While research is new and not legal in every state, psychedelic treatments show promising results for treatment-resistant depression, PTSD, and other mental health conditions.

A white man reclining on his therapist's couch as he undergoes psychedelic therapy.Share on Pinterest
frédéric Michel/Getty Images

An increasing body of research suggests that psychedelic-assisted therapy can be effective in treating depression and other mental health conditions.

Psychedelic-assisted therapy is when you receive a psychedelic substance in a clinical setting. It’s usually combined with talk therapy and other forms of mental health treatment. You may talk with a therapist while you’re under the influence of the substance and after it wears off.

These psychedelic substances can include:

Psychedelic-assisted therapy could help treat many mental health conditions, including addiction, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety disorders.

“With psychedelic-assisted therapy, you’re able to address the root cause of the problem and oftentimes, fix it more quickly and effectively than alternative options like traditional talk therapy or antidepressant medications,” psychiatrist Dr. Reid Robison, chief clinical officer at Numinus, told Healthline.

But what does the research say about psychedelic therapy for depression? Is it safe? How does it work? Here’s what you need to know.

Research on psychedelic therapy is ongoing, with available studies suggesting certain psychedelics may be a promising treatment for depression.

Ketamine

In 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of an esketamine nasal spray called Spravato for treatment-resistant depression. Esketamine is a more potent form of ketamine.

Research from that year found esketamine is a safe and effective treatment for treatment-resistant depression, providing relief in as little as 24 hours.

A 2023 study conducted in China and the United States yielded similar results.

Recently, a small, randomized, double-blind, active-controlled trial from 2023 explored the effects of ketamine on treatment-resistant depression. (These types of trials are considered a gold standard for quality research.)

In the trial, people received either ketamine or midazolam, a benzodiazepine medication, twice a week for 4 weeks. Out of those who received ketamine, 20% reported experiencing remission — meaning they no longer had clinical depression.

Ketamine is the only FDA-approved psychedelic treatment for depression, but it’s not the only option.

Other treatment options

A 2020 clinical trial found that two doses of psilocybin alongside talk therapy significantly reduced depression symptoms for at least 4 weeks after therapy.

A 2020 review of trials suggests that psilocybin is safe enough to consider as a first-line treatment for both depression and anxiety.

Similarly, a 2021 clinical trial tested MDMA as a treatment for severe PTSD. Researchers found that MDMA-assisted therapy showed significant improvement for people with PTSD, including those who had clinical depression alongside PTSD.

Treatment integration is key

While these results are promising, remember to have realistic expectations.

“It’s important to keep in mind that psychedelics are not a magic cure,” Robison said. “The real long lasting ‘magic’ happens when psychedelic experiences are integrated into everyday life.”

This is a process called psychedelic integration: You take the insights you gain from being under the influence of psychedelics and apply it to your daily life.

“Making your integration process a priority is key to fully embracing the wisdom and insights experienced during a psychedelic journey,” Robison said.

Was this helpful?

Psychedelic-assisted therapy may involve the use of several drugs, including:

Because it’s FDA approved, ketamine-assisted therapy is the only legal psychedelic-assisted therapy in the United States.

However, it’s still possible to access therapy that uses other forms of psychedelics in a research setting by participating in clinical trials.

Getting involved in clinical research

If you’re interested in exploring psychedelic treatments and want to help researchers learn more about these treatments, you can check out ClinicalTrials.gov to learn about trials currently recruiting participants.

Make sure to discuss joining a trial with your primary doctor and therapist before starting it.

Was this helpful?

The substances used in psychedelic therapy may cause a range of side effects, including:

Some of these side effects can be a concern if you have an underlying condition. Before trying psychedelic therapy, be sure to talk with your healthcare professional first if you have:

  • unmanaged high blood pressure
  • a history of substance use disorder
  • a history of psychosis
  • heart disease
  • a history of increased intracranial pressure

Keep in mind

As with any medication used for depression, it’s always best to use any psychedelic treatment alongside ongoing therapy or other psychological treatment.

A trained therapist can not only guide you through the process but also look out for any side effects that you may not be able to notice.

If you don’t already have a therapist, check out our guide on how to find the right one for you.

Was this helpful?

At most clinics, ketamine-assisted therapy, which includes a dose of ketamine and talk therapy, costs between $350 and $500 per session.

Clinics typically require a consultation session before you begin treatment. You’d usually need to commit to 1–12 sessions, depending on the substance you’re using and the clinic’s protocol.

Certain insurance providers may cover esketamine nasal spray (Spravato) because it’s approved by the FDA for treatment-resistant depression. However, they likely won’t cover other types of psychedelic-assisted therapy.

While psychedelic treatments are generally considered safe when administered in a clinical setting, it’s still a good idea to speak with your therapist before trying it out.

Robison recommends having appropriate support in place before starting psychedelic-assisted therapy. This can include getting support from loved ones and a licensed mental health care professional.

Your therapist might be able to help you:

  • find a trained, qualified psychedelic-assisted therapist
  • explore your goals for psychedelic-assisted therapy
  • consider other options if you’re not a candidate for psychedelic-assisted therapy

If you’re not sure how to broach the topic, you could use the following prompts (or a variation of them):

  • “I recently read an article about psychedelic-assisted therapy and how it can be effective for depression. What are your thoughts?”
  • “I’ve been looking into psychedelic-assisted therapy, and I think it may be a possible option for me. Can you provide me with support while I seek treatment at a local clinic?”
  • “A friend of mine recently shared that ketamine therapy improved their depression symptoms. Are you familiar with psychedelic-assisted therapy?”

If you’re uncomfortable talking about it face-to-face, you can consider emailing your therapist between sessions. This can allow them to look into your question and give you an informed answer.

Psychedelic-assisted therapy has shown some promise in treating depression, especially treatment-resistant depression.

If you’re looking to use psychedelic therapy for depression, it’s important to seek help from a licensed and qualified therapist who has experience in psychedelic-assisted therapy.

In many places, these substances are considered illegal. You can check the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) database of accredited therapists to learn more.