Anxiety and depression are common mental health conditions that negatively impact one’s quality of life and increase the risk for developing a variety of chronic physical ailments. Therapists have used various intervention methods to try and treat these conditions, but they still have some limitations. A lot of people don’t have access to these services, and many of those who do have access continue to experience symptoms despite intervention.
While classical psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin have been found to be safe and effective at treating depression and anxiety in many research studies, they have their own set of challenges that would make psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy difficult to provide at the average outpatient clinic.
These limitations include long drug administration sessions (7-12 hours), the need for a multi-person team (generally consisting of two therapist guides and a medical monitor), and in some cases, an overnight stay. Each limitation adds to the overall cost, making this form of therapy unavailable to a large group of people.
Several factors make 5-MeO-DMT an excellent candidate for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, including its short action (30 to 90 minutes), high safety profile, and low potential for psychological or physiological complications. And it turns out that the drug might also have therapeutic benefits too.
That’s exactly what researchers reported in a new study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse earlier this month, which found using 5-MeO-DMT in a ritualistic group setting to be associated with unintended improvements in depression and anxiety.
A total of 362 respondents for the study were collected from an email distribution list made up of people in the United States that use the drug in a group setting. The group was established in 2007 (a time when 5-MeO-DMT was still legal) with the intention of creating a safe and practical context for using the drug.
Samples of 5-MeO-DMT can vary widely, either being comprised of natural “toad medicine” that is extracted from the Bufo alvarius toad or synthetically produced material made in a lab. The group uses the synthetic version, and its batch of the drug has been found to be 98-100% pure when tested in laboratory using gas chromatography mass spectrometry.
The group’s experimental group sessions take place in a variety of locations around the nation, but primarily in the Western U.S. Each session includes between 5 and 12 people (1-2 of whom administer the drug and lead the sessions) and lasts roughly 6-7 hours.
Following an initial preparation ritual, attendees take turns—one at a time—inhaling the substance with a custom-built vaporizer and embarking on an unrivaled psychedelic trip, the likes of which can only be produced by 5-MeO-DMT. Doses range from 5mg to more than 15mg, depending on a participant’s sensitivity and prior experience with psychedelics (or lack thereof).
Each session concludes with a “closing circle” or “checkout,” wherein each attendee is offered some time and space to share thoughts about their journey. Following a brief prayer or meditation, attendees are encouraged to continue integrating the experience back into their daily lives by spending time with others, journaling, or spending time in nature.
The researchers used several surveys to collect data from the group’s members. One survey asked a series of questions about patterns of 5-MeO-DMT use, subjective effects, and potential benefits and risks of using the drug. A depression and anxiety questionnaire identified whether respondents had depression or anxiety and if their conditions had changed after using the substance.
The Mystical Experiences Questionnaire (MEQ30) was used to determine the intensity of various subjective effects that commonly occur after consuming a psychedelic drug and the Challenging Experiences Questionnaire collected information about the psychologically and physically difficult experiences that psychedelics can engender.
Three items from the Persisting Effects Questionnaire were included, which allowed respondents to rate how personally meaningful and spiritually significant their first 5-MeO-DMT session was, and the extent to which each participant believed their experience led to changes in their well-being or life satisfaction.
The results of the study reflected the idea that psychedelics have the potential to address issues with depression and anxiety. Approximately 80% of respondents reported improvements in these areas, which was a bit surprising because only 6 respondents said they used the drug to help with anxiety and only 1 reported using it to relieve depression. Most members of the group use 5-MeO-DMT for spiritual purposes.
Respondents who reported improvements also had significantly higher MEQ30 scores (indicating that they experienced more intense mystical experiences when it came to subjective effects like transcendence of time/space and overall ineffability) and tended to be on the younger side compared to those who didn’t experience reductions in depression or anxiety. They also reported higher ratings of personal meaning and spiritual significance, and felt that their first 5-MeO-DMT session contributed to their personal well-being and life satisfaction.
While there may indeed be a solid link between 5-MeO-DMT use and improvements in anxiety and depression, there still haven’t been any controlled laboratory studies that administered the drug to humans. Until that research gets underway, studies like this one will continue building the foundation needed to justify further research into this fascinating drug.
The researchers concluded their paper by recommending that future studies take a closer look at establishing the safety profile of 5-MeO-DMT using more rigorous research protocols so that additional studies will be able to further examine the therapeutic potential of the drug.
If it turns out that 5-MeO-DMT is indeed safe and effective at treating depression and anxiety, it may also have the capability to address a wider range of issues as well.