Welcome to the Official The Rush Limbaugh Signature Thanks For The Memories Shirt Apart from…,I will love this brave new world of psychedelic wellness. After decades underground, hallucinogens such as ketamine, LSD, psilocybin, and MDMA are getting a fresh look from the medical establishment, thanks to myriad studies suggesting silver bullet–like efficacy in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and addiction, among other ailments. MDMA, renowned for its bliss-inducing effect—hence the street name “ecstasy”—is on course to be approved for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) within the next year or two. Synthetic forms of psilocybin, the active compound in magic mushrooms, were given “breakthrough” designation by the FDA in 2018, allowing for fast-tracking of drug trials. Meanwhile, this past November, Oregon became the first state in the nation to legalize psilocybin for medical use, an advance not lost on the investors flocking to start-ups like MindMed and Compass Pathways, both of which are developing psilocybin treatments in anticipation of a cannabis-style psychedelics boom. A mental-health revolution is at hand—and it’s long overdue, according to experts such as Frederick Streeter Barrett, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a faculty member at the university’s recently opened Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research. The current model for treating problems like anxiety and depression just isn’t very good,” Barrett says. “Patients take pills every day, for years, and these medications not only have nasty side effects, they often don’t even work. But with psychedelics-assisted therapy, there’s the potential to truly alter someone’s life with just one or two sessions, because you’re getting at suffering at the source.” I’m not suffering, exactly, but for lack of more technical language, I’ve kind of been freaking out. Straining to maintain a productive work schedule under lockdown, I fell back into the habit of smoking as I write—and soon thereafter, the habit of trying to quit. The addiction struck me as fundamentally psychological: If I was so hooked on nicotine, why did I reach for my American Spirits only when I was stuck at my desk, staring down a deadline? But reach for them I did, and the harder I worked not to—with the aid of gum, apps, hypnosis, you-name-it—the more fixated I became on the fear that I simply could not write without cigarettes. I was starting to feel truly hopeless when I stumbled across a news item about studies showing that with the aid of psilocybin, longtime smokers were quitting cold turkey and sticking with it at rates that put all other remedies to shame; two-thirds of participants in one recent study were confirmed cigarette-free after one year!
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Intrigued, I did a little more digging and discovered that ketamine—a dissociative hallucinogen that is already legal for supervised medical use, including in the Official The Rush Limbaugh Signature Thanks For The Memories Shirt Apart from…,I will love this treatment of depression—seemed to draw out the mind in a way similar to psilocybin by putting the brain in a “neuroplastic” state, explains Julie Holland, M.D., a New York–based psychiatrist and the author of the 2020 book Good Chemistry. “They have different chemical properties, but both ketamine and psilocybin have an ego-dissolving effect, where you’re breaking the mental loop that’s symptomatic of conditions like depression and anxiety and addiction, and allowing the brain to form new connections. Maybe a little ego-dissolution was the answer, I mused as I stamped out another butt in the ashtray next to my laptop and googled “ketamine therapy—New York.” THE TRUTH IS, WE DON’T REALLY know how this stuff works,” Michael Pollan, author of the best-selling psychedelics primer How to Change Your Mind, tells me. “A leading theory is that psychedelics quiet the brain’s ‘default-mode network,’ and that opens up new pathways for thought.” As Pollan goes on to explain, the default-mode network is where “the ego has its address”—it’s the part of our brains where we construct the narrative of who we are and, thus, the place we get stuck in destructive thought patterns about ourselves. “That could be ‘I’m a worthless person who doesn’t deserve love,’ or it could mean telling yourself that you can’t get through the day without smoking,” Pollan continues. “Either way, the idea is that, by muffling those thoughts, psychedelics help you out of the rut.” Pollan’s précis on the science of psychedelics is reassuringly down-to-earth. For years, I’d been put off by the drugs’ woo-woo connotations, and to judge by the refined, minimalist aesthetics of new ketamine-therapy chains such as Field Trip Health, which has serene locations in New York City, Toronto, Atlanta, Chicago, and Los Angeles, I’m not the only person with zero interest in a tie-dye mental makeover. It’s all a far cry from Timothy Leary and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. But Leary—who famously conducted psychedelics experiments at Harvard in the early 1960s, before he ran afoul of the law and, in turn, helped prompt the criminalization of psilocybin and LSD—does continue to exert an influence: His “set and setting” theory is a cornerstone of all contemporary psychedelics-aided therapy. “Set basically refers to mindset, going into your journey, and setting is your environment,” explains Ronan Levy, who cofounded Field Trip in 2019 after establishing—then selling—Canada’s largest network of cannabis clinics. “They matter as much as the drug you’re taking,” he continues. “You need to be in a place—mentally and physically—where you feel inspired and at ease.”