Annenberg Radio

Staying home and taking a trip

Psychedelic drugs have served as helpful guides for some during the rough times of the COVID-19 pandemic

A USC alum talks about how psychedelics have been a source of relief and perspective when dealing with the onset of mental difficulties from the pandemic. Psychedelic researchers also weigh in on why some people have been turning to psychedelics during quarantine.

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The pandemic forced hundreds of millions around the world to stay inside. Taking it a step further, some people decided not only to stay inside but start looking inward, where they took a trip inside their own minds through psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin mushrooms. Diego Ramos dives into how some students have used psychedelics during the pandemic.

An experienced psychonaut and USC alum spent a day in quarantine on an acid trip. We’re gonna call her Rachel. This familiar encounter with a tab of Lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD, allowed her to travel somewhere else, spend time with herself and engage with her thoughts without the hassle of booking a flight.

Rachel: I feel like psychedelics really do feel like a vacation. It feels like you are not in the same universe as everyone else. It feels like you’re on some other planet. When I was tripping, I didn’t feel scared about the pandemic or anything. I don’t think I thought about the pandemic at all.

Now, it’s important to note that psychedelics should not be consumed carelessly as clinicians and researchers strongly advocate for people to do their due diligence and learn how to use these drugs safely and effectively.

Psychedelics let you see your reality in a different light. It places you somewhere so unique you’re left guessing how to translate it. As mystical and fantastic this experience sounds, it is only as brilliant as the language describing it allows it to be.

Rachel: like the day after I became my child self again. And I have been that way since. And like I said, the person that you’re talking to right now like this is how I was when I was seven years old, eight years old. And that’s like the craziest thing to me. And I, like, stopped caring completely what people think about me. I’m just, like, really stoked to be myself because I’m like, you know what? I really like myself. I’m pretty fucking sick.

Dr. Dave Rabin, psychiatrist, neuroscientist and psychedelic clinical researcher was able to explain some of the science. He is one of the many voices in the psychedelic research community who actively shares information and provides clarity for people interested in the field. He hosts the Psychedelic News Hour on the app Clubhouse, where he engages with thousands of people interested in psychedelics every week.

Rabin: If you use the medicine to engage with reality more fully and to self discover and self explore and self-love and these kinds of things, then you will feel more engaged and connected to your reality.

Despite facing years of stigma in the United States, psychedelic drugs are once again becoming popular. Those curious enough to discover them during the pandemic might’ve run into Dr. Rabin and his talks.

Rabin: The use of psychedelic medicines, like all drugs, has gone up during the pandemic because people are socially isolated and we are not able to get the same kind of, you know, the same kind of experiences that we could get normally when we are able to interact with each other face to face or to touch each other and be close with each other and intimate with each other.

So what else can psychedelics do? With psilocybin and LSD recently reaching phase 2 of clinical trials for major depressive disorder, the future of psychedelics as medicines is on a promising track. These trials saw rapid improvement in people with no patients seeking conventional antidepressant treatment within 5 weeks of taking psilocybin. A Johns Hopkins study also found persisting positive effects on attitudes, mood and behavior as well as mystical-type experiences for participants

One of the leading figures in the emerging psychedelic medicinal industry is Dylan Beynon, the founder and CEO of Mindbloom. Through his work, he has been able to see people benefit from psychedelic use during the pandemic, especially those who may be dealing with certain disorders. Beynon explains how patients often experience an awareness of their consciousness which allows for changes in thought.

Dylan: First and foremost, people are coming in who are looking just for relief of these symptoms throughout their experience with psychedelic therapy but end up leaving not just with relief from those symptoms, but big insights into what changes they want to make in their life and are in a state of mind where they can actually make those changes.

For a lot of people, psychedelics are able to help them view the world through a new set of eyes. The point of using these drugs for many is not necessarily to directly heal them but rather guide them to help themselves. The drugs do that by making often uncomfortable truths or unconsidered paths come face to face with someone.

Rachel: In my experience, you can understand your own thought processes. So I remember thinking, like I was just very aware of my impulses and my reactions… I just got a lot more compassionate towards other people I like, understood that. I don’t know, I think it just filled me with, like a lot more sense of unity, it made me realize that there’s something I can talk about with anyone. Like there’s not one person on this planet where if we spoke the same language, I wouldn’t be able to, like, have an interesting conversation with you about something or a conversation that we both enjoy.

The psychedelic renaissance did not stop short of the pandemic, in fact, it helped ease the troubles of those who sought help in a time of seemingly little hope. The research and conversations held by people like Dr. Dave Rabin along with the entrepreneurial efforts of Dylan Beynon show the steps how far psychedelic medicines can reach and the impact they’ve had on people like Rachel.

Rachel: It’s really interesting how that effect does feel different during the pandemic just because it’s nice to feel like the rest of the world doesn’t exist when the world is in this horrible pandemic and you can kind of focus on... like it’s difficult to stay present right now, it’s very difficult. In this exact moment, I’m OK, like I’m safe. I am with my friends, I love my friends. I love grass. I love nature. I love all of this stuff.

Be on the lookout for the newest studies headlining psilocybin or LSD or ketamine as treatment options for some of the most common problems people face, from addiction to depression. The future of these drugs is looking increasingly beneficial in medical studies and less illegitimate and worthy of a Schedule 1 label.

For Annenberg Media, I am Diego Ramos.

Correction: Dylan Beynon’s name was misspelled. Changed from Binyon to Beynon.