Psychedelics and Addiction Treatment


Psychedelic medications are a highly polarizing topic both within medical circles and for society at large. In the public eye, they are closely connected to addictive drugs and provoke general distrust. The two sections of this essay are dedicated to the psychedelic treatment for medical conditions and the comparison of substance and behavioral addictions, respectively. They analyze the existing ways in which psychedelic medication is utilized in the treatment of mental disorders and the differences between different types of addictions from therapeutic and neuroscientific perspectives.

Psychedelic Treatment for Mental Health Conditions

Psychedelic chemicals have been used for celebrations, religious ceremonies, or healing purposes for centuries. The use of psychedelics increased in the second half of the XX century and has remained widespread in many parts of the world ever since. Over 30 million people living in the US have at least once used lysergic acid diethylamide, psilocybin, and mescaline, particularly peyote (Fenney, 2014). The most frequent reasons for using psychedelics include spiritual interest, introspection, and curiosity, but in recent years, the substances have become increasingly utilized in medicine. Particularly their application in the area of mental conditions treatment has been surprisingly successful and did not lead to the forecasted severe repercussions the critics anticipated.

Out of all the possible applications of psychedelic drugs in mental disorders treatment, microdosing is by far the most effective. It shows greater positive effects for patients with depression and anxiety when compared to full dosing of the substances. To specify, the term microdosing refers to the practice of consuming very low doses of psychedelic substances in a medical setting under an eye of a trained professional. Full doses of psychedelic substances have shown to be inappropriate for patients with underlying brain and heart conditions and occasionally resulted in perception-related disorders. Meanwhile, no such complications were identified in patients who partook in microdosing, even within the same risk groups. On the contrary, the microdosing of psychedelic substances for patients with severe depression and anxiety resulted in a decrease in dysfunctional behaviors. It has proven to be effective in dealing with the negative emotionality of the patients, including their feelings of low self-esteem and risk-seeking behaviors.

The key to the efficiency of psychedelic therapy for mental health disorders lies in the strict administration criteria for psychedelic medication. Within the existing therapeutic practice, such substances are only assigned to patients with severe and debilitating mental health conditions, such as PTSD and major depressive disorder. Furthermore, psychedelics act as a part of the multi-layered treatment process in conjunction with psychotherapy and other forms of medicine. The main objective of the psychedelic implementation in mental health treatment lies in aiding symptom reduction and aiding the patient to process their emotions (Griffiths et al., 2006). The medical environment for such procedures is strictly monitored, and the psychedelics themselves are being administered by a medical professional with the following observation of a patient. Such procedures are in place for both the patient’s safety and the continuous research of the psychedelic substances, in particular LSD, in mental disorder treatment.

With the public attention on mental well-being, the application of psychedelic substances in psychotherapy and psychiatry is currently on the rise. The community of people who struggle with mental health issues has been looking for alternatives to costly long-term treatments (Carhart-Harris & Friston, 2019). Hypothetically, the intensity of the psychedelic substances and the microdosing practice might be effective in achieving similar effects with fewer expenses. However, despite the first rounds of clinical testing indicating no harmful consequences in such psychedelic implementation, the backlash over the matter remains significant.

Drug addictions also referred to as substance addictions, are a relatively well-researched phenomenon. They are based on reactions and responses that form in human systems over time in response to an external addictive chemical stimulus. Therapeutically such disorders have been approached via substitution-based methods, exemplified by nicotine replacement or opioid maintenance. The underlying point of such an approach consists in slowly reducing the dosage of an addictive substance or replacing it with less damaging or, if possible, safe variations of the same or a similar chemical. Behavioral addictions, however, are more difficult to study and classify since they involve completely different stimuli.

The concept of behavioral or nonsubstance addictions has received increased attention from medics, scientists, and society overall. As the impulse control understanding improves, so does the attention toward behavioral patterns that were previously considered non-pathological. The main difficulty in discussing nonsubstance addiction lies in the classification and boundary setting, as many of them are intertwined with normal behaviors (Lüscher et al., 2020). Yet, the severity of such addiction cannot be measured by the direct destructive effects it has on the human body. The most well-known compulsive activities include, but are not limited to, gambling, eating, having sex, shopping, and playing video games. When does the activity become a coping mechanism, and when does the mechanism get out of control?

The neuroscientific perspective on addictions at large can help address this complicated question. The addiction’s effects on the neurobiology of the brain remain almost identical in both cases, which serves as the main ground for legitimizing the concept of nonsubstance addiction. The delineation of the neural system of an addicted individual affects circuits that mediate reward and motivation, executive control, and emotional processing (Lüscher et al., 2020). In practice, it manifests in compulsive behaviors and the inability to stop them, even when a patient is fully aware of the harmful consequences, they are impacting themselves.

Both types of addictions have the potential to significantly disrupt a person’s life course, ruin their relationships and lead to lasting mental health damage. From a therapeutic perspective, behavioral addictions require a substantially different approach than the aforementioned substitution-based therapy (Lüscher et al., 2020). When dealing with non-substance addictions, addiction specialists administer cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, and other forms of counseling. It is important to mention that the efficiency of these practices is being frequently criticized, as the impulse control studies outside of drugs or alcohol are relatively new. The therapists aim to build a trusting and open relationship with patients, helping them to manage the existing addiction rather than promising to fully terminate it. A similar approach is frequently utilized for drug addiction treatment, as oftentimes, the changes to a patient’s brain cannot be fully reversed.


Overall, the differences between drug and behavioral additions are intricate and vary depending on the type of substance or a compulsive behavior to one is addicted to. They often overlap, especially if a patient has an addictive personality and is easily provoked by stimuli. The growing awareness of the impulse control importance is beneficial to behavioral and drug addicts alike since it allows them to identify and potentially address the problem early on.


Carhart-Harris, R., & Friston, K. (2019). REBUS and the Anarchic Brain: Toward a Unified Model of the Brain Action of Psychedelics. Pharmacological Reviews, 71(3), 316-344. Web.

Fenney, K. (2014). Peyote as Medicine: An Examination of the Therapeutic Factors that Contribute to Healing. Curare, 37(3). 195-200. Web.

Griffiths, R., Richards, W., McCann, U., & Jesse, R. (2006). Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance. Psychopharmacology, 187(3), 268-283. Web.

Lüscher, C., Robbins, T., & Everitt, B. (2020). The transition to compulsion in addiction. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 21(5), 247-263. Web.