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Beyond Blue

Treating Chronic Depression and Anxiety With Hallucinogens and Marijuana

marijuana.jpgJohns Hopkins just published an interesting summary of the research out today on treating mood disorders with hallucinogens. In the most recent Depression and Anxiety Health Alert, the author chronicles the history of hallucinogens and how they affect the central nervous system to release the right kind of neurotransmitters. Per Hopkins:



Hallucinogens (also called psychedelics) were a promising area of research in the 1960s and early 1970s, when they were being developed as possible treatments for a number of conditions, including depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. These drugs were banned in the ’70s and ’80s, however, after their recreational use became a widespread problem. 

In 1990, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) again began allowing researchers to study the effects of drugs like MDMA (also known as the street drug “Ecstasy”), psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”), and ketamine (“Special K”). These drugs are thought to change the way the brain normally processes information and may provide people with mood disorders a new way of looking at the world and their problems. 


MDMA. This illegal, hallucinogenic drug is generating interest to treat a variety of psychiatric conditions — most notably posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in which a person experiences chronic psychological stress after a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, war, or sexual assault. 

MDMA stimulates the central nervous system, causing the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which can have a powerful effect on thoughts and emotions. MDMA also increases brain levels of oxytocin, which arouses feelings of trust and confidence that can be particularly helpful during psychotherapy. The idea is that a dose of the drug, taken before a talk therapy session, may help individuals with PTSD reduce their fear and anxiety long enough to discuss and process the events that traumatized them. 


Psilocybin. Similar to LSD, this illegal, hallucinogenic drug binds to serotonin receptors on neurons and mimics the effects of serotonin. Research is growing on its use for psychiatric conditions. One recent study suggested that the drug psilocybin might be helpful for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Nine people with severe, treatment-resistant OCD were assigned to receive up to four doses of psilocybin ranging from very low (sub-hallucinogenic) to high (completely hallucinogenic) on separate occasions. Participants spent at least eight hours at each session and then stayed overnight in a psychiatric unit for observation. The researchers found that all of the participants had marked reductions in OCD symptoms after taking the drug, and the improvement usually lasted at least 24 hours with no serious side effects. 


Ketamine. This hallucinogenic drug is an FDA-approved general anesthetic that is being studied as a fast-acting antidepressant. Ketamine binds to receptors in the brain and blocks the neurotransmitter glutamate that normally activates neurons, thus producing a calming effect.

The Johns Hopkins emphasize the risk and uncertainty of these kinds of drugs.


Bottom line: Hallucinogenic drugs are attracting renewed attention as potential treatments for psychological disorders — particularly in people who have not responded to conventional treatments. By no means, however, are these drugs accepted treatments for mental disorders, and they should not be tried on your own or outside of a clinical trial. For a list of clinical trials, go to and search under the name of the drug.


I found this information interesting because I’m often asked about my stance on marijuana to treat chronic and treatment-resistant. While I think getting high is preferable to taking your life (and I’m not being flip with that statement), I think a person must take into account the considerable risks with marijuana use. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, getting high not only fails to adequately treat depression and anxiety, but may actually cause mood disorders. According to one of their articles on this topic:

A number of studies have shown an association between chronic marijuana use and increased rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and schizophrenia. Some of these studies have shown age at first use to be a factor, where early use is a marker of vulnerability to later problems. However, at this time, it is not clear whether marijuana use causes mental problems, exacerbates them, or is used in attempt to self-medicate symptoms already in existence. Chronic marijuana use, especially in a very young person, may also be a marker of risk for mental illnesses, including addiction, stemming from genetic or environmental vulnerabilities, such as early exposure to stress or violence. At the present time, the strongest evidence links marijuana use and schizophrenia and/or related disorders. High doses of marijuana can produce an acute psychotic reaction; in addition, use of the drug may trigger the onset or relapse of schizophrenia in vulnerable individuals.


An article on describes a phenomenon known as “amotivational syndrome” that happen to regular pot smokers: they become socially withdrawn and “perform at a level of everyday functioning well below their capacity prior to their marijuana use.” That sentence alone scares me away from the stuff, as most days I feel like I’m operating on one-third of a brain. The amotivational person feels relief from their symptoms; however, the experience may be an illusion of well-being if you look at his productivity level while he’s smoking dope. 

