|Research is paving the way as we continue forging new pathways to interweave plant and psychedelic therapies with western medicine. While still controversial and prohibited in many areas, with research advancing so quickly, practitioners will be (or already are) integrating these medicines as powerful tools to tend to unresolved trauma, cultivate self-compassion and congruence, and as promising neuroprotective and regenerative agents.
Since lifting the ban on the research of plant medicine and psychedelics, evidence continues to mount with each new study. With the current mental health crisis, we are experiencing a newfound sense of urgency. Results show significant positive benefits to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addictions, anxiety, and treatment resistant depression. For many, these medicines address trauma by revealing, transforming, and integrating the perception of past adversities.
In South America and Africa, Ayahuasca and Iboga are psychoactive plant medicines with biochemical and neurological benefits that are outperforming the traditional pharmaceutical remedies to treat addiction and depression (Belgers, Leenaars, Homberg, Ritskes-Hoitinga, Schellekens, & Hooijmans, 2016; Palhano-Fontes, Barreto, Onias, Andrade, Novaes, Pessoa, …& Aruaujo, 2018; Sanches, de Lima Osório, Dos Santos, Macedo, Maia-de-Oliveira, Wichert-Ana, & Hallak, 2016). Studies using psilocybin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) show significant regenerative properties, improving neuroplasticity, resulting in remarkable improvements, even complete resolution of depression, anxiety, and PTSD (Griffiths et al., 2016; Ly et al., 2018; Slomski, 2018; Williams & Leins, 2016).
In a therapeutic set and setting, the hallucinogenic properties of psychedelics, promote an ability to confront innermost fears (Frecska, Bokor, & Winkelman, 2016). Grounded in a felt sense of safety and support, they can tend to unresolved trauma and incongruencies. When used with healing intention, these psychedelics can promote a benevolent connection to the inner world, where people can experience a sense of unconditional positive regard. For many who have never felt wholly accepted and loved, this new felt sense can empower people to embrace previously forbidden parts of themselves, resulting in greater self-compassion and congruence.
Viewing past trauma, pain, regrets, and fractured relationships through this loving lens helps us to accept and transform regret and shame with grace and forgiveness. As the defensive self (the ego) moves into the background, we attain non-attachment. With non-attachment, we can navigate past events and thought patterns more objectively. From this objective and compassionate space, we are more able to see that harm from others is often a result of their own hurt and suffering. Transgressions are less personal, shaking us free from the victim role, fuelled by compassion for those who hurt us.
When used with a therapeutic intention, psychedelics enable us to see we ARE whole. We realize we are inherently whole and worthy. From this grounded space, we learn to live out of that remembrance. Psychedelics can lift the veil of the ego enabling us to see ourselves and others in a positive, loving, and gracious way. Breeding unconditional positive regard and objectivity enables us to accept and digest those parts of ourselves that felt unacceptable and unpalatable. The spirit comes to the forefront while the ego and the labels of this world fall into the background. This objectivity fuels shifts (ah ha moments) that are otherwise unreachable. Shifting to see things as they are, with Spirit at the forefront, enables us to develop trust in a larger mystical/spiritual plan. We experience what it feels like to be held in the spiritual world, providing a sense of immunity to the external events and pressures that swirl around us.
Plant and Psychedelics medicines have the potential takes us deeper than we could otherwise go. In this effort to reduce suffering, we also have an immense opportunity to promote human flourishing by cultivating non-attachment, self-compassion, congruence, and the connection necessary to resolve and release the shame and trauma that lies at the root of humanity’s dis-ease. Going into 2020 these sacred medicines provide hope and opportunity. May we emerge from a position of gratitude, humility, and respect as we carefully and collaboratively pave the way through western medicine.
Shannon Dames is Nursing Professor, Resilience Educator, and Researcher at Vancouver Island University. Her doctoral studies focussed on core factors that mitigate stress and promote human flourishing. She is also a steering committee member of the 2020 Psychedelic Psychotherapy Forum.