What Happens When Psychedelic Treatment for PTSD Turns Into a Bad Trip

I lay flat on my back, pouring sweat and heart racing, in a hotel room with a woman who had just overdosed me.

Let’s call her Sarah. To be clear: Neither of us was here to party. Sarah, in fact, was a therapist, a licensed clinician. Outside of her office hours, she offered patients like me psilocybin and MDMA, for PTSD and treatment-resistant depression. She did this at fairly extreme risk to her career, because, as she said, she believed in it. This was my second time trying a guided, high-dosage cocktail of psychedelics to address my ongoing PTSD, a result of my surviving the 2008 terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai.

The goal with such an experience is to “go inside” yourself, surrender the trappings of the ego, and through that process transcend or soothe damage caused by a fundamental trauma. The idea is fairly simple: By letting go of yourself (commonly known as ego loss, or ego death), you become one with everything else. Put another way, you can experience a sense of wholeness that transcends yourself, and that wholeness can be very healing. In conversations with underground practitioners, I learned this was achieved through taking a combination of “medicines.” (For example: MDMA, the main ingredient in what is commonly referred to as ecstasy, paired with psilocybin, otherwise known as magic mushrooms.) But equally important, they said, was the guided support for the experience itself, followed by integration (processing of the experience) with that same guide. My first trip had been very positive and had resulted in a sense of peace and calm with respect to the particular anguish I had been experiencing for years. Indeed, recent scientific research increasingly supports the potential for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to be “an innovative, efficacious treatment” for PTSD.

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