If you’re wondering how to find psychedelic therapy, then you’ve probably heard about the benefits of psychedelics for mental health. As of this writing, clinical trials are studying the effects of 5-MeO-DMT, ayahuasca, ketamine, and psilocybin in patients with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mood disorders.
However, psychedelic therapy isn’t easily accessible in most parts of the world. For example, the most researched hallucinogens are the most heavily regulated in the United States. Except for ketamine, therapists can’t prescribe psychedelic treatments just yet.
That said, there are ways to explore legal psychedelic treatments and find a therapist who can help you process insights from your trip. Here’s what you should know, plus details on how to find a psychedelic therapist.
What Is Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy?
Psychedelic-assisted therapy uses psychedelic drugs to treat mental disorders. This type of therapy is also known as psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy (PAP) or, more simply, psychedelic therapy.
Indigenous cultures have used psychedelic substances medicinally for thousands of years. In the 1950s, the intersection of psychedelics and medicine reached the Western world: pharmaceutical company Sandoz marketed LSD as an investigational drug, and experts were able to order samples of LSD to study its therapeutic potential. 1,2
Through the 1960s, LSD and other psychedelics were experimentally used to treat mood disorders and addiction. 3 Research abruptly stopped in 1970, when the Controlled Substance Act classified the classical psychedelics (DMT, LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin) as Schedule I controlled drugs.
Today, psychedelic research is in the middle of a renaissance. Emerging evidence suggests that hallucinogens can help treat mood disorders such as addiction, anxiety, and depression. Based on this research, the FDA has granted breakthrough status to MDMA in treating PTSD and psilocybin in treating cancer-related anxiety.
Breakthrough status doesn’t mean that psychedelic therapy is legal. Instead, it means that the FDA has recognized that these medicines can help treat serious conditions as well as, and possibly better than, current treatments.
Psychedelic-assisted therapy is relatively new, which means there isn’t a single, formal approach.
However, a review published in the American Journal of Psychiatry stated that the two most widely used psychotherapy paradigms are psycholytic and psychedelic therapy. 4
Psycholytic therapy is talk therapy combined with low to moderate doses of LSD (30 to 200 ?g, administered over several sessions).
Psychedelic therapy refers to initial talk therapy, followed by one or more high doses of a psychedelic drug and integration.
It’s unclear whether one approach is better than the other, and many studies use a hybrid approach. Colloquially, “psychedelic therapy” can refer to either of the abovementioned types. (Confusing, we know.)
Substances used in psychedelic treatments include Ayahuasca, ketamine, LSD, MDMA, and psilocybin. 5
Combining hallucinogenic substances with talk therapy may facilitate greater access to the unconscious, lowering of defense mechanisms, and new insights into a person’s experiences. 6
In part, the benefits of psychedelic treatments come from how they work in the brain. Psychedelics operate differently than conventional antidepressants. For example, SSRIs work by increasing levels of a neurotransmitter called serotonin. In comparison, most psychedelics stimulate the brain’s serotonin receptors, increasing activity in regions that control your sense of self. 7
Psychedelics may even increase neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to adapt and change. That activity might explain why substances like psilocybin and ketamine have been shown to improve treatment-resistant depression. 8,9,10
It’s important to remember that psychedelic therapy is promising, but it’s not a cure-all. Instead, it’s a rapidly developing field that we’re learning more about as time progresses.
Who is it for?
Legal psychedelic therapy is limited to the following groups:
People with treatment-resistant depression may be eligible for ketamine therapy, such as a prescription for esketamine nasal spray or visiting a ketamine clinic. Keep in mind that not all ketamine clinics offer therapy services.
People who meet the eligibility criteria for psychedelic clinical trials. As of this writing, clinical trials are currently recruiting people with alcohol use disorder, anxiety, binge eating disorder, depression, PTSD, and mild cognitive impairment or early Alzheimer’s disease.
In late 2023, psilocybin will be legally accessible in select Oregon service centers. These facilities won’t necessarily provide therapy services but may function as third-party providers to psychedelic psychotherapists in the state.
It’s important to remember that psychedelics aren’t for everyone. For example, hallucinogenics are generally not recommended for people with a history of schizophrenia or cardiovascular disorders. Some psychedelics can interact with medications, such as MAOIs and SSRIs.
The Importance of Finding the Right Psychedelic Therapy
Are certain psychedelics better than others when treating specific mood disorders?
Currently, clinical trials are investigating the clinical applications of various psychedelics. It’s too early to say whether or not one substance is better than the other for certain conditions.
Additionally, it’s important to reflect on what you want out of the psychedelic experience. Consider the following questions:
- Do you want to work with a therapist before, during, and after the trip? See if you’re eligible for a psychedelic clinical trial.
- Do you want to work with a therapist to process the insights from your psychedelic experience? Look for an integration therapist (start with this directory).
An important note on that last point: Hallucinogens affect everyone differently, and altered states of consciousness can be as disarming as they are healing. If you choose to take psychedelics on your own, remember that your set and setting and following harm reduction principles (like having a trip sitter present) can go a long way in helping create a safe space for your experience.
