Oh, my goodness, this post got SO big I decidced to split it into two. In this post, we’ll be focusing on direct chemical remedies.
Before we go ahead, I’m putting up the disclaimer that in this post we’ll be discussing things you put in your body to affect it. Some are Pharmaceutical, some considered illegal. Some experimental. And others Naturopathic. (I refuse to discuss Homeopathic. I firmly stand by the evaluation it is BS.) I am not telling you what you should, or should not put in your body, and especially do not advocate the illegal or irresponsible use of any substance. This post is for informational purposes and it is your responsibility to use it wisely. I simply want all to know what options exist.
Whoa-boy. The drugs. Some people love them, some people hate them. Before we go forward I’d love to remind everyone that I am not a doctor of any kind and I’m relying on the distributed info just as much as you are. Savvy?
As discussed last week, most pharmaceuticals attempt to help Anxiety and Depression by correcting the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. As Anxiety and Depression have similar chemical roots they use many of the same classes of medication.
According to Health, there is no real difference in the function of these medications, no one that works “better” than the others. But everyone will react in somewhat their own way to each medication, and the side effects of each. Finding the right type and dosage of medication is a tricky science, which is why it’s best left up to a trained professional! There are many factors that go into their decision, which includes what symptoms you most commonly experience, your age, health, lifestyle, any other medications you might be taking, and even your genetics.
But as many of us know, antidepressants aren’t a magic pill- or even a cure. The efficacy of antidepressants is complicated at best, and some have found that if effective, works little better than a placebo, and up to 30% of patients do not even respond to the treatment.
But drugs acting on monoamines aren’t the only focus of pharmacological research. Scientists, understanding that these disorders are linked to changes in mass in the brain, are seeking drugs that target neurogenesis. If that release leaves you scratching your head, here’s a blog post about it from someone in the business, and how I heard about this all to begin with. (The comments at the bottom are also quite interesting!) Researchers just found what they believe to be “anxiety cells” in the brains of mice, which may just open the door for studies in humans, and more targeted medicines to calm these neurons.
There are other compounds currently being tested (and used!) to treat these disorders, but we’ll give them their own section.
Herbs and supplements
For those looking to avoid medications or those they’ve failed to help, many turn to herbs, essential oils, and other supplements to help their depression an anxiety. Some turn to naturopathy thinking it is less harmful than pharmaceuticals (a conclusion that’s iffy and complicated at best. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) Some turn to homeopathy, but as stated earlier- it doesn’t work and we’re not going to discuss it here. 😀
My position as a Massage Therapist is considered naturopathic, but my practice is also in line with modern medical practices. I’ve found myself between two worlds and it’s odd. Many “pure” naturopaths shun modern medical practices and advise their patients to stay away- but that can be just as dangerous as they claim modern medicine to be. I don’t personally advocate one way or another, but I see the advantage of blending the two.
That being said- natural remedies can be very helpful- they supported our ancestors for millennia, but they can also be very dangerous. Mix up your respective plants/fungi or get your dosing wrong, or forget to check for interactions, and it can kill or damage you. Always consult with a professional that is familiar with both sides of the practice and do your homework! Drugs.com and WebMD’s Interaction Checker is a great place to check for interactions. Consumer Reports has compiled a list of important interactions to look out for, And CBS News has an article highlighting the dangers of undesired interactions. Keep in mind that many supplement companies have been exposed in recent years to be falsifying what they are selling in their capsules. CheatSheet.com offers help for investigating if you’re getting the real deal.
But! Onward! Now that the definitions and PSAs are out of the way. Let’s start you off with some links: From HealthLine, (great and full of info!) Health.com, Everyday Health, The Better Health Store, Mayo Clinic, and Food Matters. Many say in the tagline for just depression or just anxiety, but as we’ve seen, there’s a mingling between the two. If one catches your eye, be sure to look up more information on it. Learn it’s history, it’s uses, the best way to take it, side effects, interactions, and it’s sources.
