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Exploring Psychedelic Assisted Psychotherapy

psychedelic assisted psychotherapy in san francisco bay area california
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In recent years, the field of mental health treatment has seen an exciting resurgence of interest in a somewhat controversial method: psychedelic assisted psychotherapy. This approach, which leverages the mind-altering effects of psychedelic substances to enhance traditional talk therapy, is yielding promising results for a range of mental health disorders. But what exactly is psychedelic assisted psychotherapy, and how does it work? Let’s delve into this intriguing subject.

The Rise of Psychedelic Assisted Psychotherapy

Psychedelic assisted psychotherapy

Psychedelic substances and their potential therapeutic applications have piqued the interest of researchers for several decades. Dating back to the 1950s, early investigations into the effects of these substances suggested a promising potential for therapeutic use. However, the classification of these substances as Schedule 1 drugs under the Controlled Substances Act in the 1970s saw a significant decline in research and development in this area.

Today, interest in the potential of psychedelics to treat mental health disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder, treatment-resistant depression, and substance abuse disorders is resurging. Institutions like The Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research are spearheading this revival by conducting comprehensive studies to unravel these applications.

Psychedelic assisted psychotherapy, also known as psychedelic psychotherapy, involves the administration of psychedelic drugs as part of a therapeutic process. This contemporary approach to psychiatric care is still in its early stages, with controlled clinical settings and a limited number of participants. Yet, the necessity of experiencing hallucinogenic effects for therapeutic outcomes has sparked fresh debate in this field.

Promisingly, recent studies have shown that the therapeutic use of psychedelics, such as psilocybin in combination with psychotherapy, leads to:

  • Rapid and significant reductions in depressive symptoms
  • Long-lasting, low-dose therapeutic effects
  • Promotion of synaptogenesis and structural neural plasticity
  • Restoration of critical pathways affected by mental health disorders

These findings highlight the potential of psychedelics in treating mental health disorders.

Despite these encouraging results, we must bear in mind that the realm of psychedelic assisted psychotherapy is still nascent. The potential of these substances in treating mental health disorders is undeniable, but more research is needed to fully understand their capabilities. As we delve deeper into this topic, we’ll explore the key psychedelic medicines being studied for their therapeutic potential:

  • Psilocybin
  • MDMA
  • LSD
  • Ayahuasca
  • Ketamine

Key Psychedelic Medicines in Therapy

Key Psychedelic Medicines in Therapy

A variety of classical psychedelics are being studied for their potential therapeutic applications. The most frequently studied include Psilocybin, MDMA, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), ketamine, Bufo Alvarius, and ayahuasca. These substances are currently being evaluated for their effectiveness in addressing mood and anxiety disorders, trauma- and stress-related disorders, substance use disorders, and end-of-life care.

We will now examine each of these substances along with their potential therapeutic applications.


Psilocybin, a naturally occurring compound found in magic mushrooms, has shown potential in treating major depressive disorder, as evidenced in randomized controlled trials and psychedelic studies. When administered at high doses psilocybin can induce significant alterations in sensory perception by acting on serotonin receptors in the brain. These effects, often explored in human hallucinogen research, can encompass:

  • Synesthesia
  • Euphoria
  • Sensory illusions
  • Auditory and visual hallucinations

These effects typically last for a duration of 3 to 6 hours during a psilocybin session and are a focus of psilocybin research.

However, like all therapies with substances, psilocybin assisted psychotherapy has potential for serious adverse events to consider. These may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • The perception of an enduring experience

Despite these potential side effects, research trials, including randomized clinical trials and randomized controlled trials, indicate that psilocybin has the potential to treat a variety of psychiatric disorders, including severe depression, anxiety symptoms, and substance abuse in the adult population.

A recent pivotal study, part of a growing body of psilocybin research, revealed a clinically significant response rate of 71% and a remission rate of 54% in depression cases after a single dose of psilocybin. This promising result suggests that individual psilocybin assisted therapy and psilocybin group therapy could provide an effective alternative to traditional treatments like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for individuals suffering from depression.

These encouraging results, part of ongoing psychedelic studies, justify further research into psilocybin and its possible therapeutic applications. While we persist in investigating the potentiality of psilocybin, often considered a street drug, for treating psychiatric disorders, we must not forget the significance of administering these substances in a regulated clinical environment, especially for conditions like opioid addiction, alcohol dependence, and other substance abuse disorders.