There’s a growing interest in plant medicine experiences, such as psilocybin or Ayahuasca retreats. These holistic experiences tend to incorporate other therapeutic practices, like meditation, breathwork, and alternative plant medicines.
Although these retreats can be transformative for people, keep in mind that they are not the same as controlled psychedelic therapy in a clinical setting. It pays to do your research upfront to understand important factors like what you’ll be taking, how often you’ll take it, the experience levels of the retreat facilitators, and how you’ll be supported by staff.
How to Find the Right Psychedelic Therapy for You
Because psychedelics are heavily regulated, finding the right psychedelic therapy for you is different than finding other forms of therapy. It’s not as simple as calling a doctor to make an appointment. Here are some key factors to consider:
Unless you’re enrolled in a psychedelic clinical trial, most psychedelic treatments are unavailable to the general public. Ketamine is the exception.
Ketamine is not a traditional psychedelic; it’s a dissociative anesthetic, which means it makes people feel detached from their bodies and environments. However, ketamine is often lumped into the “psychedelic” term because of its hallucinogenic properties.
Ketamine clinics are available throughout the United States. These facilities are legal because ketamine is a Schedule III controlled substance, which means it’s legal when prescribed and administered by a medical professional.
You can find ketamine clinics in your area by speaking with your doctor or using a directory, such as the American Society of Ketamine Physicians, Psychotherapists, and Practitioners.
If you’re interested in a psychedelics clinical trial, you generally don’t have to pay to participate. However, you’ll want to budget for costs such as transportation and child care. Ask if the research team will reimburse these costs.
Budgeting for ketamine is tricky. Unfortunately, ketamine clinics are generally not covered by insurance. However, esketamine is FDA-approved, which means it may be covered by insurance.
Heads up: Esketamine is only available by prescription for people with treatment-resistant depression. Talk to your doctor if you’re interested in learning more about esketamine.
If you’re interested in psychedelic therapy because other interventions haven’t worked, you’ll want to look for psychedelic treatments that provide plenty of support and follow-up. That means having the guidance of a psychedelic therapist.
After all, psychedelics can unlock experiences and emotions that you may have suppressed. (That’s why integration is an important part of the therapeutic process.)
Any form of therapy requires courage and work. An experience psychedelic therapist can help guide you through the process and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
Whether you’re looking for a clinical trial, ketamine therapy, or an integration therapist, ensure that someone you trust will be available to help you manage your treatment.
Underground Psychedelic Therapy
So far, we’ve discussed legal options for psychedelic therapy. Currently, these options are pretty limited, which means that psychedelic therapy isn’t accessible for many people who might benefit from these substances.
That lack of accessibility may motivate people to pursue alternative routes, like procuring hallucinogens on their own.
We don’t recommend using psychedelics without medical supervision. If you’re going to use these substances recreationally, consider purchasing a drug testing kit. These kits can be purchased online:
Frequently Asked Questions
What do psychedelic therapists do?
Psychedelic therapists may have different treatment approaches. Generally, they’ll work with you to identify what you need to work on, administer the psychedelic treatment, and help you process and cope with your problems over several sessions.
Is psychedelic therapy FDA-approved?
Psychedelic therapy is not FDA-approved. At this time, it’s best considered an experimental approach to therapy. However, MDMA treatment for PTSD is expected to be FDA-approved soon.
What psychedelics are used in therapy?
DMT, ketamine, LSD, MDMA, mescaline, and psilocybin are the most studied psychedelics used in clinical trials.
What else is psychedelic therapy called?
Psychedelic therapy is also called psychedelic-assisted therapy or psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy (PAP).
Can a psychiatrist prescribe psychedelics?
A psychiatrist can prescribe ketamine, which is sometimes called a psychedelic. Technically, ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that works differently than classical psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin.
Psychedelic therapy is in its infancy. For now, people who wish to (legally) pursue psychedelic therapy are limited to ketamine clinics and psychedelics clinical trials. In 2023, Oregon’s psilocybin service centers—and the psychedelic therapists who work with these facilities—will create more opportunities for the field to evolve.
3. Fuentes JJ, Fonseca F, Elices M, Farré M, Torrens M. Therapeutic Use of LSD in Psychiatry: A Systematic Review of Randomized-Controlled Clinical Trials. Front Psychiatry. 2019;10:943. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00943
6. Garcia-Romeu A, Richards WA. Current perspectives on psychedelic therapy: use of serotonergic hallucinogens in clinical interventions. Int Rev Psychiatry. 2018;30(4):291-316. doi:10.1080/09540261.2018.1486289
7. Madsen MK, Fisher PM, Burmester D, et al. Psychedelic effects of psilocybin correlate with serotonin 2A receptor occupancy and plasma psilocin levels. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2019;44(7):1328-1334. doi:10.1038/s41386-019-0324-9
11. Davis AK, Barrett FS, May DG, et al. Effects of Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy on Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2021;78(5):481-489. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.3285
12. Bahji A, Vazquez GH, Zarate CA. Comparative efficacy of racemic ketamine and esketamine for depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Affect Disord. 2021;278:542-555. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2020.09.071