How Psychedelics Are Used To Heal Addictions

Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

During the 1950s, a number of forward-thinking psychiatrists and intellectuals were exploring the potential of psychedelic substances as a treatment modality for addictions. There was a lot of promising work being done on the potential of psychedelics in healing mental illness and addictions.

Many studies during this time discovered that LSD in particular could have a positive impact on mental illness. The research of this time was rigorous and scientific.

There were big names involved in this research including Carl Jung, Aldous Huxley, Humphrey Osmond and Bill Wilson, the founder of AA who wanted to include LSD in the 12 step program.

The cultural explosion in the 1960s was a backlash to the rigidity of mainstream culture. Draconian drug legislation coincided with the anti-Vietnam war movement, so young people started to rebel against the establishment. Part of the rebellion included smoking pot, taking psychedelics, and railing against the establishment.

People were taking psychedelics experimentally and recreationally, without therapeutic guidance. Many people had negative experiences as a result. Some people would jump off buildings thinking they could fly, others went insane because they took LSD with the wrong intention and in the wrong setting.

The authorities who were sceptical of psychedelic research then had an excuse to clamp down and so the field of psychedelics and mental health was shut down.

Today, the US is facing an opioid crisis, as well as a pandemic to exacerbate the overdose death rate.

Between June 2019 and May 2020 81,000 died of an opioid overdose. This is the largest number of overdose deaths in US history.

The big danger now for people addicted to opioids is fentanyl, a highly dangerous and potent synthetic opioid. Fentanyl is everywhere and addicted people play Russian Roulette daily when they score street opioids such as heroin or counterfeit pills.

This synthetic opioid is 50 times stronger than morphine. As no one has a tolerance to fentanyl, opioid addicts could overdose at any time. As fentanyl is made in a lab with chemicals bought from China, it’s difficult for enforcement authorities to trace distribution networks.

Drug cartels are getting so rich from fentanyl, they could care less about the people they murder by quietly lacing street drugs.

Thousands more people will die from opioid overdoses until radical change happens.

Between 8 and 12% of Americans develop an opioid use disorder, and only 10% of those with an addiction get treatment. That means millions of Americans are struggling through life with a severe opioid addiction.

Addiction Treatment in The US

Currently, the only treatment route available to people struggling with addiction is through an addiction treatment center. A 30 day residential program can cost $30,000, and it doesn’t guarantee success.

While many do manage to maintain a long-term recovery after rehab, it is common for people to relapse within the first year of completing a treatment program.

To be able to treat addiction successfully, it needs to be understood.  The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as a “treatable, chronic disease.” The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) classifies addiction as a “brain disorder.”

Addiction is not a moral failure or a sign of weakness, which is how society depicts addiction. This disease does not discriminate and affects people of all backgrounds.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is considered the gold standard in drug treatment and it has some success for many. MAT combines cognitive behavioral therapy with medication to assist a person to become substance free.

For opioid use disorders, the FDA have approved three medications to help people stay off opioids:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Methadone
  • Naltrexone


Buprenorphine helps people to stay opioid-free by blocking the pleasurable effects of opioids. This medication is prescribed to people who have already detoxed from opioids and is intended to help maintain sobriety.


Methadone is a synthetic opioid agonist that reduces cravings in opioid addicts. This medication is also used to treat pain. Methadone is administered through opioid treatment programs and has been prescribed to recovering opioid addicts for 40 years. Methadone can be highly addictive.


Naltrexone is a medication prescribed for opioid addiction as it blocks the pleasurable effects of opioids. Eventually, the desire to take opioids is reduced. This medication is only administered when someone has already successfully detoxed.

Traditional medication-assisted addiction treatment typically uses medication that is approved by the Federal Drug Administration. People recovering from opioid use are typically prescribed buprenorphine, methadone, or naltrexone.

But, some people find that these pharmaceuticals have terrible side-effects, but they can help to manage cravings.

The Roots of Addiction

To understand the roots of addiction better, Dr Gabor Mate has the best understanding and the best explanation for why people become trapped in addictive cycles.

Dr Mate says that addiction is a “response to human suffering.”

Gabor Mate is a gifted addiction specialist who has helped many people overcome their addiction. He was a GP who overcame a drink problem and discovered he had a unique ability to see inside people.

Dr Mate explains how all the people he had worked with had been severely traumatized as children. They had suffered sexual abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, and physical abuse. Scientific data appears to support what Dr Mate says.

This is why Dr Mate believes that addiction is “an attempt to escape human suffering.”

In his work, Dr Mate was particularly tuned in to people’s adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and their effect on adults’ psychology.

Dr Mate reminds us that, “it’s hard to be a human being because so much of this society takes us away from ourselves.” The game of survival in this day has created a competitive, uncaring environment. People who are suffering from addiction feel helpless and hopeless, especially when society is looking down on them.

