Today I’m excited to cover a topic that we don’t talk about much: The use of psychedelics in stress recovery.
Before we dive into a discussion about the psychedelics that are known to help with anxiety, PTSD, and depression, I want to emphasize that it’s never too late to start a self-care stress reset. It’s something you can do right now to make a significant impact on leveling out your cortisol levels, a known factor in chronic stress and burnout.
Now, onto the art and science of psychedelics. I’ll be sharing some details about stress recovery and cannabinoids, ketamine, MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine), psilocybin from medical mushrooms, and ayahuasca.
Although schedule 1 psychedelics became illegal in the United States in 1970, that legal status has changed some with recent research and proven clinical use has raised awareness for their effectiveness in helping with stress recovery from PTSD.
Currently, psychedelic therapy with ketamine is legal in the United States in a clinical setting, cannabis is legal recreationally in 15 states, and legal for medicinal use in more states. Psilocybin is now legal in Oregon and decriminalized in a small list of cities in the U.S. Source: Liana Fattore et al., “Psychedelics and reconsolidation of traumatic and appetitive maladaptive memories: focus on cannabinoids and ketamine,” Pyschopharmacology 235 (2018): 433-45, doi:10,1007/s00213-017-4793-4
Through guided experiences, patients have been able to gain a greater awareness of themselves, attain an increased sense of connection with others, and decrease their anxiety and stress. Source: R.L. Carhart-Harris et al., “Psychedelics and Connectedness,” Pyschopharmacology 235 (2018): 547-50, doi:10.1007/s00213-017-4701y
My research and experience indicate that psychedelics are an important option to consider for stress recovery.
As we uncover how psychedelics work, it’s important that we start on the same page about the effects of PTSD and trauma.
As I describe in chapter three of Master Your Stress, Reset Your Health, 61% of us have experienced at least one ACE (adverse childhood event) and more than 70% of us have experienced a major stress, loss, or trauma in adulthood.
It turns out (studies show) that when we are exposed to trauma in childhood, we are more likely to be exposed to more trauma in adulthood.
Why is that?
Because – as numerous studies over the past 30+ years have demonstrated – both our stress hormones and areas of the brain that respond to stress (the amygdala and limbic system, for example) remember the stressful experience and go right back to recreating it in our minds and bodies years, and decades, after the stress exposure.
This is what I refer to as being “stuck in stress mode,” and it’s that stress mode that causes us to choose life situations (activities, jobs, relationships) that result in the same effect over and over again.
As much as we consciously wish and want to change the pattern, it can quite literally feel like it is beyond our control. We go on with life, in some cases being prescribed medications to (hopefully) manage the symptoms of anxiety, depression, pain, without causing too many side effects.
Many other approaches have been studied – from cognitive behavioral therapy, to hypnosis, meditation, biofeedback, EMDR, and more – still it continues to be a challenge for millions of people.
The big question is how to get out of stress mode and fully recover from stress so that you can go on with living your life and purpose without being constantly bombarded with triggers, panic, insomnia, fatigue and other debilitating symptoms?
How Can Psychedelics Help?
It is through my own personal experience with stress, and clinical experience helping patients recover from stress, that I developed my Stress Recovery Protocol which involves addressing mindset, diet, lifestyle, as well as rebalancing stress hormones and neurotransmitters using nutrients, herbs, and activities known to help us reset from stress.
While I wish I could say that there is one quick solution to stress and trauma, the reality is that our brain, neuropathways, vagus nerve, and hormones/neurotransmitters take time and consistency to change. But the important thing to know is that they CAN change.
As part of my research into stress recovery, and when working to address the effects of stress in my body (which caused a rare chronic inflammatory condition that can result in severe pain for most people who have this condition), I was willing to try most anything.
I decided to try psychedelics, starting with cannabis, then LSD, Ayahuasca, and psilocybin (in locations where it is legal). I was intrigued by studies showing the science of how they help with stress recovery, and can report that they most definitely made a significant difference for me.
Cannabis, for example, is a powder analgesic and anti-inflammatory. I use it topically daily (I have a medical marijuana license). Ayahuasca is also analgesic and anti-inflammatory, and has another amazing property – the ability to reset the vagus nerve and autonomic nervous system while helping us to gain perspective on past traumas.
5 Psychedelics for Stress Recovery
Here’s a breakdown of the five psychedelics that I refer to in my book, Master Your Stress, Reset Your Health.
One point to keep in mind, that often draws distinction in the psychedelic community, is whether the psychedelic is derived from a chemical source versus a plant-based source. There are reports of differing effects from each. Psychedelics from a plant source are often referred to as “plant medicine.”
In this article, I’m including entheogens (chemical substances that produce a non ordinary state of consciousness for spiritual purposes) from both chemical and plant sources.
