How to Change Your Mind combines psychedelics with therapy

Photo by David Balev on Unsplash

Disclaimer: This is not medical advice, please talk to a doctor before consumption of anything related to this therapy approach.

How To Change Your Mind is a trippy, introspective documentary on an overlooked therapy mediation that has significant potential but has hit many obstacles historically. It begs the question: is psychedelic-assisted therapy making a comeback?

The new Netflix documentary is based on the book of the same name by Michael Pollan, a Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. Pollan stars in the documentary which is divided in four episodes: “LSD,” “Psilocybin,” “MDNA,” and “Mescaline,” with each episode focusing on said psychedelics. Pollan tries each of these, interviews a variety of people on the subject, shows research data from studies where these were used and describes the history of psychedelic-assisted therapy and where it’s headed.

Drugs in general, besides coffee, alcohol, and tobacco, have been a societal taboo for a long time; the war on drugs resulted in a hysterical, racially motivated narrative about its dangers. In his research, Pollan found that psychedelics are not addictive, and non-toxic, and there is no known lethal dose of LSD. That isn’t to say there isn’t risk. Vulnerable individuals to mental illnesses like schizophrenia are prone to psychotic breaks.

This is where psychedelic-assisted therapy comes in. In an attempt to reduce those risks, it provides a safe environment where trained therapists guide the patient through a healing process curated to the individual.

Dr. Timothy Leary, a psychology professor at Harvard says that he learned more about the mind in the course of a few hours under mushrooms than he had in his entire career as a psychologist. Colleague Dr. Richard Alpert joins Dr. Leary in psychedelic research, and their findings led them to believe that the setting played an important role in psychedelics and that under safe conditions this drug could have great benefits. Unfortunately, they were both soon fired from Harvard because of their research.

What may come as a surprise to some is that psychedelics are at the root of one of the biggest rehabilitation programs today. Bill Wilson, a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, was able to get sober only after being administered a psychedelic. He had a spiritual experience that gave him a new perspective on addictions. While most people see AA linked to Christianity, it’s actually linked to psychedelics.

The peak years in psychedelic research were between 1950 and 1965. LSD was believed to be a “miracle drug” that helped cure alcoholism and other ailments such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When the war on drugs started, all the research came to a halt, and the findings were unfortunately buried away.

The ‘60s were a tremendously political moment in history. From the Vietnam War to the Civil Rights movement, it was a pivotal moment in history with people asking to be free and taking a stand. This led President Nixon to look for a scapegoat for the civil unrest on drugs. The media then started spreading fear on psychedelics and other drugs, all misinformed and very one-sided. 

While the war on drugs merits a whole other article on its own, it’s important to know that this is one of the main events that led to psychedelic research being stopped. In 1970, The government officially classified LSD as an illicit drug with no medical use, stopping all research that was legitimate, safe and finding important results.

This wasn’t the first time psychedelics hit a roadblock either. If we go back far enough, we learn that when the Spanish first arrived in the Americas, they found rituals their Catholic upbringings were not familiar with, one of them being the use of plants. This led to these plants being banished as they made them seem as bad and forced their own beliefs on the Indigenous peoples.

Since this movement started, people wanting to implement psychedelics into society have been divided into two different approaches. The populists, who want everyone to have them in order to change the culture, and the elitists, who want only the powerful to have them and believe that the new way of thinking will ripple down to the rest of society. Either way, both approaches didn’t matter as psychedelics were banned.

Research only began once again in 2000, and while still greatly stigmatized, there could soon be a shift in the culture. There’s actually a psychedelic-assisted therapy clinic in Hamilton and another in Kitchener, Ontario. In his documentary, Pollan hints that there could be dozens of these in the future.

Currently, there is a movement called “Decriminalize Nature” which focuses on reframing what a drug means. Their goal is to connect to nature and decriminalize all plants instead of focusing on only one compound.

Overall, How to Change your Mind, is a very well-researched and well-presented documentary that starts a discussion on a topic that will no doubt be making headlines in the coming future. This documentary leaves the message that drugs are what we define them as—they can be used for good or for bad. It makes one wonder what the future will look like for psychedelics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *