By Hunter Dublin | May 12, 2022
Potential therapies for depression might soon include taking illegal drugs and trying something new. A recent study published in Cannabis found that cannabis users expected their experience with the drug to be similar, if not identical, as they experienced after consuming magic mushrooms.
Psilocybin-assisted therapy has shown promise as an effective treatment option due largely to its powerful effects on boosting moods when taken correctly by patients who are struggling emotionally or mentally without causing any known side effects.
Depression is a debilitating mental illness that affects over 300 million people worldwide. Antidepressant medication and psychotherapy work about 65% of the time. People who want or need these treatments as an alternative, such as psilocybin, are extremely helpful on their part.
Suppose we want to help those who suffer from depression. In that case, they must have access to the medications and therapy, and other options. One such option would be psilocybin, which helps patients with mood disorders by alleviating anxiety or obsessive thoughts symptoms in a controlled setting where there are no negative side effects.
"The findings of this study show that certain reactions to Cannabis can be expected. When people experience these effects on their own, they often report similar feelings as those who take psilocybin," said study author Mitch Earleywine, a professor of psychology at the University at Albany.
The research seeks to assess the expectations of regular cannabis users about the potential effectiveness and efficiency in treating depression using psilocybin-facilitated psychotherapy. For Study 1, researchers recruited a sample from Amazon's Mechanical Turk (MTurk) platform who reported their level of consumption with questions such as "How often do you use marijuana?" They then read through some brief passages describing both therapeutic effects for this treatment alongside asking whether an ideal dose could also help fight off mental health issues like clinical levels would under similar circumstances.
The researchers wanted to see how people would respond when asked about the effects of psilocybin on mental health. They found that many respondents associated their experiences with positive emotions, such as feeling less stressed or more connected to oneself than before taking this drug - what's called an "emotional breakthrough." Some noted increased feelings toward nature during these trips; it can be assumed that these individuals had a predominant sense of awe from being surrounded by open spaces while experiencing so much beauty.
"The emotional breakthroughs seem to underlie the therapeutic effects of psychedelic substances, and plenty of cannabis users said they felt a shift in their mindset after using it. We had investigated how these drugs may be affecting your brain because many psychological models point towards negative thoughts being key drivers for disorders like depression or anxiety."
The researchers found that the level of cannabis use and expectations for all subjective experiences were positively correlated with improvement in depression. However, when they looked at how emotional breakthroughs would affect antidepressant effects, which was thought to be important, there wasn't any longer a significant link between them after controlling for each person's unique set experience going forward.
This finding suggests that it's time to look at the other mechanisms of cannabis-assisted therapy.
In a second study, researchers wanted to know if Cannabis could help people with depression. So they conducted an experiment in which 568 volunteers received either medical marijuana or placebo capsules. At the same time, their attitudes about life were assessed before and after using these treatments (emotional processing).
The results showed that those who smoked pot had lower scores on measures of shame-relatedness and increased feelings towards societal expectations - all suggesting it may be useful for treating psychological problems such as severe anxiety disorder.
The authors found that all expectations of subjective experiences were positively correlated with the effectiveness of cannabis-assisted therapy. However, emotional breakthrough and expectations for change in dysfunctional attitudes predicted an expected antidepressant effect when other variables such as mood or personality traits were entered into statistical analysis.
These two factors accounted for most observed relationships between certain expecting/wanting types versus different outcomes among patients who used marijuana while undergoing psychotherapy sessions.
The study found that cannabis users expect an ideal drug dose to have similar effects on their mood, mindset, and spiritual experiences as those produced by psilocybin-assisted therapy. They also reported changes in self-worth or interpersonal relationships after taking this amount for some time which could be beneficial when used recreationally but not necessarily prescribed clinically.
The research shows how two samples from different generations report expecting certain outcomes if given a therapeutic setting where doses would parallel current practices with help from psychedelic mushrooms.
These findings are interesting and deserve further research. However, there are possibilities of different expectations too. These premises did not align with what their actual experience would be like, or they may have been thinking about an ideal dosage that varied unpredictably from person to person.
A lot more work needs to understand how Cannabis can improve mental health symptoms in different ways for various people.
"These data are only expectations," said Earleywine. "People claim that these effects appear in reaction to Cannabis, but we don't have the actual trials yet. I'm hopeful other labs will be able to provide some help with psychotherapy and get their work off the ground. As you might guess from reading this article, Placebo controls for studies like ours can sometimes prove difficult. However, it's important to research how different cannabinoids affect mental health."