When it comes to cannabinoids, I often think of the story of Goldilocks. This child didn’t want things too big or too small – too hot or too cold. She wanted them “just right.” That’s what our bodies want and need to function optimally, but stress pushes are bodies away from this perfect middle ground.
That’s where cannabinoids come in. They can help us shift our cellular function back to an optimal space. In this way cannabinoids help with stress recovery. In fact, our bodies make cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) and we have a built-in cannabinoid system (just like the other systems in our bodies).
Cannabinoids are considered to have mild psychedelic effects in addition to being anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and to support appetite.
There are more than 80 cannabinoids in cannabis, including both tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is also found in hemp plants. It is important to know that the reduction of stress from THC is dose dependent. Meaning that low doses decrease stress, while high doses increase anxiety.
Also, THC decreases adrenaline, but increases cortisol. This is a good time to remind you that there are different stress types – some which will respond favorably to THC, and others that would not do well.
That’s why I want you to discover what’s happening with the cortisol, adrenaline, and insulin hormones in your body first, by taking this free Stress Quiz that I designed:
TAKE THE FREE STRESS QUIZ TO FIND OUT YOUR STRESS TYPE:
There are many strains or types of cannabis; some are more calming like indica, which has sedative properties, and others, like sativa which are uplifting and cerebral. The whole flower can be smoked or inhaled or ingested. The oil can be extracted and formulated into liquids, capsules, or topically applied lotions.
Interestingly, cannabinoids can be found in common plants that we frequently consume: Broccoli, black pepper, carrots, echinacea, ginseng, cloves, cacao, and black and green tea.
Ketamine was first used in Belgium in the 1960s as an anesthesia medicine for animals. The FDA approved it as an anesthetic for use in treating injured soldiers on the battlefields in the Vietnam War.
Interestingly, studies from Yale research labs showed that the drug ketamine, triggers glutamate production, which, in a complex, cascading series of events, prompts the brain to form new neural connections. This makes the brain more adaptable and able to create new pathways and gives patients the opportunity to develop more positive thoughts and behaviors. This was an effect that had not been seen before, even with traditional antidepressants. Source: https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/ketamine-depression
On March 5, 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a nasal spray called esketamine, derived from ketamine, to treat major depression. Because esketamine has made a significant improvement for patients with treatment-resistant depression (meaning standard treatments had not helped them), the FDA expedited the approval process to make it more quickly available.
Doctors have developed a protocol for medically supervised use that may help people who don’t get relief from other medications. Look for clinics in your area that offer ketamine-assisted psychotherapy.
MDMA, which was originally developed as an appetite suppressant in the 1910s, first became popularity in the 1960s as a drug prescribed by psychiatrists to promote better outcomes in psychotherapy.
Research regarding its potential for psychotherapy came to a halt after its illegalization in the United States in 1985. It is important to note that MDMA and “Ecstasy” have been used interchangeably in the past. However, while Ecstasy (also known as Molly) is formulated with MDMA as a base drug, it is packaged differently and cut with different drugs.
From a clinical and therapeutic standpoint, positive cognitive effects of MDMA in a controlled clinical setting were described to include enhanced mood and well-being, happiness, relaxation (physical and mental), increased emotional sensitivity and responsiveness, heightened openness, extroversion and sociability, and the feeling of closeness to other people.
Recent research insights may soon restore this association between MDMA and therapy, including an authorized FDA phase III study of MDMA for therapeutic use. Source: https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/ecstasy-mdma-addiction/mdma-ptsd/
The pharmacological effects of MDMA include an increase in the neurohormones oxytocin, prolactin and cortisol and in the monoamine neurotransmitter serotonin. Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5917000/
Psilocybin mushrooms (also known as “magic mushrooms”) are naturally occurring mushrooms which contain the psychoactive compound psilocybin. More than 180 psilocybin-containing mushroom species are found all over the world.
Psilocybin mushrooms have potential medical uses in the treatment of mental illnesses and disorders such as depression, anxiety, OCD, alcoholism and PTSD, and potential therapeutic uses for things like counseling and even grief.
Numerous studies have been carried out (most notably by David Nutt and Imperial College, London) into the usefulness of psilocybin mushrooms, particularly in the treatment of depression. The findings of these studies show a high correlation between controlled psilocybin experiences and the lessening of depression in subjects, sometimes from as little as one psilocybin experience.
Other small clinical trials have shown that one or two doses of psilocybin, given in a therapeutic setting, can make dramatic and long-lasting changes in people suffering from treatment-resistant major depressive disorder, which typically does not respond to traditional antidepressants. It has also been extensively researched in patients with cancer, in helping them with end of life processing.
