• Tom Robinson

Why using psychedelics to treat mental illness is terrifying and needs to be researched with caution

I read an article in The Guardian on Tuesday in which the lead doctor from the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, discussed the results of a recent study.


The study involved 59 patients with moderate to severe depression, half of which were treated with a traditional antidepressant and the other half with ‘psilocybin’ which is the psychedelic found in magic mushrooms.


Although the results were promising, I am still extremely sceptical about the use of psychedelics after my own horrific experience of medical ketamine, and I will be advising people to stay well clear of treatment with this class of drug.


I wrote a detailed post about my ketamine infusions ‘horror story’ which involved an induced mania and a three-month hospital stay followed by an unbelievably horrendous and prolonged mixed state bipolar episode.


I spent the following two years cycling between different states, each one as hideous as the next, with all sorts of added complications appearing which I’d never had a problem with previously.


Since writing that post, I have heard from all sorts of other people who have had frightening experiences, and I want people to know about our iatrogenic disasters so that they can be given informed consent, and at least be aware that these treatments carry some terrifying risks.


I do agree that an alternative to antidepressants is desperately needed because they are completely ineffective for a huge amount of people. Some of the ones that they do ‘help’ could easily be getting better despite them, and when you add in the placebo effect, the numbers that truly benefit from antidepressant medication decreases even further.


For some people (including myself) antidepressants can cause either mixed state bipolar, hypo or full-blown mania giving them an instant diagnosis of bipolar disorder which is quite frankly terrifying.


Throughout my twenty-year psychiatric safari, my brain has been subjected time and again to a barrage of different drugs and I’ve had to withstand all sorts of side effects and complications, meaning that I was fighting so much more than just the illness itself.


Having only survived all of this by the smallest of margins, I am now worried that this could happen to others, and I feel compelled to do everything I can to at least warn people of the potential risks, complications and dangers involved in the use of these drugs.


The unknowns, particularly in the use of psychedelics, scares me because not only is there now a recognised risk of mania with ketamine but there is already a known risk of developing schizophrenia from taking psilocybin.


One of the people who reached out to me recently, reported that ketamine had caused him to develop a ‘heightened irritability’ in the first few weeks which escalated into a terrible and crippling episode of mixed state bipolar.


This patient was advised to withdraw from the antipsychotic olanzapine while he was being treated with ketamine which worsened his condition and left him with all sorts of unbearable side effects.


It is important to mention this because people are often already on other drugs when they receive these psychedelics, the combined effect of which is not known, and that can cause all sorts of added problems.


How either of us is still alive after all of this is a miracle in itself, because the apathetic state that we were both left in after treatment with psychedelics was so horrific that it wasn’t really survivable.


Even the patients who first reported positive effects on ketamine are now revealing their disappointment because most of them have reached a level of tolerance where the drug has completely stopped working.


I’m afraid that this might also be the case with psilocybin, and it worries me because you could argue that giving people hope and then having it all taken away is more destructive than them never having it in the first place.


According to the article the treatment with psilocybin will be done according to a ‘biopsychosocial model’ which presumably means that these patients will be offered some kind of therapy in conjunction with it.


None of the patients who received ketamine alongside me received any kind of therapy, in fact the level of support was virtually non-existent. This was illustrated by the fact that when I was in crisis, the extent of the advice I was given was to ‘take a herbal sleeping pill’ by a healthcare assistant! A preposterous and frightening lack of care and support.


Psychiatrists using these drugs have also got to start appreciating the alarming aspect of the effect of the drugs themselves since we were often left unsupervised in the waiting room while experiencing terrifying ‘K holes’.


People experience this terrifying psychedelic trip on psilocybin too, and there’s no way of predicting how badly someone will react because everyone is different. This means that some experience almost no effect whereas the next person has a frightening hallucinogenic trip on the same dose. Vulnerable people who are in desperate mental turmoil do not need a crazy ‘out of body’ experience to add to their existing problems and already shattered minds.


I note from looking at the ketamine website that after my horrific experience they are now excluding some bipolars from the treatment, but this still doesn’t stop people getting their first mania on the drug and then becoming bipolar.


There is a similar ‘screening’ being done with psilocybin with those who have a family history of psychosis being excluded from the trials. The article states:

“Current trials exclude people with a family history of psychosis for fear that the drug could trigger latent schizophrenia.”

This is a terrifying statement because there’s nothing to stop someone from developing schizophrenia when they have this treatment for the first time even without a family history.


The genetic link is not understood and there isn’t an obvious link in my family to mania and bipolar so how do we ever know if we have a family history? I’m sure if you look deeply into anyone’s ancestry you would find mental illness somewhere, which makes us all potential candidates for drug induced mania or psychosis.


The only person I know who has tried psilocybin, self-medicated with it by taking it recreationally when everything else had failed. I don’t blame him for doing this because when you are suicidal, you’d drink arsenic if someone told you it would alleviate your symptoms.


But having been in touch with him over the last few weeks it is clear that there has been a massive upshift in his mood, and I’m concerned because he is clearly hypomanic even though he can’t identify that because he feels so good. I’ve noticed that his ideas are multiplying and escalating which are the sure signs of hypomania and I really hope this doesn’t happen, but if I’m completely honest, I’m waiting for the inevitable crash.


The main point in all of this is that I am now being treated successfully by a completely different approach which involves taking high doses of levothyroxine in combination with rTMS (repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation). This has brought me to full remission from a twenty-year psychiatric nightmare, and I didn’t have to have a frightening K hole, wild hallucination or psychedelic trip to achieve this either.


The progression to full mental wellness has been gradual and through the support of an empathetic doctor I have been able to slowly regain my confidence and reclaim my life.


This has to be important because treatments with minimal or no side effects have got to be prioritised when it comes to research and administration. Unfortunately, this is not happening because the field of psychiatry cannot currently agree on anything which is illustrated by the fact that everyone is being treated so differently.


I have now contacted the Psychedelic Research Centre at Imperial College London to alert them to my own experience and that of others, but I am still waiting for a response.


I am so determined to get mine and others’ experiences out into the public domain because these ‘exciting developments’ and bold statements involving the use of psychedelics are frighteningly deceiving and misleading.


If you would like to read the recent article from the Guardian, then you can find it here.


Thanks for reading,


Speak to you soon,

TR

www.dyingtostayalive.com