Psychedelics for Pain Management

By Raley Anne James

Psychedelic substances have potential for treating physical pain, especially for seniors suffering from chronic pain. However, such potential has long been held back by the strict anti-drug laws that have lumped medically useful substances like psilocybin and cannabis alongside legitimately harmful narcotics such as cocaine and heroin.

Fortunately, as discussed in a previous post, the release of new studies and the efforts of pro-psychedelic social movements have helped to eradicate age-old stigmas against psychedelic drugs. Modern research has confirmed that the majority of psychoactive drugs, including psychedelics, are safe for consumption and leave very few adverse effects on the body. Given the increasing body of knowledge supporting the physiological safety of psychedelic drugs, the next natural step is to analyze its efficacy for managing pain.

How Does Pain Work?

According to an article on PainScience, pain is primarily a brain-generated experience. When tissues in the body are subjected to damage, the nerves send signals to the mind to warn it of the sustained harm. It is then up to the brain to interpret these messages. In other words, how we perceive pain plays a big role in how intensely we feel it.

Pain is usually useful: the sting of a joint tells us not to move it. A stomach ache indicates that we ate something we weren’t supposed to. But sometimes, these perceptions don’t always reflect the severity of the damage. That’s why a stubbed toe or a paper cut can feel debilitating, but illnesses that put the body at greater threat, like fibromyalgia, can feel uncomfortable at best.

What Do Psychedelics Do?

The main function of psychedelics, then, is to reorganize the pathways in the brain so that the mind can interpret pain in a way that is aligned with the damage the body actually experiences. Researchers at UC San Diego note that exposure to psychedelic drugs can promote neuroplasticity. This is attributed to the psychedelic experience these substances provide, which can facilitate a “restart mechanism” that modulates how the brain perceives pain.

Photo: Chris Flexen

Additional research also suggests that consuming psychedelics can produce effects similar to advanced mindfulness meditation. Both practices create a strong connection between the mind and the body, allowing the brain’s perception of pain to better align with the body’s experience of it.

What Are the Risks of Psychedelics?

Although the growing acceptance of psychedelics in both law and society has helped to distil misinformation about its negative effects, that doesn’t mean consumption is completely risk-free. Hallucinogens have been known to cause stomach upsets. Sometimes, they can also cause “bad trips,” a negative experience characterized by amplified anxiety, panic, paranoia, and frightening hallucinations.

How Can I Stay Safe?

The best thing to do to stay safe while taking psychedelics is to have another person around to watch over you. This person should not be taking psychedelics themselves. It may also help to have a safety alert device, which is a wearable device one can use to contact emergency medical personnel, family, or caregivers. This guide to safety alert devices for seniors on SymptomFind details that a safety alert device can be used to immediately contact family members and friends. While not recommended, having a safety alert device on one’s person allows individuals taking psychedelics to get help in case of a bad trip or other harmful experiences.

Psyche also recommends seeking the opinion of a sympathetic professional before dealing with psychedelics. In countries where psychedelic consumption is legal, seniors may also be able to find professional geriatricians or therapists who can help in navigating the psychedelic journey. Additionally, seek the opinion of trusted psychedelic societies to ensure the quality of any purchased psychedelic substances.

Taboos and draconian laws have long soiled the reputation of psychedelic drugs, which barred people from developing their potential for pain treatment. Fortunately, new studies have reduced such stigmas, creating new opportunities for the legally-sanctioned medical use of psychedelics.

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