I’d like to point out some things that took me some digging or happy happenstance to stumble upon with these substances:
SAM-e: SAM-e has become popular due to its multifunctional nature, and it’s ability to work just as well as some anti-depressants without producing the same side effects. However- dosing is an issue- especially if you do experience the side effects. Some studies had patients taking up to 1600 mg a day (400 mg 4x a day) for treatment of their disorder. That’s A LOT. You do not want to start off with that much- it is recommended that you start small- 200-400 a day and over the course of weeks build up your dosage. Starting off at a large dose can cause intestinal distress, to put it politely, or cause anxious feelings, and insomnia. Starting at low doses, or staying at low doses can alleviate that. Another max recommendation is 800 mg a day (400 2x a day or 200 4x a day) It is also best taken on an empty stomach 30 minutes before a meal. The National Center for Complementary and Integrated Health has a great deal of information on it. Please note that SAM-e is thought to increase Serotonin in the brain, and can interact with other serotonin-boosting medications, like pain medications, and cause Serotonin Syndrome. It’s not pleasant and can be dangerous. Please be mindful.
Turmeric: The compound in turmeric we’re interested in is curcumin– a compound that acts as an MAOI, neuroprotective, and anti-inflammatory. Here’s a study summary, and a LiveStrong article. Turmeric has a poor bioavailability, and so should be taken with black pepper as an enhancement. Examine.com has a helpful overview of how to incorporate Turmeric into your routine. There is evidence that your bodies’ native anti-inflammatory markers decrease at night, which is leading to studies on the best time to take meds and supplements like turmeric in time with your circadian rhythm. (When I find them, you’ll know!) It’s best taken with food, so as not to upset your stomach. (Yes, I know this first hand. It tastes terrible.)
GABA: There is little evidence that supplements of GABA are helpful, some believe that the lab-synthesized molecule cannot cross the blood-brain-barrier. You’re better off getting your GABA boosts from fermented foods, like kimchi and yogurt, and from L-theanine and other supplements or foods containing it, like green tea, and exercises like yoga. Kava is also excellent for increasing GABA, as well as influencing serotonin and dopamine. (Please note that Kava should not be used by those with liver problems, and extreme use can cause liver damage.)
If you find yourself lost, send me a message and I can point you in the right direction- and as always, check with your doctor before starting a supplementary regimen.
Psychedelics and other Psychoactives-
Whoa! Stay with me! I know we’ve all been drilled for decades to Just Say No to Drugs- but let’s look at some incredibly fascinating things for a second. I would like to clarify before going forward that some of these substances are still Schedule 1 Drugs, and while others are legal, the street version will not be as pure and can be mixed with other, less helpful and dangerous drugs- so- please be careful. I am not advocating for illegal activity. We’re talking about current clinical studies at substances that can be used to treat all manner of mental illnesses- so perhaps one day these drugs will be removed from Schedule 1 status.
From the Psychonaut Wiki,
A psychoactive substance is a chemical compound which crosses the blood–brain barrier and acts primarily upon the central nervous system where it affects brain function, resulting in alterations in sensation, perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, and behaviour.
Psychoactive substances are used for a number of purposes; for example, they can be taken recreationally to purposefully alter one’s consciousness, as entheogensfor ritual, spiritual, or shamanic purposes or as tools for studying or augmenting the mind. Many psychoactive drugs have therapeutic utility, (e.g., anesthetics, analgesics or for the treatment of psychiatric disorders).
Let’s start with the most familiar one- Cannabis.
Cannabis, or Marijuana, acts on the Central and Peripheral nervous systems through Phytocannabinoids, which interact with our own Endocannabinoid system to produce a host of reactions in the body.
If you haven’t heard of all the things we are finding medical uses for with cannabis, here are some links: From LeafScience, GreenFlower, Harvard, and for general info on Cannabis, I absolutely trust Leafly.
The two main components of Cannabis are THC and CBD. Both THC and CBD have therapeutic benefits, but CBD, similar to the cannabinoids we produce naturally, is touted to have more medicinal value. There are currently hundreds of arguments going back and forth if both are required to get the best benefits, or if one just needs CBD, and if it is best derived from Marijuana, or if Hemp derived CBD works just as well. (Hemp derived CBD is used by those who live in states that have not yet legalized medical or recreational marijuana, it is also used by those who do not want the high THC gives.) Here’s some info: From Leafly, Discover CBD, and Medical Marijuana Inc.
Those with Anxiety may feel more paranoid and anxious while using Cannabis, but research has found that the long-term effects are beneficial to those suffering from anxiety. Marijuana has also been found to relieve negative symptoms associated with Depression and anxiety, such as loss of enjoyment, insomnia, chronic pain, and loss of appetite. (refer to above links.)
There are many ways to ingest both THC and CBD- whether you use it topically, through the lungs, or in edible form, you’ll find different timing and effects from each method. Leafly and HonestMarijuana offer a variety of options focused on getting it into your system.