Dr Mate continues “What people need in response to addiction is not judgment and not simply symptom control, they need help to heal from their trauma.”

Healing Trauma

Gabor Mate explains that it is possible for every addicted person to heal from their traumas so that they don’t feel the need to turn to substances.

But, unfortunately, under the conditions in our society today, it’s unlikely for most. Dr Mate explains that addiction is being approached in the wrong way, using the wrong perspective. The current model of addiction treatment is so poor in results for the population that needs it most. The most entrenched addicts have the toughest time, and society gives them the hardest time.

Dr Mate feels that the medical and psychiatric professions tend to focus on overcoming a behavior and solving a problem when they should be asking, “what are you still carrying inside, and where does this behavior come from?” and “how can we help you change?” Dr Mate believes this is what healing is.

Cognitive behavior therapy and psychotherapy are talking therapies that are shown to help people to identify those traumas and negative core beliefs.

But, many people are unable to identify their negative core beliefs, and some childhood memories are buried deep in their past.

The movie ‘Dosed’ is a documentary about Adrianne, an opioid addict of 20 years who is on the brink. Her filmmaker friends desperately try to save her life by getting her therapy. She has been in and out of treatment centers and still gripped by her problem.

When the film director suggested she try psychedelic drugs she agreed. Her mindset begins to change when she experiments with psilocybin mushrooms. But, it wasn’t until she attended an iboga retreat in Vancouver that she underwent a drastic transformation.

Since the documentary, Adrianne has been free of opioids and now works as an addiction therapist.

Research on Psychedelics and Addiction

It may seem idiotic to replace one illicit substance with another, but psychedelics have been used in a medicinal capacity in various native peoples around the world.

The Amazonians used ayahuasca in a spiritual and religious context, and African tribes use iboga. These cultures see psychedelics as medicine to heal spiritual malaise. Addiction is a spiritual malaise and could hold the key for thousands of treatment-resistant people.

The Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and LSD

Bill Wilson, the co-founder of AA was good friends with the Irish writer and philosopher, Gerald Heard. They supported each other through times of dark depression.

Gerald Heard introduced Bill to Aldous Huxley, the author of the famous books, “Brave New World” and “Doors of Perception.” The “Doors of Perception” is about Huxley’s psychedelic experiences with mescaline.

Through Heard and Huxley, Bill became aware of two Canadian psychiatrists who were using LSD to treat alcoholics and schizophrenics called Abram Hoffer and Humphrey Osmond. These psychiatrists were using LSD to give people a “spiritual awakening” which had a positive impact aware that some people with addictions are treatment-resistant.

No matter how much therapy some people have, they are unable to make that ‘psychic change’ or have that epiphany needed for permanent sobriety.

In his search for other means to reach those alcoholics that the program couldn’t, Bill experimented with LSD, as his own experience with overcoming addiction was a spiritual matter.

What Are Psychedelic Drugs?

The word psychedelic is derived from the Ancient Greek for “psyche” ψυχι (pronounced ‘pseehee’) meaning “soul” and δηλουν (pronounced ‘diloon’) for reveal or make visible.

Albert Hoffman Bicycle Day “mystical experience of a deeper, comprehensive reality.”

The Czech psychiatrist Stanislav Grof said that “psychedelics are to the study of the mind what the microscope is to biology and the telescope is to astronomy.”

Ayahuasca, iboga, peyote, and psilocybin are all natural psychedelic plants used by native indigenous communities. Communities such as Amazonian and African tribes incorporated these plants into community life. They were used in a spiritual and religious context, and community members who took these substances were guided by the elders.

How Do Psychedelic Drugs Help Heal Emotional Trauma?

Dr Gabor Mate attributes the surge in global depression and anxiety in the loss of ‘human communion.’ He explains how life today has separated people. Increased isolation, particularly with the pandemic, is rising which leads to a rise in depression and anxiety.

Dr Mate also believes that the medical profession still doesn’t fully understand mental illness and addiction. The scientific nature of medicine means the spiritual aspect of human health is neglected, but this is the vital key that needs addressing.

The responses of mainstream addiction medicine are so inadequate that alternative solutions are being explored.

Psychedelic drugs have special properties that enable us to access parts of our memory and self-understanding that we typically are unable to. In other words, psychedelic drugs allow a person to access their unconscious mind while they are conscious.

When a person takes psychedelic drugs, they activate a part of the brain that we typically are unable to access.

The psychedelic experience allows a person to see themselves as they really are, not through the filters of negative core beliefs. This can be a tremendously healing and empowering experience. While on psychedelics a person may no longer perceive themselves as an isolated entity separate from the world, but more as a part of the interconnectedness of the universe.