As a recovering alcoholic, I don’t go near dope, as I consider it a mood-altering substance. However, each person must find a recovery program that works for them. 
Image credit: Wikipedia

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  • Elizabeth

    Ugh. I don’t care what anybody says, I will NEVER believe that these drugs are beneficial in any way. I have seen the destruction they cause in the lives of both the addict and the people in the addict’s life. And I get so tired of hearing people say they can be used for “medical reasons.” There are many other conventional medications that work much better than street drugs. I am so tired of the glorification of these destructive street drugs.
    THANK YOU for showing the other side of the issue in your post. This is an issue that I feel very strongly about and many articles and blog posts I have read about this issue only seek to glorify these drugs.

  • Mark

    To be scientific is to look at the data, which proves or disproves certain claims. It is not a matter of belief dear Elizabeth. And recent scientific evidence shows that drugs such as MDMA, psilocybin, LSD and ketamine can be successfully used as treatments for a variety of mental disorders (see
    It’s important to note here that these drugs (with the exception of ketamine) are NOT addictive and are not used to “normalize chemical disorders”, but to reach and resolve deep layers of psychological trauma that is often at the root of various psychological disorders.
    I also find it quite astonishing that people are able to embrace treatments such as Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), yet still harbor deep mistrust towards much safer and useful methods such as the psychotherapeutic use of psychedelic medicine.

  • Teri A

    I have to say I’m surprised at the marijuana findings. After being on Cymbalta and Abilify for Bipolar disorder, last year I tried adding pot just as an experiment. What I found was completely different to “amotivational syndrome.” I think age definitely has something to do with it. I found myself cleaning my home deeply, cleaning up the yard, and actually making things cleaner than clean. I also finds it ups my libido by a good 50-75%. Sex, although already enjoyable becomes EVEN more so. The only reason I don’t use it daily is because of it’s prohibitive cost to those who don’t have a prescription. I’m not promoting this for young people, because I believe in your formative years–even into your 30’s–amotivational syndrome can be even more pronounced. I’m talking about people in their 40’s-50’s. I believe it has a different affect, or even because I’m already on an antidepressant and mood stabiilizer. Marijuana is not scary. Psychedelics although scare me, but can accept it if scientific evidence shows these meds to be helpful.

  • body shop

    Currently, the use of the strongest evidence links marijuana and schizophrenia or related disorders. High doses of marijuana can produce an acute psychotic reaction, in addition, the use of the drug can trigger the onset or relapse of schizophrenia in vulnerable individuals.

  • Nancy

    It does not matter what benefit the scientists find in the use of marijuana, the government will never completely legalize the use of this drug because they cannot control its usage or tax its sales. It is a shame that something natural that can help cancer patients with naseau, or even help bi-polar patients with symptoms, cannot be used in some states due to political red tape. I personally benefitted greatly from the use of “pot” when I was on chemotherapy after breast cancer. When are people going to realize that this is not the monster drug they take it to be? Used correctly it can be just like any other medicine.

  • Mary

    Thank you for this information. I’m going to be brief…both conventional medicine and holistic medicine have its place. I know many people, including myself, who experience relief from marijuana. I’ve seen too many friends and family members (and patients at the hospital I work at) suffer from the many side effects of conventional medicine. Let’s open our mind to a natural solution that does not have side effects. Let’s not be so quick to judge what might help one person, it may not be right for you, but if it helps someone else you should feel happiness for them. That’s whats wrong with the world today, too much judgement and fear of the unknown. It’s ok to feel strongly about something, but we don’t need to shut it out. We are all living here on earth, on our own path, experiencing our own pain and suffering (happiness too of course but we never seem to focus on that) and looking for the right solution. Studies supposedly show the benefits of conventional medicine, but as soon as it shows the benefit of a natural “drug” you judge with anger. Live and let live!

  • kathy

    I have been wrestling with depression, anxiety, panic and agoraphobia for as long as I can remember and I’m 52. I had severe pain in my back and finally went to a pain doctor and he prescribed me Methadone for pain. After taking it for about three days I had a funny feeling. Being like most people with panic I check into my brain and body constantly. I pulld over because of the feeling I was having was not something I had felt before. I sat for about 15 minutes and then the light bulb went on. I FELT NORMAL!! No panic, no agoraphobia, no anxiety, I was out by myself driving around and wasn’t scared. The only difference: Methadone. Your brain makes a chemical simularly made up like Methadone, My brain doesn’t make it. And no I wasnt high, loopy, dizzy, tired. It has been a God send and I’m on the same dose a year later – didn’t need more AND my back doesn’t hurt

