The unprecedented rise of mental illnesses worldwide has become an epidemic. According to a study performed in the early 2000’s by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIHM), 46 percent of adults surveyed met the criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) for having had at least one mental illness at some point in their lives.
Today, mental illnesses are much more prevalent. The stigma against having a mental illness and receiving medications for it, mixed with the rise of treatment-resistant illnesses and an inability to access medical attention, has made looking for help that much more difficult. For those suffering, a sense of desperation often takes over. Living in today’s world is difficult enough, but with a mental illness it can feel impossible.
As a reaction to this need for a cure, a group of underground guides has risen to meet the needs of people with an unlikely solution: illegal drugs.
The Guardian chronicles a handful of these guides and their missions to provide help wherever needed, legal or not.
There’s Eric Osborne, a former mushroom farmer, who would regularly take customers into the woods behind his house to partake in psilocybin mushrooms (commonly called “shrooms”). As his clients went on their trips, he was there to guide them through the uncertainty. Before getting caught by the police and shut down, Osborne led these types of sessions for years, helping many heal in secret.
Another guide who goes by the name Hummingbird, dabbles in the usage of ayahuasca, a brew commonly found in South America and Brazil. The concoction contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT) which comes from the bark of the Virola tree. In addition to serving ayahuasca, her ritual contains several steps like blowing a tobacco snuff called rapé up her guests’ noses and singing “medicine songs” (icaros) while they purge (which can mean anything from crying and sweating to vomiting and urinating). No matter which bodily fluids are expelled, people come out on the other side healed in whatever way is significant to them.
These methods are unconventional, to say the least, but they are effective; study after study corroborate their claims. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has completed a Phase 2 pilot study of LSD assisted therapy reporting that “12 subjects found positive trends in the reduction of anxiety following two LSD-assisted psychotherapy sessions. The study results indicate that LSD-assisted psychotherapy can be safely administered in these subjects, and justify further research.” LSD specifically helps those with extreme anxiety cope (such as cancer patients afraid of death) and ayahuasca therapy is beneficial for those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been researching the effectiveness and safety of the party drug ketamine (known as Special K). As recently as this year, the FDA approved ketamine to be used in a nasal spray to help combat Treatment-Resistant Depression (TRD). Though the effectiveness varies from person to person because of the way it’s absorbed, it is a breakthrough nonetheless.
The various methods of the underground guides are not only substantiated on the scientific level, but also confirmed on the individual level. In a collection of stories Medium.com released in 2018 called Trips Worth Telling, users share their experiences with various psychedelic drug practices and how they have personally benefited from them.
One user, Mee-ok, documents how ayahuasca helped her walk again after her body had deteriorated due to scleroderma, a group of autoimmune diseases that affect the skin, organs, and/or muscles. In Mee-ok’s case, she ached and couldn’t walk anymore, but when she took ayahuasca she was not only able to walk, she was able to transcend out of her body into a “dreamscape.” She got to a point where whenever she ingested the mystical brew, all of her symptoms would disappear. She ends her post saying she is still disabled, but she is healing and becoming who she used to be pre-disability.
Thomas, a man whose two sons committed suicide, partnered with Buzzfeed to share his experience with ketamine injections. Following the tragedies, Thomas was diagnosed with both PTSD and depression. After exhausting numerous other options, the possibility of ketamine injections was brought to his attention. He agreed to the procedure, and, after just one session, felt results.”
Typically during the infusion, patients experience a dissociative state where they can work through internal emotional problems. In Thomas’ personal experience, he went from not caring if he died to actually wanting to live. Though it’s not necessarily a cure, his life and others have been salvaged thanks to ketamine.
Indeed, the successful results of these therapies have been life-changing for many — so much so that their treatment plans could potentially reframe the entire mental health community.
Unfortunately, most of these substances can only be legally acquired in the US through clinical trials because they are still categorized as Schedule I drugs, right up there with cocaine and meth.
These tight restrictions force those looking for relief to go to countries where psychedelics are legal, like Jamaica and Germany. When seeking them out though, one must use caution as accessing them through unsavory methods may be dangerous, especially if they are being sourced from someone who is not a professional. There is, however, hope and anticipation that these treatments will eventually become legal in the US. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have recently advocated for psilocybin (commonly found in ecstasy) to become a Schedule IV drug and legal for medical use.
Regardless of whether these therapies and treatments become accepted, people desperate enough to find a cure will get their hands on them one way or another. Osborne, for example, ended up opening a treatment center in Jamaica after his supply was confiscated by law enforcement in America.
Underground guides of all varieties will continue to do their work while people keep seeking their own ways of treatment, so we, as a country, must position ourselves ahead of the curve and view matters with an open mind. Otherwise, more lives could be lost while the afflicted pursue alternative ways to cope.
Johanie Cools is a blogger, writer, book editor, and aspiring author.