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Psychedelics and Wellness: What’s the Connection?

December 18, 2019

By Andrew Penn, RN, MS, NP, CNS, APRN-BC
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The opinions expressed by Psychiatry & Behavioral Health Learning Network bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone and are not meant to reflect the opinions of the publication.

A conversation between Andrew Penn, MS, PMHNP and Saundra Jain, MA, PsyD, LPC

Many people know Drs. Saundra and Rakesh Jain from their work around wellness in psychiatry, not only at Psych Congress, but around the world. They have published a workbook and have a forthcoming text on the science behind wellness and the implementation of wellness-enhancing practices (called WILD 5 Wellness - Wellness Interventions for Life’s Demands) into clinical practice. 

What many people are surprised to learn is that their interests in wellness have intersected with my interests in psychedelic-assisted therapy. They’ve been collecting data about experiences and wellness from people who have used psychedelics. I sat down with Saundra Jain, MA, PsyD, LPC to better understand the connection. A transcript of our conversation is below.

Tell me about the survey you and Rakesh Jain, MD, MPH are conducting.

Saundra Jain
Saundra Jain, MA, PsyD, LPC

I’d be happy to, Andrew. Wellness is certainly a topic of interest for most of us and our patients. As many of your readers know, we have been conducting research in the area of wellness for many years. To date, we’ve completed 11 studies—all with positive findings. We are committed to continuing this research, but an interesting thing happened several years ago. Data coming from the world of psychedelics caught our attention and we began wondering about the intersection of psychedelics and wellness.

What got you interested in asking people about their psychedelic experiences? 

We are so convinced of the power of wellness as an augmentation strategy in mental health that we couldn’t stop wondering if wellness has a role to play in the world of psychedelics. We believed the best way to answer that question was to go straight to those in the psychedelic community and ask them about their experiences via an anonymous, online survey on psychedelic use and the impact on mental health and wellness. So, that’s exactly what we did. We’re grateful to those who have completed the survey, and to those who will, for guiding us and informing us about the interrelationship between psychedelics and wellness.

What are people telling you about the results of their experiences? 

There were many interesting findings from the pilot study. Let me tell you about a few that I think your readers will find of interest. 

•    Pre/post measures of anxiety and depression showed improvements of 56% and 54% respectively. 

•    Using a validated measure of wellness called The HERO Wellness Scale, which looks at self-reported levels of happiness, enthusiasm, resilience, and optimism, we found an overall improvement of 44% in happiness, 36% in enthusiasm, 27% in resilience, and 39% in optimism.

•    We queried feelings of gratitude, inner peace, connection to nature, sense of awe, and feelings of love, compassion, joy, and empathy. Of the 83 participants, 2% reported some degree of worsening, but the remainder reported improvements ranging from minimally improved to much improved.

•    98% believe psychedelics should be used to treat certain psychiatric disorders; 99% said they should be legalized for medical use. 

We hope these findings pique your readers’ interest. We were excited to see the improvements specific to depression and anxiety, but finding additional improvements related to wellness was a definite bonus. Based on our wellness research outside of psychedelics and our clinical work, we know that wellness is an effective nonpharmacological augmentation strategy. It only makes sense that an interrelationship between psychedelics and wellness would exist.

So, it sounds like the vast majority of the people surveyed expressed some benefit from their psychedelic experiences. Of course, all medicines have side effects and risks. Did you note any adverse effects from the use of psychedelics in your study?

It was very exciting to see that the benefits outweighed the side-effects/risks associated with their psychedelic experiences. As mentioned earlier, the results showed that 2% of 83 participants reported some degree of worsening, ranging from minimally worse to very much worse.

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