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Psychedelics as therapy? West Michigan author advocates for further research and acceptance

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Humans have used psychedelics like magic mushrooms, acid, or ecstasy in a variety of ways for a long time. Though the drugs remain illegal on the federal level in the U.S., interest in psychedelics is continuing to grow, as is the movement to normalize their use — particularly for therapeutic purposes.

Last September, the city of Ann Arbor decriminalized psychedelic plants and fungi, and one of the organizations behind the effort is now aiming to decriminalize them statewide. And, as psychedelic use becomes a little more commonplace, some entrepreneurs are building careers out of educating and coaching people on the practice of microdosing.

West Michigander Paul Austin, the author of Microdosing Psychedelics: A Practical Guide to Upgrade Your Life, says he thinks psychedelics are becoming more widely accepted as a therapeutic tool for mental health conditions. He’s also an advocate for using them in small doses to achieve what he calls an “optimal outcome” in your work or life.

“It's really looking at: how can microdosing help with leadership development? How can it help with optimal wellbeing, with things like flow and creativity?” Austin said. “And what does it say about people, as they're starting to work with psychedelics in terms of both microdoses and also higher doses, how does that change the work that they choose to pursue, even?”

Clinical trials studying the effects of taking psychedelics to treat conditions like depression, anxiety, or addiction have increased in the past decade. For example, in one Johns Hopkins University Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research study last year, scientists found that adults with major depression experienced improvement in their symptoms after receiving doses of psilocybin, a hallucinogenic compound found in some kinds of fungus.

But despite growing research and interest in psychedelics, there’s still a lot we don’t know about them and how they can uniquely affect people. Scientists and medical practitioners point out that while clinical trials might show benefits, participants in those studies are taking psychedelics in carefully controlled environments — not without supervision. And in certain cases, particularly for people with heart conditions or with family histories of psychosis, psychedelics might be a risk to physical or mental health.

Austin emphasizes the importance of working with a guide when using psychedelics for therapeutic or recreational purposes. He offers a coaching package for people interested in microdosing through The Third Wave, an online resource he founded for people hoping to learn more about psychedelic use. Austin says a coach can help people navigate a microdosing or higher-dosage experience.

“Their goal is to provide a mirror, to help guide someone into a deeper knowing in themselves, to become more coherent, to heal certain trauma that might be stored in the unconscious and the subconscious, and to do it in a way that guides someone to better outcomes,” he said.

Austin says clinically trained professionals are the best guides for patients seeking to use psychedelics to help with a mental health condition. For individuals interested in nonclinical outcomes like expanding creativity, Austin says a therapist or psychiatrist may not be necessary, but he recommends a guide with strong listening skills and knowledge of integrative wellness.

“Oftentimes the initial process of psychedelics is healing. There's often, for many, if not all of us, elements to explore, shadow elements to explore — what needs to be healed, what needs to come up from the subconscious and the unconscious,” he said. “But for those of us who have either done this or had other practices, these are phenomenal tools for these expanded states of being, which are just so connected, so beautiful.”

For more, listen to the full conversation above.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Nell Ovitt.

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