Research Points to Benefits of Psychedelics and Alternative Medicines
Earlier this month, the World Health Organization came out with a report on depression, saying it's common worldwide and a leading cause of disability.
Some doctors are using psychedelics to get people off of antidepressants. The Food and Drug Administration is calling psilocybin a breakthrough treatment for depression.
Psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Cook has been practicing in Honolulu for the last six years. He treats patients for insomnia, anxiety, trauma, suicidal ideation, chronic depression, PTSD and more.
"I have certainly seen depression rise, suicide thinking go up. I've had some of my long-term substance abuse patients, that have been sober alcoholics for a long time, have relapsed. I've been dealing with a lot of increased demand for psychiatric services," Cook said.
In his practice, Cook said he's found psychedelics and alternative medicines benefit his patients, at a time when so many are under added stress and anxiety.
"I got into medical cannabis about five or six years ago after my training. And in spite of my training, I was still biased against cannabis after medical school at Northwestern in Chicago and residency here at UH in psychiatry," he said.
"My combat veteran patients helped me to see the light and that led me down several years of reading and a rabbit hole of research that opened new doors of thinking for me where I thought outside the typical prescription box," Cook continued.
One alternative he discovered was ketamine, something he calls a state-dependent form of healing. His clinic Beyond Mental Health does "intramuscular psychedelic doses" of ketamine three days a week, he said.
"The purpose of the drug is to cause an altered mental state. You don't want the patient on the same drug every day. When you're on an antidepressant every day, you are numbed and you are in the same mental state every day. So you become less discriminatory and less perceptive about mood changes," he said.
Ashley Lukens is the co-founder of the Clarity Project, an organization advocating for legal psychedelic therapies in Hawaiʻi.
For Lukens, it all started in 2017 when she was diagnosed with brain cancer.
"The prognosis on my cancer is seven to 11 years, which in the brain cancer world is amazing. You wonder well, how can she speak so level headedly about something as potentially devastating as that? I'll say 100% of my ability to process my diagnosis, and access a sense of hope and resilience is because of psychedelics," Lukens said.
"Most people using psychedelics therapeutically will dose a high amount of psilocybin, or in my case, I've also used ayahuasca."
This year at the state Legislature, the Clarity Project supported Senate Bill 738, an effort to legalize psilocybin in Hawaiʻi.
Dozens of SB 738 supporters included patient advocates, members of the hospice/end-of-life care community, sex abuse survivors and military veterans.
Local law enforcement entities testified against it.
"When you look at the efficacy of these substances in resolving long-term mental health issues, I get really excited because right now the fields of psychology and psychiatry really only offer symptom management. They don't offer resolution," Lukens said.
"The research is there to verify what our human stories and anecdotal evidence have been telling us for years. I'm just another one of those anecdotal stories," Lukens added.
Stephen Anderson, 70, is a Vietnam veteran who volunteered for the U.S. Army in 1970. He came back, he said, to a world that he felt he needed to protect himself from — that involved considerable self-medication.
Anderson experienced his first psilocybin therapy session about four weeks ago on Maui.
"I got to the point where my son came up and said, 'Dad, you're going overboard with this drinking and smoking pot. There's a new therapy with psilocybin that can clear up a lot of the cobwebs in your mind.' I listened to him and I went to get an experience with psilocybin," Anderson said.
He said a lot of his emotions were washed with it, and his brain and his heart were connected again.
"I started to feel good about myself," he said. "It was just some sort of awareness that came over from taking the mushrooms. This awareness came over and clarity came over in my thinking."
Psychedelics remain illegal under federal law.
These interviews aired on The Aloha Friday Conversation on Sept. 24, 2021.