Psychedelic Medicine: Types, Uses, and How it Works

Research on psychedelic medicine began in the 1950s but was canceled in the 1970s when President Nixon classified psychedelics as drugs of abuse, making them a controlled substance. Recently, however, there is a renewed interest in using psychedelics to treat mental health disorders like anxiety, addiction, major depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, to name a few.

The research shows excellent results, especially for people who have tried other medicines combined with therapy but still have not seen positive, lasting results.

Types of Psychedelic Medicines

Today, psychedelic medicines come in natural and synthetic formulas. Natural psychedelics are called classic and derive from plants and fungi. Synthetic formulas are called entactogens. There are various types of psychedelic medicines used to treat mental health disorders.

The drugs with the most research on benefits in therapy include ketamine, MDMA, psilocybin, and LSD. Below, we provide details on each psychedelic, as well as its use and how it works.


Ketamine is the anesthesia that provides a dissociative effect that feels like a high or euphoric buzz. It can make you feel like you have a mild out-of-body experience. The FDA approved a purified nasal spray called esketamine for use in therapeutic settings under the supervision of a psychiatrist. It can also be administered intravenously or by injection.

Uses: Ketamine treats people who have been diagnosed with treatment-resistant depression. It enhances psychotherapy sessions. It is especially beneficial to those who have had thoughts of harming themselves.

How it works: Ketamine, given in low doses, blocks glutamate, a neurotransmitter associated with stress caused by depression. It helps you feel relaxed, open-minded, less defensive, and willing to explore your thoughts and feelings. In this state, you can work with a therapist to change your thinking patterns. You can rewire the brain to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

Ketamine-assisted therapy may extend the effects of ketamine beyond your sessions.


MDMA, or ecstasy, is illegal and classified as a schedule one drug because someone who abuses it can quickly become addicted. Researchers are testing it for mental health therapy and finding several benefits when administered by a psychiatrist in low, controlled doses. In one study, 67% of the participants no longer met the criteria for PTSD after two months of treatment.

Uses: MDMA can treat people with post-traumatic stress disorder.

How it works: MDMA signals the release of neurotransmitters associated with happiness and reward, like dopamine and serotonin. You become more self-aware and can open up about your feelings and emotions. You are very in tune with your senses. It can last up to eight hours.

When combined with psychotherapy, your therapist can help you address past traumatic experiences and move forward.


Psilocybin fungi, or magic mushrooms, are a psychedelic medicine making headlines for its use in treating mental health disorders. While it is still federally a controlled substance, some states allow its use in mental health treatments. Its effects last for three to four hours.

In a recent study, participants with depression who were given psilocybin with therapy had remarkable results. After four weeks of treatment, 54% had no more depressive symptoms. After just two doses, 67% had a fifty percent reduction in depressive symptoms.

Uses: Psilocybin is used to treat anxiety, depression, addiction, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

How it works: Psilocybin activates dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters in the brain. Using mushrooms for therapy opens your mind to suggestions from your therapist that lead to positive thinking. Over a few sessions, your brain can be reset to a positive mood.


Lysergic acid, or LSD, is a controlled substance that can change mood and sensory perceptions for up to twelve hours. Its chemical makeup is similar to psilocybin. Through microdosing in a clinical setting, people can achieve a different level of consciousness and sensory perceptions. A therapeutic dose of LSD increases neural activity.

Studies show people report a decrease in negative mental health symptoms after a few sessions. They had enhanced empathy and an inability to recognize sadness and fear on faces.

Uses: LSD can treat anxiety and depression. Combined with psychotherapy, it offers extended benefits.

How it works: When given in low doses by a psychiatrist, LSD activates dopamine and serotonin in the brain, flooding the reward center in the brain. Dopamine and serotonin are neurotransmitters known as feel-good chemicals. Taking LSD boosts these and more. Working with a therapist, neuroplasticity occurs, and your brain can learn to think in positive patterns. Your open-mindedness allows you to break through defensiveness that has kept you from progressing and healing.

Will Psychedelic Medicine Work for You?

Hearing the exciting results of multiple studies using psychedelics in treating mental health disorders may make you eager to try it. Before you call the mental health center for an appointment, there are some things to consider.

To be eligible for the use of psychedelic medicine, you must first have a mental illness that matches the ones successfully treated with psychedelics. Examples include depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance use disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

You must have a diagnosis of treatment-resistant mental illness, and you can prove you have tried multiple methods to improve your mental health symptoms. For example, if you suffer from major depressive disorder, you have likely tried two or more antidepressants, as well as participated in psychotherapy. Despite those efforts, your symptoms have not improved.

Because there are risks with every treatment, you must disclose any underlying physical or mental issues. Take time to think about potential dangers like having a “bad trip” or changes in your personality. Those in recovery from substance abuse disorders may be tempted to self-treat with psychedelics outside of the clinical setting.

The most crucial step is the initial assessment with a psychiatrist at the mental health center. Give honest feedback about family history, biological and medical issues, if any, and environmental factors in your life. You can learn definitively if you are a good candidate for psychedelic medicine. If so, get ready for a brand new you.