  • white tiger

    Psychogenic depression is treatable with the medicine of Repentance.
    The person suffering from depression hears and believes the Gospel of Jesus Christ,(God loves you; obey His New Testament commands and you will enjoy eternal life); repents of his sins, confesses his Faith publicly and is immersed(baptized) for the forgiveness of his sins to “rise and walk in newness of life”. He is a new creation, his sins forgiven and forgotten by God. He is adopted as God’s child, added to the church, indwelled by the Holy Spirit and placed, spiritually in Christ, wherein are found all spiritual blessings.How can he then feel depressed?
    Moderate feelings of depression can easily be dealt with by singing for two minutes, followed by laughing for one minute. The resultant exacerbation of the central nervous system precludes depression.
    This cannot, of course, relieve persistent symptomatology due to the guilt of sin.
    Organic depression is often due to improper nutrition. Remedied, with ample micronutrients added, symptoms may remit in two or three months.

  • white tiger

    Marijuana is never beneficial. Its use, under Federal law, is illegal.
    It removes inhibitions and sensitivity to pain. It reduces mental capacity and motivation for productive activities.
    The next time you have an operation, you do NOT want the doctor to take a couple of hits before picking up the knife.
    The next time your daughter is taken to the Prom, you do NOT want her escort loaded on grass.
    The next time your wife answers the door you do NOT want her to face a grinning rapist goon ,sensamilla-struck.
    The next time your husband stops for a beer after work you do NOT want some chippie with AIDS to share first her doobie and then her disease with him.
    Etc., etc., ad infinitum.
    In law enforcement, resistive arrestees under the influence of marijuana cannot feel a normal level of pain, and so must be choked out or tazed; both procedures musch more dangerous to them than some basic pain hold.
    Fat, lazy fools smoke dope. Others don’t.

  • Crystal

    I would not want a doctor who is about to operate on me to take a couple of hits of marijuana or my daughter to be taken to the prom with her date loaded up on grass either. But that’s not what we are talking about here. This is about using marijuana, etc. as a pharmaceutical drug to treat people with real sicknesses. Like the cancer patient who is so ill that she cannot eat anything and vomits all the time when she tries. Or the person with treatment resistant Post Traumatic Stess Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, that have no kind of normal life and are barely making it from one day to the next. Many of them are very high suicide risks so I say if they used marijuana correctly under the care of a Psychiatrist it would not necessarily be a terrible idea. I don’t condone people just getting high. But again that is not what we are talking about. Marijuana is a drug just like other drugs you get at your local pharmacy. They all have good things and bad things about them. Read the information sometime on drugs you take and you will be amazed at all of the warnings and contraindications. I don’t really think these drugs like marijuana will ever be legalized for treatment for these diseases but I’m certainly not against it if it is done in the right way. On another note, people who have never experienced severe depression can never understand it. I love the Lord with all my heart. I have given my heart to Him, have been baptized, pray, go to church, and attend Bible Study every week. With that being said I also struggle with severe depression and I need my medications to help me through it all. I do believe God helps me also but it takes more than good nutrition, singing and laughing not that those don’t help. I also believe God gives us the Doctors, scientists, pharmacists, and the medications themselves as a way of helping us. We should reach out and take them. Thanks for the post. God bless you Therese!

  • William

    White tiger you epitomize why some find religion distasteful. Your holier than thou posts fairly reek of intolerance.
    God does provide treatment for diseases in that he guides people to become doctors, dentists, psychologists and other healthcare professionals. Just because one cannot see depression as one can a broken leg does not mean that it does not exist.
    I hope you find some relief for the intolerance and animus you displayed in your posts. It seems to be antithetical to the established precepts of religious belief.

  • Scraaaaazy

    The Bible says:
    For disobeying parents
    If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother … Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city … And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die. Deuteronomy 21:18-21
    So my son is a big troublemaker, so I guess I’ll gather the neighbors and stone him to death. Nice.
    The Bible also says:
    “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.” (Genesis 9:3, NKJV).
    Ge 1:29 Then God said, ?I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.
    So then, after I murder my son with God’s approval, I’ll eat some pot brownies, also with Gods approval. This will help me forget I just murdered my son (as God says I should).