MDMA, a synthetic amphetamine derivative, affects multiple neurotransmitter systems in the brain. These include:

  • Norepinephrine
  • Serotonin
  • Dopamine
  • Oxytocin

These mechanisms are thought to be related to its potential therapeutic properties. Nonetheless, potential risks tied to MDMA use, such as hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), warrant due consideration.

MDMA has demonstrated a substantial effect size in clinical trials, signifying noteworthy efficacy in alleviating PTSD symptoms when compared with control groups. Additionally, MDMA has shown potential in treating other psychological conditions, such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). This is a significant area of interest in consciousness research and psychedelic therapies.

In clinical trials for MDMA-assisted therapy, patients usually undergo the following treatment structure:

  • Two or three dosing sessions of MDMA or a control, spaced out by a month
  • Multiple psychotherapy sessions before each dose
  • Three integration sessions after each dose

This format, often part of a randomized controlled trial, is designed to support the full therapeutic process, allowing for careful monitoring of the patient’s experience and ensuring that the therapy is delivered in a safe and controlled environment.


LSD, an ergot derivative, is another classic psychedelic that is being studied for its potential therapeutic benefits in LSD assisted psychotherapy and psychedelic assisted therapies. Recognized for its ability to produce intense psychedelic experiences, LSD can result in:

  • A reduced sense of self
  • Heightened sensory perception
  • Illusions
  • Dreamlike imagery
  • Mystical sensations

Beginning in the 1940s and continuing through the 1960s, LSD was extensively studied for its prospective therapeutic benefits in LSD psychotherapy and was employed in diverse psychiatric research settings, involving both healthy participants and the treatment of psychiatric conditions. The hallucinogenic effects of LSD are believed to stem from its partial agonism at the 5-HT2A receptor, its binding to a range of serotonin receptors, and its interaction with dopamine D2 receptors.

Although LSD carries potential therapeutic benefits, it’s necessary to acknowledge that these substances also come with risks. Like all psychedelics, LSD should be administered in a controlled clinical setting and under the supervision of a trained professional in psychedelic assisted treatment.


Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that has been extensively studied as a psychedelic drug in the context of psychotherapy. First introduced into clinical practice in the 1960s, ketamine has been recognized for its therapeutic potential since the 1970s.

Ketamine has demonstrated effectiveness in the treatment of a range of issues including:

  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Substance use disorder (SUD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

One of the methods for administering ketamine in psychotherapy is through a nasal spray known as Spravato, which contains the active ketamine ingredient. This is part of the broader field of psychedelic assisted treatments.

Due to its broad scope of potential applications, additional research is required to thoroughly understand ketamine’s therapeutic potential in treating diverse psychological disorders. Randomized clinical trials have demonstrated that ketamine treatment can effectively help treat depression, offering a new avenue in holistic therapies. research is a key aspect of the multidisciplinary association focused on psychedelic drug studies and psychedelic assisted therapies, particularly the dissociative anesthetic ketamine.

Bufo Alvarius

Bufo Alvarius, also known as the Colorado River toad or Sonoran Desert toad, excretes a venom containing 5-MeO-DMT. This powerful psychedelic compound has the potential to induce profound experiences when vaporized and inhaled.

The psychoactive effects of 5-MeO-DMT encompass:

  • Distortions in auditory and time perception
  • Amplification of emotional states
  • Feelings of awe and wonder
  • Distortion of space and time
  • Amnesia
  • Ego dissolution
  • Occasionally auditory verbal and visual hallucinations

These effects lead to a brief yet profound psychedelic encounter.

The potential therapeutic applications of 5-MeO-DMT are currently being explored for:

  • Improvements in PTSD symptoms
  • Reductions in hopelessness and associated suicide risk
  • Producing rapid and sustained reductions in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress.


Ayahuasca is a beverage derived from the combination of two plants indigenous to the Amazon basin: Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis. The brew is associated with a broad spectrum of subjective effects, including:

  • Auditory and visual hallucinations
  • Modified sensorium
  • Altered spatial perceptions
  • Euphoria
  • Mystical and noetic experiences

The active constituents in Ayahuasca are β-carboline and tryptamine derivatives, which may exert therapeutic effects on the brain, such as protection and restoration of specific regions. However, instances of psychotic episodes have been recorded in connection with ayahuasca intoxication, typically in individuals with a personal or family history of mood disorders, psychotic disorders, or substance use disorders. Therefore, like all other psychedelic substances, ayahuasca should be used under the guidance of trained professionals in a controlled clinical setting.