Now let’s talk about the Big Boys- Hallucinogens. I’d like to focus today on three in particular- Ketamine, Psilocybin, and Ayahuasca. All are very similar to each other in their effects, and Psilocybin and Ayahuasca share very similar chemical structures.
Let’s preface with a brief overview of what psychedelics do in the brain, and why that’s helpful in treating mental disorders. Psychedelics act on serotonin receptors in the brain, which we know acts primarily as an inhibitory agent. This decreases activity in certain regions of the brain, while other regions of the brain become more active- and more effective. The primary regions of the depressed brain are known as the Default Mode Network and are responsible for the feeling of your individual “self”. When this network is turned off, users experience what is called “Ego Death”, and contributes to the feeling of “being one with the universe or God”, as you might have heard. Scans have found that post-trip brains have more cohesive wiring in the regions affected by the drugs and that new connections have been formed. Rolling Stone and Scientific American have some lovely articles that go more in-depth on the subject.
Many have described their experiences with these substances as enlightening, with some reporting a guide appearing to give them the information they lack or help them to process residual issues in their life, helping them to see the bigger picture or to free themselves from old baggage.
Less scientific, but a friend of mine (passionate Psychonaut) has a belief that plants store knowledge, in a way, and when used to alter consciousness, that knowledge is being given to you. They also believe that what you ask for, the reason for using psychoactives, depends on what you receive.
Ketamine is a synthetic drug and has been used primarily as an anesthetic for surgery in higher doses. In lower doses, one remains conscious, but experiences disassociative effects and is used as a party drug. Because of its current medical uses, Ketamine remains legal. In recent years Ketamine, because of it’s psychedelic activity, has aroused interest in treating especially stubborn depression. Here’s information from WebMD, Psychology Today, Science Daily, and TIME. There are currently a small number of clinics around the U.S. using ketamine to treat depression and smaller studies as well. You can ask your care provider if any are any going on near you that you can participate in- and if it is a possible treatment for you. But keep in mind, as it is experimental, it is not often covered by insurance, and the cost per session can be anywhere from $100- $800, (dependant upon the clinic) and the treatment takes multiple sessions.
Psilocybin is a fascinating compound. It is found in many species of the Psilocybe mushroom family, though the amount of Psilocybin varies from species to species. Psilocybin is a variant of DMT, which contributes to some similarity in effects as Ayahuasca, the active component of which is DMT. I was introduced to its medical uses by this lecture given in 2017. (youtube clip, about 13 minutes long)
Since the first studies, interest in using psilocybin to treat stubborn anxiety and depression has bloomed, though I genuinely hope that it progresses to the point where this treatment becomes available to those who need it- without the hassle and fear of its legal status. Until that time, enjoy some articles discussing the results emerging, and, if you decide to try this, please be safe and responsible. Remember to do your research! From TIME Depression and Anxiety, MedScape, The Guardian, Depression and Anxiety, Scientific American. Quartz has a very interesting article on how Psilocybin affects the Default Mode Network, therefore eliminating your “conscious self”.
Ayahuasca is the last psychedelic I’d like to discuss today. Ayahuasca has been used for millennia as a source of healing and ritual experience. It is made up of plants containing DMT, which normally has a very short metabolism in the body- about 20 minutes, and another compound, typically an MAOI, which increases the time it is active in the body- about 5- 10 hours depending on doses- and also has its own effects. In this episode of Mind Field, (a youtube red series) the host takes a trip to Peru to experience and examine the results of his trip with a neurologist. There are arguments on both sides if the ritual experience is necessary, but it is agreed overall that the setting and mindset one has going into a psychedelic experience is vital to what one will experience on the trip.
As a disclaimer, the use of psychedelic drugs is not recommended for those predisposed to psychotic episodes or disorders like schizophrenia. It’s best to be screened by a professional before using psychedelics and strong psychoactives.
There are plenty of ongoing studies around these substances and their uses, so you’ll be sure to hear from me again regarding all of this!
If you have any personal experience, be sure to leave it in the comments for others to learn! It’ll also help if there’s anything I may have missed! (Holy crap this post took forever to hunt down info for!)
The temptation to dose him with something powerful enough to give us all a whole night’s rest was strong, but I knew his path to recovery lay in cleansing the body and learning to live with the fear. For the memories would be with him always, in one guise or another.
Juliet Marillier, Daughter of The Forest, Book One of the Sevenwaters Trilogy