Psychiatrist is optimistic that mental health disorders can be treated using plant medicines

Psychiatrist is optimistic that mental health disorders can be treated using plant medicines

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Psychiatrists are gradually becoming more attuned to the benefits of treating depressed patients with psychedelic drugs, including cannabis. This was made clear when Psychiatrist Julie Holland’s book, Good Chemistry: The Science of Connection, from Soul to Psychedelics, was recently published.

Holland’s fascinating new read delves into the potential that psychedelic drugs may hold for people who have exhausted conventional antidepressant treatments. The psychiatrist, who oversaw weekends at Bellevue Hospital‘s psychiatric emergency room between the years 1996 and 2005, now runs her very own Manhattan-based private psychotherapy facility.

“There are certain plant medicines in particular – things like psilocybin or ayahuasca – that really help people not only explore their personal trauma. [Cannabis may help reduce] this feeling of unity and connection. People really come away from these experiences having a new perspective,” said Holland, whose work involves the medical-monitoring of Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).

What evidence exists to prove the efficacy of psychedelic drugs in psychiatry?
(Pictured) Psychiatrist and author Julie Holland

One of Holland’s primary goals is to integrate psychedelic substances into prescribable medications. Her book expands on personal views about cannabis, LSD, psilocybin and MDMA as effective mental health treatments. Although promising, patients and doctors alike are curious about the proof and where it has emerged from. 

The existing evidence regarding cannabis as a treatment for depression and mental health is somewhat limited. Nonetheless, the expanding field of cannabinoid therapeutics indicates that cannabis-derived compounds – like CBD (cannabidiol) – may ease the symptoms of social anxiety and schizophrenia.

Alternative psychedelic substances have also shown promise in treating patients with mental health disorders. For example, Phase II trials on MDMA for PTSD delivered a promising outcome; phase III trials are ongoing. Furthermore, psilocybin has proven to be effective for treatment-resistant depression, cancer-related anxiety and depression, as well as alcohol and tobacco use disorders.

Trials into MDMA and psilocybin have also resulted in these psychedelic substances gaining FDA “breakthrough” designations as a solution for PTSD and treatment-resistant depression. Thanks to this development, future regulatory review could essentially be fast-tracked to provide patients with access to these types of treatments. 

What about LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) you ask? While this psychedelic substance is banned for its mind-altering effects, the hallucinogenic substance was praised in a MAPS study on LSD-Assisted Psychotherapy. Prior to this, in 1943, Dr. Albert Hofman exposed LSD for its ability to produce therapeutic effects in humans. 

Ayhausasca – a South American entheogenic brew containing the psychedelic compound DMT (N-dimethyltryptamine) – is also commonly used for ritual purposes to treat depression. 

Use of psychedelic drugs in psychiatry is a controversial subject

It might be a touchy subject, but the idea of using psychedelic drugs in psychiatry is certainly gaining some steam. Notwithstanding the vagueness and misconceptions surrounding this treatment option, Holland affirms that this avenue is gradually being embraced.

“Good psychotherapy takes years and there are a lot of fits and starts. People run away when things get too heavy,” says Holland, adding that the landscape surrounding the use of psychedelic drugs in psychiatry is ever-changing. “The data is so compelling that in my opinion, people in my profession have no excuse for not knowing what’s going on.”

Despite her consistent efforts to unearth the benefits of psychedelic drugs in psychiatry, the author and private psychotherapy practice owner has stressed the importance of patients holding onto their prescribed pills. However, she believes that it’s worth exploring cannabis and other psychedelic treatment options; if the patient has exhausted typical medications.

“I don’t mean to imply that everybody should throw their pills away at all. But I do think for people who have been on just antidepressants for decades, that it is worth exploring whether there are other ways that, maybe, you could treat some of the symptoms, and maybe get at some of the underlying causes of the symptom.”

Holland’s book is available to purchase on Amazon now.