The Process of Psychedelic Assisted Psychotherapy

Psychedelic Assisted Psychotherapy Process

Three key stages constitute the typical process of psychedelic assisted psychotherapy: preparation, dosing, and integration. In the preparation stage, therapists work with patients to become comfortable with the potential range of experiences they may encounter during the therapy session. This involves exploring expectations, setting intentions, and devising strategies for navigating challenges during the dosing stage.

During the dosing phase, the psychedelic substance is administered while the patient is under the supervision of a trained therapist. This can be an intense experience, with the potential for a range of psychological effects, such as intense memories, surreal imagery, and profound insights. It’s during this stage that the patient may experience the mind-altering effects of the psychedelic substance, which can include changes in perception, mood, and thought processes.

The integration phase follows the dosing stage. During this stage, the therapist works with the patient to:

  • Comprehend and assimilate the significance of the psychedelic experiences into their everyday life
  • Discuss the patient’s experience
  • Explore insights gained during the session
  • Develop strategies to apply these insights to their daily life

This process is crucial for the therapeutic benefits of the psychedelic experience to be fully integrated and sustained in the patient’s life.

Every stage of the process is pivotal to the overall efficacy of psychedelic therapies. The three stages are:

  1. Preparation: This stage helps to establish a safe and supportive environment for the patient.
  2. Dosing: This stage allows for the potential therapeutic effects of the psychedelic substance to occur.
  3. Integration: This stage helps to ensure that the insights and changes experienced during the dosing stage are carried forward into the patient’s everyday life.

While the process of psychedelic assisted therapy can be intense, it should be noted that it’s also a deeply personal and individual experience. Therapists work closely with each patient to ensure that the therapy is tailored to their specific needs and therapeutic goals.

The Importance of Integration in Psychedelic Assisted Psychotherapy

Psychedelic therapies, including treatments like MDMA assisted psychotherapy, psilocybin treatment, and dissociative and aesthetic ketamine, has shown promise in randomized controlled trials and clinical trials for various psychiatric disorders. However, the key to its long-term effectiveness, especially in treating mental illness, substance abuse, and severe depression, lies in the integration of these experiences into one’s daily life.

Integration is crucial because, as psychedelic research and psychedelic studies have shown, while psychedelic compounds can induce significant changes, there’s a risk of individuals reverting to their baseline state without proper integration. This is particularly true for conditions like opioid addiction, alcohol dependence, and other forms of drug abuse. Integration ensures that the insights gained during a psychedelic session, whether it’s with psilocybin mushrooms or another psychedelic drug, are not lost but are instead woven into the fabric of the individual’s life.

A therapist plays a vital role in this process. During the preparation phase, the psychedelic experience, and the integration phase, the therapist works closely with the client. This continuity of care is essential for the client to internalize the lessons learned during the psychedelic session. It’s especially important in psychedelic therapy where issues like anxiety symptoms and severe depression are prevalent.

For psychedelic treatment to be effective, it should not be approached as a standalone experience. Instead, it should be integrated into ongoing therapy, building a strong alliance with a therapist who can guide the client through the process. This approach ensures that the benefits of the therapy, such as improved management of depression symptoms and mental disorders, are sustained over time.

Challenges and Controversies in Psychedelic Research

Despite the potential promise of psychedelic assisted treatment, researchers face several challenges and controversies. One of the key challenges in psychedelic research is the difficulty in blinding studies. This is due to the intense and distinctive effects of psychedelics, which can make it difficult to maintain a double-blind study design.

Another challenge is the limited data on dose response. While initial research has indicated that lower doses of psychedelic substances can have therapeutic effects, more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between dose and therapeutic response. Furthermore, most clinical trials to date have selected highly specific patient populations and have excluded at-risk patients, which means that the generalizability of the findings may be limited.

There are also ongoing debates about the necessity of experiencing hallucinogenic effects for therapeutic outcomes. Some researchers argue that the therapeutic benefits of psychedelic drugs come from the altered states of consciousness they induce, while others believe that the substances themselves have inherent therapeutic properties. This debate is at the heart of contemporary psychedelic research and is likely to continue as the field evolves.

