Addiction specialist Lauren Windle gives a Christian perspective on using hallucinogenic drugs as treatment for depression.
I remember the first time I came across the idea of hallucinogenic drugs as a treatment for depression. My initial reaction was that it was some new-age ridiculousness to be dismissed. But it quickly became apparent that celebrated researchers and drug experts saw and had seen merit in the practice.
When I did a Master’s in addiction studies at the leading addiction research centre in the UK at King’s College, they spoke readily about a trial that had seen excellent results. A controlled amount of a hallucinogenic drug was administered by a professional to a series of participants. During their “trip” they stayed in the facility, which had been designed with draped material and cosy cushions, so it looked more like a meditation room than a clinic. They were observed during their time and then sent home several hours later when the effects of the drug had worn off. It’s a far tamer version of a celebrity ayahuasca retreat in the Peruvian jungle.
There was still I couldn’t reconcile about prescribed hallucinogens.
The results suggested that these chemicals were opening up neural pathways previously inaccessible by the subject. And this extension of their brain function allowed them to process their surroundings in new ways and caused a reduction in depression. Peer reviewed research suggests it works.
As a Christian, I want to support anything that is medically proven to support people with their health, mental or otherwise. I believe that medical professionals and the medicine they develop are a gift to God and many serve as the answer to countless prayers. For example, I agree with Rachael Newham when she wrote that Christians shouldn’t feel embarrassed to use anti-depressants. But there was still I couldn’t reconcile about prescribed hallucinogens.
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When I examined my reticence, I realised that there are plenty of things that I know work as a treatment, but I wouldn’t try. For example, hypnotism is encouraged for smokers to trick their minds into forgetting the cravings. Or masturbation is suggested as a stress reliever. When it comes to solutions, we must balance them with our faith and make sure we aren’t opening up a spiritual problem in the process.
When it comes to solutions, we must balance them with our faith and make sure we aren’t opening up a spiritual problem in the process.
The Bible is clear on the idea of mind-altering substances. In 2 Timothy 4:5 it says: “But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.”
At times I’ve struggled with depression and also with substance misuse, but the gift I have now is that I am able to fully feel and to fully experience life on life’s terms. Sometimes that is painful and sometimes it brings more joy than I could have ever imagined. But I’m pleased that I’m not turning to anything other than God to get me through those moments, and I can’t help but feel that that’s how it should be.