  • Sarah

    Cannabis (Marijuana) is a mood stabilizer, and works WELL for manic depressives (Bi Polar). Most individuals with this disorder have already discovered it helps, hence the increase in use among those afflicted. These statements are ASSUMPTIONS, and because of the “anti drug” slogan our govt has been feeding us since it’s prohibition in the 1918’s to stop cannabis from competing with the cotton Gin, NO OBJECTIVE RELEVANT study has been done to discredit it. However, a Harvard Dr. named Witherspoon, gave it to his son during his chemotherapy, and saw the tremendous benefit and improvement in quality of life, then wrote the article that started Medical Cannabis all across the world.
    IT is time for us to get a reasonable drug policy, and to cease demonizing things we really haven’t studied enough to form a judgment. WE have legal drug dealers called Doctors, that are handing out FAR MORE DANGEROUS drugs than any of the drugs in this article, however no one is screaming “eliminate all narcotic drugs and the doctors handing them out!” I believe that God gave us these drugs to use as we need for medical use. The stipulation is moderation and personal responsibility, which is expected from each individual human. Every human is unique, so I think it’s arbitrary and foolish to assume these drugs have no beneficial use to anyone without a long term study, and we cannot do that till we legalize the thing we’re studying. Cannabis helps with wasting disease and Cancer nausea, it is not a stretch to believe it could calm extreme emotional disruptions of the mind as well, since it works soo well on the the corporal ailments. America’s constitution was written on HEMP paper (byproduct of cannabis), so i have to believe our founding fathers, as well as GOD, felt these plants were here for our use, whatever that may be.

  • Sarah

    oh btw, anyone else got the advertisements from the Law firms on Depakote? This is the main drug they use for seizures and mood stabilizers today, because they found out Lithium causes the brain to die over long term use. It’s wonderful that it causes birth defects, holes in the heart, limbs missing, renal failure, multi-organ system failure and death. THIS is the “choice” of better drugs? You gotta be kidding me! NEVER trust the drugs offered created by man, ONLY take the ones created by GOD!

  • PTSD

    A few years ago my only child was murdered.
    Since then I have had extensive psychotherapy and been on a variety of medications. Unfortunately the anti-anxiety medications, while effective, are not at all safe for me to take if I’m going to be driving. Additionally they contribute to a sense of invulnerability that result in my engaging in risk-taking behavior that would in all likelihood lead to more problems.
    Marijuana has given me a considerable amount of relief. I don’t smoke it when I’m going out – instead I smoke when I’m already in for the night. It gives me temporary relief and has none of the side-effects from the anti-anxiety meds I’ve tried. It doesn’t affect me the same way as the prescriptions. After a few hours the effects are gone and the only downside is the munchies; frankly all it takes is some advance planning to have fruits and veggies on-hand.
    The marijuana doesn’t change the reality of my life. My child is still dead. I still miss her – terribly. But… what it does do is – at least momentarily – give me some distance from that debilitating grief.
    Although I treat marijuana as my nightcap knowing that I have something at the end of the day that will give me that relief – my brief respite – makes the rest of the day endurable.
    Is it sad that what I have to look forward to at the end of the day is the relief given through marijuana? Yes. It’s very sad. But that is not the fault of the marijuana but instead the fault of the terrible tragedy necessitating said relief.
    It’s encouraging that studies are now being done to better understand non-traditional approaches to the “heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”

  • Christie

    When I first went through counseling for depression I had been smoking pot and drinking. When I told my counselor about my parents reaction to the pot, he was so dismissive. In fact I remember exactly what he said, “so you smoked some pot, so what?”.
    After reading this blog it made alot of sense that was in 1974. I had to smoke alot of pot to get any highs from it. I had more loosening up with alcohol, it mellowed me out. I think I was looking for a sedative effect and I just got the “stupid” effect. Less mellow more jello. Possible because of the mania on board at the time. I wasn’t diagnosed type I until 1998. Probably hypomanic most of my life in seasonal cycles prior to.

  • Stress-related symptoms san antonio tx

    Is it really going to help? I thought those things are bad for our body. I am very surprised that it can also help to make our body well.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mike

    1st of all Marijuana and the other items mentioned should never be used in the same sense they are as different as night and day. When it comes to marijuana key word here is Chronic use. If you chronically use water you will develop an electrolite imbalance. The moderate use of it for medicanal purposes is a different thing. Most people’s oppinion of marijuana comes from a false test where monkeys were sufficated with marijuana smoke the equivelant amount of 30yrs of smoking within 5 minutes until the monkey died. During suffication brain cells die. So they determined that the brain damage was from the MJ. So proper education about MJ is the 1st step in getting to the truth of the issue.

    Get the real facts. Do dilligent research then form an educated opinion.

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