Psychedelics have been likened to the equivalent of 10 to 20 years of psychotherapy, they have the ability to reveal aspects of the mind that psychotherapy aims.

When a person takes psychedelics such as iboga, psilocybin, MDMA, ayahuasca, and LSD under the guidance of a trained therapist, a common experience is for people to begin to accept suffering.

It is impossible for any human being to escape suffering, it is part of life. Addiction is a means of avoiding suffering which comes in the form of emotional pain. As addictive behaviors are a means of escape from painful feelings, psychedelics have the power to teach a person on a deep subconscious level, that suffering is inevitable, and yes it will hurt, but that it is only temporary.

Emotions are like clouds. We express distress, pain, sadness, and anxiety, but we also experience a range of positive emotions. Psychedelics allow the mind to actively internalize this thought process leaving a deep and long-lasting impression on the person’s sense of self.

LSD and Alcoholics Anonymous

In 1955, after his experiences of LSD, Bill Wilson the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous campaigned to the other co-founders that LSD should be incorporated into the 12 steps for alcohol use disorder.

Bill’s peers included the author of ‘Brave New World’ Aldous Huxley, psychologist Betty Eisner, and renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung. Together with his spiritual advisor and Jesuit priest Father Ed, and his wife, they would experiment with LSD. It was Aldous Huxley’s friend and peer Humphrey Osmond who created the term ‘psychedelic.’

LSD was first discovered by Albert Hoffman, a chemist who was designing respiratory medication. Hoffman uncovered its psychedelic effects accidentally when a small droplet landed on his skin.

Days later, Hoffman took the first ‘intentional trip’ which he named ‘Bicycle Day’ as he started to feel the effects of the trip as he rode home on his bike that day.

The Johns Hopkins Psilocybin Research Project

Long term project where they give psilocybin to a variety of subjects including:

  • Healthy volunteers
  • Cancer patients
  • Smokers wanting to stop
  • People who have been meditating for a long time

When the subjects returned one month after their psilocybin experience to answer a questionnaire, 80% of them said that their experience was one of the most profound and meaningful experiences of their lives.

50% of the respondents said it was the single most spiritually important occasion of their lives.

Long-term follow-up with the subjects from the study show that the positive effects of psilocybin are sustained for at least 1 year.

Rick Doblin is dedicated to becoming a legal psychedelic psychotherapist. There is a current renaissance of research into therapeutic psychedelics. Research is currently exploring the potential for psychedelics to treat PTSD, depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, alcohol use disorder. He is leading his own research into MDMA and PTSD.

Researchers claim that psychedelics go straight for the root causes of a person’s problems.

Dr Stanislav Grof was one of the leading psychedelic researchers during the 1950s. When the government banned the use of LSD he looked for ways to create an altered state of mind naturally. Grov developed a breathing technique called ‘holotropic breathwork.’ Breathwork is a way of hyperventilating to create an altered brain state so that the mind is more receptive to a spiritual awakening.


Also known as ecstasy or Molly, MDMA is known to help people recover from PTSD when used therapeutically.

People with PTSD have a different brain chemistry to people without PTSD. They have hyperactivity in the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotions like fear. PTSD sufferers also have reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex (responsible for logic), and the hippocampus which stores long term memories.

MDMA reverses the chemical balance in the brain so that fear is reduced, logic is increased, and memory is increased. It also improves the communication between the amygdala and the hippocampus so that traumatic memories are more easily processed.

In 2019, the FDA approved expanded access to MDMA assisted psychotherapy for individuals with PTSD. There are hopes that this modality will become legal in the next few years.

Ibogaine and Opioid Addiction

Ibogaine comes from a rainforest shrub in West Africa. It is said to get straight to a person’s negative core beliefs in an instant. This plant medicine has the power to do what years of therapy and addiction treatment does. It is a fraction of the cost of rehab programs which can cost $30,000 for 30 days.

Many people relapse the minute they leave a residential program breaking their family’s heart and wasting thousands of dollars.

In the documentary “Dosed” the two film-maker friends follow their friend Adrianne on her recovery journey using an illegal underground addiction treatment using psychedelics. Adrianne is mired in a severe opioid use disorder but eventually overcomes it with the aid of an illegal iboga retreat.

The film reveals how devastatingly hard it is to get free from opioids. But, the film also shows how achieving a spiritual awakening can transform a person’s attitude to an addiction forever.

Whether it’s with prayer, meditation, psychedelics, medication-assisted treatment, reading, a 12-step program, or life experience, a spiritual awakening could be the part of the puzzle that clicks long-term sobriety into place.

If you need any guidance at all, please contact the friendly team at Renaissance Recovery by calling 866.330.9449.866.330.9449

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Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country