Despite these challenges, the field of psychedelic research is making significant strides. The resurgence of interest in this area, coupled with advances in neuroimaging technologies and a growing understanding of the neurobiological bases of mental health problems, has opened up new opportunities for exploring the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs.

As we look ahead, it is evident that additional research is needed to completely comprehend the risks and benefits of psychedelic therapy. This includes long-term studies to assess the sustainability of the therapeutic effects, as well as research into the potential adverse effects of these substances. As we continue to delve into this exciting field of research, it’s crucial that we remain open to the potential of psychedelic substances while also being mindful of the challenges and controversies that lie ahead.

Safety and Risks of Psychedelic Therapy

Safety and Risks of Psychedelic Therapy

Similar to any therapeutic intervention, psychedelic assisted psychotherapy brings with it potential risks and side effects. Classical psychedelics, due to their intense effects, are not commonly recommended for use in outpatient settings. Short-term effects like elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate, and heightened body temperature can occur.

There are also potential hazards associated with the self-administration of psychedelics. These include the possibility of using contaminated substances that have not been sourced from a lab-tested supply, as well as the lack of medical supervision, which can result in significant health risks.

Despite these risks, it’s important to note that when administered in a controlled clinical setting and under the supervision of trained professionals, the risks associated with psychedelic therapy can be managed effectively. This is why psychedelic substances are typically administered in a clinical setting, where the patient’s physical and mental health can be closely monitored throughout the process.

Considering the future, the development of non-hallucinogenic psychedelic drugs presents exciting possibilities. Substances that have been modified to remove hallucinogenic effects may have the potential to be recommended for outpatient usage, providing a pathway for psychedelic therapy with diminished risks in forthcoming treatments.

As is the case with all emerging therapies, it is essential to keep prioritizing safety and risk management in psychedelic therapy. This includes thorough screening processes, careful monitoring during therapy sessions, and ongoing research into potential adverse effects.

Legal Status and Future Developments

The legal status of psychedelic substances is a complex matter. Currently, most psychedelic substances, with the exception of ketamine, are classified as Schedule I controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act in the United States. This classification is due to their significant potential for abuse as outlined in US drug policies.

On a global scale, psychedelic substances are generally prohibited under the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances. This treaty mandates member states to prohibit psilocybin and limit its use to controlled medical and scientific research settings.

Nevertheless, indications of change are emerging. Several US states, including Oregon, Colorado, and California, have implemented measures to decriminalize or legalize the use of psychedelic substances. These developments reflect a shift in public opinion and suggest that we may see further changes in drug policy as research progresses and the potential therapeutic benefits of these substances become more widely recognized.

While the current legal status of these substances presents challenges for researchers and clinicians, it also highlights the importance of rigorous scientific research and responsible clinical practice. As our exploration of the potential of psychedelic substances in treating mental health disorders continues, it is imperative to ensure that our approach is safe, ethical, and adheres to existing laws and regulations.

Personalized Treatment Approaches

Psychedelic assisted psychotherapy does not adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s crucial for this therapy to be adaptable and personalized according to the specific requirements of each patient, considering individual elements like personal experiences, traumas, and aspirations.

The goals and personal history of a patient can significantly impact the approach to psychedelic therapy. It influences the integration process, addresses specific clinical needs, and takes into account the individual’s attitudes and beliefs about psychedelics.

Psychedelic therapy can be combined with other treatment methods, such as mindfulness interventions, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). This integration has demonstrated potential in enhancing mental health and wellbeing across different forms of psychopathology.

A personalized approach to psychedelic therapy can lead to enhanced and sustained outcomes. Substantial improvements in demoralization, hopelessness, spiritual wellbeing, and quality of life have been reported, addressing mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, alcohol use disorder, and PTSD. The occurrence of personally meaningful experiences is also a common outcome of personalized psychedelic therapy.

As we persist in investigating the potential of psychedelic therapy, it’s vital to prioritize approaches that offer personalized treatment. By tailoring the therapy to the individual’s specific needs and goals, we can ensure that each patient receives the most effective and beneficial care possible.

