Psychedelics are making a comeback in a big way in the Western world. Until recently, psychedelics were prohibited taboos — but now, they’re being researched and considered all over the world for their therapeutic potential. Brain injuries from repeated concussion and loss of consciousness is one place where psychedelics are showing promise.
It’s kind of special to exist in this day and age. Psychedelics aren’t new or novel drugs. Research isn’t being conducted on their efficacy and safety because they haven’t been around for long. Rather, research is being conducted on psychedelic plants like magic mushrooms because they have long been neglected by medical science.
As psychedelics come out of the shadows and out of prohibition, we’re learning that the therapeutic applications for them are so wide ranging, they might have applications in some of our most treatment resistant, and even incurable, diseases.
Recently, a series of HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbal aired showcasing the stories of multiple professional sportsmen whose last resort for dealing with their brain injuries was psychedelic substances.
In this article, we’re talking real life stories of real life people. We’re sharing the stories of former NHL player, Daniel Carcillo, and former UFC fighters Ian McCall and Dean Lester.
The last resort for Daniel Carcillo.
In the episode of HBO, Carcillo describes his ongoing battle with depression that nearly led him to suicide. Even though the episode only features four athletes, brain injuries are unbelievably common among footballers and fighters. It most commonly manifests as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). CTE, a brain disease caused by too many blows to the head, can lead to a whole range of neurological, psychological, and emotional symptoms. In one study, 99% of NFL players had developed CTE.
CTE is the reason that Carcillo nearly killed himself, describing in the episode that he had “never felt more dead inside”. He had 7 diagnosable concussions in his 12 year professional hockey career, but he admitted on the show that there could have been many more that weren’t diagnosed.
He was experiencing suicidal ideation, depression, slurred speech, cognitive dysfunction such as memory loss and confusion, and was also experiencing insomnia. Carcillo went down the road of Ayahuasca, an Indigenous South American psychedelic medicine. When HBO visited him a few months after his experience, his slurred speech, insomnia, and cognitive dysfunction had disappeared. He also says in the episode that he feels much less anxious and depressed since his Ayahuasca experience.
Psilocybin therapy cures addiction and suicidal ideation for Ian McCall & Dean Lester.
Ian McCall’s story is not all that different from Carcillo’s. Except McCall got his injuries in the UFC ring. Repeated injuries had left McCall in a lot of pain. He suffered addiction to opiates and alcohol as a result. But McCall also has CTE from repeated blows to the head while fighting. He called himself a “monster” during the interview with Bryant Gumble, a self-proclamation that’s a little hard to listen to.
McCall tapped out of his career after 15 years, but it took him years to seek therapy after that. He did an underground psilocybin mushroom ceremony with a shaman and he admits that this experimentation helped him overcome his depression, addiction, and suicidal thoughts.
Dean Lester shares another like story. Psilocybin was also the psychedelic of choice for Lester. He describes the psychedelic experience as feeling so “important”, kind of like death. He says that in the moment you realise you’re not dying, you feel like you have a second chance at your life and you can do it differently. Since his first psilocybin experience, he stopped using drugs and alcohol.
Research supports the potential for psilocybin to increase brain complexity.
What’s amazing is that these former athletes, along with millions of people that have come before them, swear by the power of psychedelics — and science is only just catching up.
But it is catching up. And that’s something to jump for joy about.
In one study, researchers conclude that psilocybin and other psychedelics increase brain complexity. This ability is what makes it a good candidate for disorders of consciousness like CTE. It’s also the only time the brain ever shows greater complexity than waking life. During sleep, dreaming, drugs, and alcohol, the brain shows lower brain complexity than waking life. Apparently, psilocybin makes you more woke than woke.
Other research has highlighted the potential of psychedelics in treating depressive disorders, but there’s still a long way to go in terms of clinical trials before we fully understand how this actually translates to the clinical setting.
One of the ongoing obstacles of clinical research on psychedelics is the set and setting. While it’s nice to have a full scientific understanding of psychedelics, researchers have admitted that they are less likely to work when administered in the setting of a double-blind, placebo controlled trial. The context of the experience itself is thought to contribute to the healing potential in a really big way. Intentional, guided psychedelic experiences are essentially more conducive to therapy than clinical adminsitration.
We’re excited about the potential of psilocybin mushrooms, and we bet you are too. Have you ever used mushrooms to treat a medical condition? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments.