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Risks of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy

Psychedelic-assisted therapy has grown in the recent years because of its potential to treat mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. However, new research is raising some serious concerns reported by therapists who facilitate these treatments. It suggests that while there may be benefits, there are also significant risks.


The study focused on psilocybin; a psychedelic compound produced by over 200 types of mushrooms (commonly referred to as ‘magic mushrooms’). Psilocybin-assisted therapy combines psychotherapeutic treatment with the controlled use of psilocybin to support the client’s deep exploration of their thoughts and emotions. These sessions are followed up with integration sessions that facilitate psychological healing and growth. There have been promising results, offering clients relief where traditional treatment has failed. However, the psychological risks that are connected to psychedelics – which alter perception and emotional states – are less understood.

magic mushrooms used in psychedelic assisted therapy
Magic mushrooms

The research identified three categories of negative short-term effects.


  1. Negative experiences during dosing sessions – nausea, headaches, disorientation, paranoia, fear, intense distress.

  2. Impact on the therapeutic relationship – complicated interactions between the therapist and client, including issues of communication barriers, misunderstanding, and shifts in power dynamics.

  3. Negative self-experiences – clients encountered painful and sometimes traumatic realizations which were overwhelming and caused significant emotional distress.


The research also identified four categories of negative long-term effects.


  1. Destabilization – ongoing instability after completion of treatment, including a sense of identity confusion and altered life perspectives which negatively impact daily functioning and overall well-being.

  2. Adaptation difficulties – clients struggled to integrate insights from therapy into their lives which led to difficulties finding a new sense of normal. This experience contributed to feelings of isolation and depression.

  3. Complications – emotional dependencies, blurred boundaries, and even romantic feelings towards the therapist complicated the conclusion of treatment.

  4. Worsening symptoms – some client’s experienced existential anxiety and a persistent sense of disillusionment about their lives or the treatment.

 

These finding show that that psychedelics are not a cure-all for mental health disorders. They bring about an intense altered state of mind, and it’s not self-evident that this is beneficial for everyone. While there is research which points to some promising findings, the potential adverse effects are still largely not understood.


If you’re interested in exploring the depths of your mind without the risks associated with psychedelic use, reach out for a free consultation!

 

Research reference: Nordin, M., Hlynsson, J. I., Håkansson, J., & Carlbring, P. (2024). A double-edged sword: Insights from practitioners on the short and long-term negative effects of psilocybin-assisted psychological interventions. Journal of Psychedelic Studies (published online ahead of print 2024). https://doi.org/10.1556/2054.2024.00337

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