You are not tripping.
Psychedelics could remedy long-term COVID symptoms, some scientists say.
LSD (“acid”) and psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient found in “magic mushrooms,” are the latest drugs to show promising results in COVID-19 patients with excruciating and persistent symptoms, according to a Time report.
Shortness of breath, fatigue, brain fog, trouble sleeping, and pain are just a few of the “debilitating” symptoms of long-lasting COVID that continue beyond detectable infection.
Psychedelics have recently been used in experimental treatments for addiction and mental health problems, but for some, psychoactive drugs have been shown to alleviate more than one episode of depression.
“It’s a whole new way of looking at a lot of different symptoms that people are experiencing,” Dr. Joel Castellanos told Time. The associate medical director of the University of California San Diego Health and Psychedelics Research Initiative said he is “excited” about the potential of the psychoactive drug.
Castellanos regularly hears from patients who have experienced prolonged symptoms of COVID (headaches, mental health issues, brain fog, fatigue) and who have self-medicated with psychedelics. Now, he is trying to publish a case study on the phenomenon.
The observations coincide with the growing popularity of psychedelic drugs. Last year, an estimated 5.5 million people indulged in hallucinogens, despite warnings from experts against the unsupervised, recreational use of illicit drugs.
But for a daring few, taking psychedelics has dramatically improved their quality of life after COVID-19 infection.
Ruth, 31, told Time that she was struggling with shortness of breath and fatigue, as well as problems with her heart, cognition, motor functions and more. Knowing that psychedelics have therapeutic effects, she took five grams of psilocybin mushrooms in 2021, and it changed her life.
The next day, her heart rate returned to normal, she could breathe easier, and her brain fog began to lift. While he knows it’s “probably hard for people to process or believe,” he credits psilocybin for his renewed health and admits that it “really worked.”
Renée, 53, began taking microdoses of LSD, taking enough to benefit from the drug’s psychoactive effects, but not enough to produce a high, after experiencing COVID symptoms.
“I started to feel connected to humanity again. I had emotions again. I had some joy again. I felt normal,” he told Time, adding that he still occasionally takes small doses of psilocybin to get its calming effects.
Psychedelics can seem like a miracle to those who don’t see relief from traditional prescriptions and treatment methods.
Psilocybin researcher Dr. Sue Sisley, of the Scottsdale Research Institute in Phoenix, has seen the good of psychedelics in her patients in a long COVID clinic. Although “initially skeptical,” her interest was piqued when “none of the medications she was taking [prescribing] for them they were helping substantially”, but the psychedelics were.
But before patients can travel on doctor’s orders, clinical trials are needed and there is limited availability of studies involving psychedelics in relation to the coronavirus. (Not to mention that “magic mushrooms” are still illegal in most states.)
A study from the University of California, Davis, published in February, found that chemical compounds in psilocybin could promote “functional neuroplasticity” by activating the brain’s serotonin 2A receptors, which are vital for cognition.
There has been a push for the legalization of psilocybin in several states, following the example of Oregon. In 2020, the Pacific Northwest state became the first to legalize the psychedelic drug for personal use by people 21 and older, but only at “service centers” where they can be directed and supervised.
Bills were recently introduced in New York and New Jersey that would legalize multiple natural psychedelics, such as psilocybin, for people 21 and older.
Meanwhile, New York University has launched its own Center for Psychedelic Medicine, which has multiple studies on psilocybin in the works this year, though none of them apparently related to long-term COVID.
To fill research gaps, Sisley advised on a bill by the Arizona state legislature that would award $30 million to researchers investigating psilocybin’s role in various conditions, including long-term COVID.
Dr. Saleen Subaiya, a researcher at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, is beginning her own experimentation with single-dose psychedelics in a small pilot trial addressing long-term COVID. She told Time that she and her co-authors will evaluate the patients for two months to monitor their symptoms.
But the doctor, who has also experienced COVID for a long time, cautions users to proceed with caution due to a lack of information about the powerful drug.
“The safest way to interact with these substances right now would be in a trial,” Subaiya said. “We are dealing with very powerful psychoactive drugs. People need to proceed with immense precautions.”