Real-World Applications and Success Stories

Beyond the expanding body of scientific research, numerous anecdotal reports and case studies also underscore the potential benefits of psychedelic therapy. Individuals who have received this therapy have reported significant personal growth and have acquired fresh perspectives and understandings.

Research studies show its efficacy in addressing a range of conditions such as treatment-resistant depression, opioid and tobacco addictions, PTSD, alcohol use disorder, and anxiety associated with life-threatening illnesses. Notably, there have been successful outcomes in MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD and psilocybin-assisted therapy for depression and cancer.

These real-world applications and success stories provide a promising glimpse into the potential of psychedelic assisted psychotherapy. While more research is needed, these stories offer hope and inspiration for those who are struggling with mental health disorders and are seeking alternative treatment options.


Psychedelic assisted psychotherapy represents a promising, albeit complex, frontier in the treatment of mental health disorders. From the historical roots of psychedelic use in therapeutic and religious contexts to the resurgence of interest in recent years, this field has the potential to revolutionize how we approach mental health treatment.

While the therapeutic potential of psychedelic substances is undeniable, it’s crucial that we continue to prioritize safety, rigorous scientific research, and responsible clinical practice. As we continue to explore this exciting field, let’s remain open to the possibilities and potentials, while also being mindful of the challenges and controversies that lie ahead.

At Bay Area CBT Center we provide comprehensive therapy services, including ketamine-assisted treatment. Our team of experienced professionals offers mental health support in San Francisco and online counseling in California. We are dedicated to providing safe, effective, and evidence-based treatments for a variety of mental health conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Evidence-based therapy involves interventions that are scientifically proven to be effective for particular issues. In this approach, a strong partnership based on trust and collaboration is formed between you and your therapist. Within this supportive and unbiased environment, you can freely express yourself without fear of judgment. Over a series of sessions, you and your therapist will work together to address obstacles and set goals aimed at personal growth and fulfillment. This method ensures that the techniques and strategies used are not only supportive but also empirically validated to help you achieve your therapeutic goals.

The Bay Area CBT Center provides therapy services for everyone, from children to adults, and welcomes individuals, couples, and groups. We help with various concerns like anxiety, depression, trauma, relationship issues, and behavior challenges. We value diversity and cultural differences, offering personalized and culturally sensitive care to each client.

Studies show that the bond between you and your therapist, known as the therapeutic alliance, is a key factor in treatment success. This alliance is characterized by the strength of your relationship and how well you both agree on treatment goals. Research indicates that individuals with a solid therapeutic alliance experience better treatment outcomes including greater productivity at work, more satisfying relationships, improved stress management, and decreased engagement in risky behaviors.

You can expect a 15-30 minute phone call with our care coordinator, who is extensively trained in ensuring the perfect match for you. During this conversation, our matching expert will collaborate with you to understand your therapy needs, preferences, and scheduling availability. This discussion builds upon the information you provided during sign-up and offers an opportunity for you to address any personal questions or concerns you may have about therapy or our services at The Bay Area CBT Center. Following your conversation, we’ll pair you with the therapist who best aligns with your needs, goals, and preferences.

At your matching appointment, we will match you with a therapist specifically chosen for you and schedule your first session. Depending on your availability, you can expect to meet your therapist anywhere from one day to a week after this appointment.

Our approach to therapy includes a flexible hybrid model, blending both online and face-to-face sessions. This option is perfect for clients situated close to our clinics in the Bay Area who prefer the flexibility of choosing between virtual consultations or meeting their therapist in person. Our aim with hybrid care is to ensure every client is matched with the ideal therapist and therapy environment, be it from the convenience of your own home or in one of our clinics.

At the Bay Area CBT Center, we accept PPO insurance plans that allow you to use out-of-network providers. This means if your insurance plan is a PPO and it includes mental health benefits, you could get back some or all of the money you pay for our services, depending on what your insurance company allows. When you see one of our therapists, they’ll give you a superbill. You can send this superbill to your insurance company to ask for reimbursement. If you’re not sure if your insurance covers services from providers not in their network, it’s a good idea to give them a call and check.

You may be eligible to have 60-80% of your costs covered by out-of-network benefits.

Also, if you have an FSA (Flexible Spending Account), you can usually use it to pay for individual counseling sessions. It’s wise to double-check with your FSA provider or talk to your accountant to make sure that counseling sessions are considered an allowed expense.

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