Based on this research, the US Food and Drug Administration has described psilocybin as a breakthrough medicine.
Classic psychedelics such as psilocybin and LSD enter the brain via the same receptors as serotonin, the body’s “feel good” hormone. Serotonin helps control body functions such as sleep, sexual desire, and psychological states such as satisfaction, happiness, and optimism. To learn more about serotonin read this article: Serotonin, Sleep, and Depression: Look to Your Neurotransmitters for Help.
As a caution, not everyone is a candidate for psilocybin or psychedelic treatment in general. For example, psychedelic therapy is not used in combination with other medications such as antidepressants or psychotropic medications. Also, people diagnosed with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, or who have a family history of psychosis are not candidates for therapeutic psychedelic treatment.
Ayahuasca, is a blend of two plants: 1) The Ayahuasca vine and 2) the leaves of the chacruna, an amazing South American rainforest shrub. The vines and leaves are brewed together for days, and the final product ends up looking like a thick, black liquid that contains beneficial DMT, or dimethyltryptamine as well as alkaloids from the Ayahuasca.
The first time that I took ayahuasca in Peru, where it is legal, I said to myself, “This is the missing medicine for our nervous system and stress recovery.”
Through a gentle process that occurred over two to three hours, I could feel the ayahuasca release any, and all stress in my body and nervous system. It was a total vagus nerve reset and a release of everything that no longer served me.
I have since participated in over 50 ceremonies with a shaman using ayahuasca. It has helped me to know myself, to release traumas that were not brought to the surface through psychotherapy nor EMDR, and to heal the chronic inflammation in my body.
With ayahuasca, it is important that you work with a trained and experienced shaman. They will ensure you know what to expect, how to navigate the experience, how to determine your appropriate dose and keep you safe, and to help you integrate what you learn into your day to day life. To learn more, listen in to my interview with a master shaman.
Psychedelics and Trauma Recovery
While psychedelic therapy is not needed or best for everyone, I want to make sure you know that it is an option, especially if you feel that your stress symptoms are to the point that you have exhausted all other avenues of help and therapy.
At the same time, you don’t have to wait until you’ve tried everything else. Though many of these substances are currently categorized as schedule 1 – no medical use and high potential for abuse – the psychedelics discussed in this article, and especially when used in a supervised setting, are not known to cause addiction and/or have a very low risk of addiction.
“Microdosing” is method of using psychedelics in very small doses to experience the benefit even at low doses.
At the same time, I want to emphasize that there are MANY other substances and activities that are known to support trauma recovery. I cover each in great detail in Master Your Stress Reset Your Health.
Those include, but are not limited to:
- Meditation – offered to my patients and found exclusively in my programs
- Biofeedback – offered to my patients and found exclusively in my programs
- Somatic therapy – listen to my interview with Irene Lyon about somatic healing
- Vagus nerve retraining – listen to my podcast episode about this emerging topic
- Breakthrough method – offered to my patients and found exclusively in my programs
- Amino acid therapy – offered to my patients and found exclusively in my programs
- Herbal therapy – offered to my patients and found exclusively in my programs
- Homeopathic – offered to my patients and found exclusively in my programs
- Stress Recovery Protocol – offered to my patients and found exclusively in my programs
- Spending time in nature
It is my passion to research how stress affects humans to bring information to you about how to strategically recover from stress. If you’ve been searching for a practitioner and expert to help you, and you’d like to meet with me so I can review your case and provide suggestions for you on your path to mastering stress, you can schedule a one-on-one session (in-person, zoom or phone) with me.
We can also discuss the benefits of psychedelics and if they can play a role in your stress recovery. I work with patients from around the world.
You may also want to begin with my SelfC.A.R.E. Stress Reset – which is a 7-day online program to support you to start implementing daily care for yourself to recover from stress based on my C.A.R.E. method:
C – clean eating
A – adequate sleep
R – recovery activities
E – exercise
When it comes down to it, stress recovery begins with the first step you take and it doesn’t need to be a giant leap. It is in the tiny changes made each day that create big changes in our lives and our futures.
I want you to know that you don’t have to be struggling day after day in emotional and physical pain because I am here for you.
7th July 2022
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Two important disclaimers about this article:
- If you are considering the use of an entheogen, like those listed in this article, be certain to consult with a medical practitioner trained in the use of psychedelics, or an experienced shaman who can help use the substances safely and effectively.
- Be sure to check out the legality of cannabis and other entheogens in your area – the law may require you to become certified to use these products for medical purposes.
And a general disclaimer:
This specific article and all other Content, Products, and Services of this Website are NOT intended as, and must not be understood or construed as, medical care or advice, naturopathic medical care or advice, the practice of medicine, or the practice of counseling care, nor can it be understood or construed as providing any form of medical diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease.