. That’s why Oregon voters approved Measure 109, which effectively legalizes psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy in the state. It’s the first time in US history that “legal” and “psilocybin” are written together in the law. The gravity of this moment truly can’t be overemphasized. But, what does it mean, exactly? What is psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy? And, most importantly, does it work?

Before diving into the details of this new psychedelic-therapy, it’s critical to understand what Measure 109 accomplishes — and what it does not. The Psilocybin Mushroom Services Program Initiative (Measure 109) will regulate and legalize psilocybin (a synthetic compound made in a lab) and raw psilocybin mushrooms for therapists and mental health clinicians in Oregon only. It does not, however, make mushrooms legal for anyone else. 

Thankfully, Oregon also passed Measure 110, which decriminalizes the possession of all drugs and reduces the crime from a felony to a $100 misdemeanor. So, it’s similar to a traffic violation. But, the language of the measure says that you can only possess up to 12 grams of mushrooms. Otherwise, you’re getting arrested. 12 grams is less than a half-ounce and a touch more than a quarter ounce — a relatively small amount of mushrooms. So, it’s probably wise to continue flying under the radar, if you catch our drift. 

The magic of Measure 109, the Psilocybin Mushroom Services Program Initiative, is that it swings open the door to a brand new realm of mental health services. Over the past decade, numerous studies have looked at the therapeutic and medicinal benefits of psilocybin, the trippy compound in mushrooms. And, the findings show that it has profound potential for treating various types of depression, end-of-life anxiety, and OCD

The most recent study released in JAMA Psychiatry on Nov. 4, 2020, shows that psilocybin works better than typical antidepressant medications for people with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Then, in Nov. 2019, the preliminary findings of Usona’s clinical trial looking at psilocybin’s effect on MDD found that a single dose impacts the brain long-term, wiping away depressive symptoms. In 2015, Compass Pathways conducted a clinical trial to study how psilocybin effects treatment resistant depression. The study found psilocybin coupled with therapy greatly reduced symptoms of depression in those with treatment resistant depression.

The results have been so overwhelmingly positive that in the past three years the FDA has deemed psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy” twice. According to the FDA, “breakthrough” designations are only granted to treatments where clinical evidence shows that a drug provides substantial improvement over currently available therapy options and, therefore, must go through an expedited review process.

This ultimately means the FDA is aware of the medical benefits of psilocybin. Let that sink in for a second: The Feds know that psilocybin has an incredible capacity for healing — and, yet, it remains in the most restrictive class of drugs designated for substances with no accepted medical benefits. 

It makes no sense, but such is the United States. The good news is that Oregon has set the bar for much-needed change. Now, they’re steering us into a brand new realm of mental health care.

The current protocol for psilocybin-assisted therapy follows the Roland Griffiths method. The entire process usually takes around three days. On day one, you meet with your psychedelic-therapist to discuss how you’re feeling, what you hope to take away from the psychedelic session, and set intentions based around that. The following day you meet with your therapist and a sitter who administers a psilocybin pill or raw mushrooms for you to take. You lie back on a comfortable couch or bed with a blindfold on and let the mushrooms do their thing. 

Over a span of a few hours, you may eat around 4 grams of mushrooms (or the equivalent in psilocybin pills), which is considered a high dose. The sitter stays with you throughout the duration of your journey, which can last upwards of seven to eight hours. They’ll help you get to the bathroom, remain hydrated, and be there should things get weird during the trip. Basically, the sitter’s role is to be an emotional anchor. 

The following day, you meet with your therapist again for an integration therapy session. You discuss what you saw, experienced, and felt with the goal of interpreting the experience and implementing actionable steps towards desired change.

The Roland Griffiths method is employed by the world’s top institutions — such as Johns Hopkins University and Imperial College London — studying the effectiveness of psilocybin on mental health conditions. So far, this protocol has repeatedly shown transformative results. It’s important to note, however, that there’s a distinct relationship outlined here between psilocybin and psychotherapy. The combination of both is what’s giving people such profound outcomes, likely because of the emphasis on “set and setting,” or your mindset and environment. Preparation before a psychedelic journey and integration afterwards makes all the difference.

We’re truly witnessing the evolution of human consciousness right now. The psychedelic movement — and its representation of freedom and healing — is a textbook example of that. Hopefully 2021 opens more doors to greater societal healing.


Written by Mary Carreon

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