For years, Andreas struggled to let go of the childhood physical and emotional abuse he suffered at the hands of his father. For him, the verbal abuse was the worst.
“I would have taken a beating any day than to be told that, ‘You’re a piece of s—t,’” said Andreas, who asked we not use his last name. “A punch heals; words don’t. Words stick with you for a long time.”
Years of conventional talk therapy did little to help. And as time passed, the traumatic memories became more and more intrusive.
“I found myself in self-destructive patterns – drug abuse, just not taking care of myself,” he said. “I had violent outbursts that would happen a lot, too.”
Then, one of the therapists he was seeing made a surprising suggestion: Andreas would perhaps get more out of therapy if he was under the influence of drugs, specifically psychedelics. He gave Andreas a number to call.
“[I] set up an interview, sat down, talked, and decided that this is something I wanted to pursue,” he said.
Andreas had stumbled into an underground world of therapists and self-described healers who are treating traumatic memories with the help of drugs, like MDMA, LSD and psilocybin. After just a few sessions of treatment with MDMA, Andreas says the anger and resentment he’d felt towards his father for decades just melted away.
“You realize that you're not that scared kid anymore. All those defense mechanisms that you built up when you were a child, you don't need that anymore,” he said. “You're not under threat from your father anymore. You haven't even seen your father in 40 years, what are you scared about?”
Andreas says the therapy changed his life, and that he is no longer trapped in the past.
“No matter what can get thrown at you, you realize that it's really not that big of a deal,” he said. “As long as you're breathing, it's OK.”
While Andreas’ sessions have been life-altering, what he is doing could land him in jail. Decades ago, the government placed psychedelics in the same category as heroin and meth — drugs with a high potential for abuse and no legitimate medical purpose.
New research, however, is beginning to call the government’s hard line into question.
In one study funded by MAPS, war veterans with treatment-resistant PTSD were given MDMA along with psychotherapy. After just a few sessions, 83 percent of participants no longer fit the criteria for PTSD.
In the case of PTSD, Doblin says that psychedelics appear to work by allowing a patient to recall the painful past, while excising the visceral fight-or-flight reaction that normally accompanies traumatic memories.
“They reconsolidate, or restore the memory, in a different way [so that] it's not connected to the fear,” he said.
Doblin is hopeful that the FDA-approved clinical trials currently underway will lead to the legalization of psychedelic-assisted therapy in the coming decade. He understands why some therapists have chosen to incorporate psychedelics into their practice though the drugs remain illegal.
“I’m not going to recommend [the practice], but I’m not going to condemn it either,” he said. “I think it’s a point of conscience that everybody has to say, ‘I think the laws are immoral. The laws are wrong. We should have been able to do this research 30 years ago.’”