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Can Psychedelics Help to Treat Extreme Grief?

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Can psychedelics help with the challenging symptoms of grief? Many people experience extreme emotional pain following the loss of a loved one. In recent years, there has been increased interest in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy treatment for individuals suffering from severe grief. 

Psychedelics and grief have an unexpected affinity. Both are veiled in societal taboos and folklore mystique, relegating them to the cultural margins and fringes. More crucially, they are both sensitive, natural, and ancient human experiences that the world appears to be finally ready to learn not just about—but from.

Amidst the present epidemic of despair and global crisis, more people are using psychedelics as a new form of treatment. Studies have shown that they are beneficial in treating difficult symptoms of grief and can promote personal growth.

Psychedelics and grief

How Psychedelics Works

We know that mourning, like PTSD, is an emotional and bodily traumatic event that rewires the brain. When a link is created, the way those proteins fold in the brain’s nucleus accumbens alters significantly. Over time, our neurons become devoted to firing in a specific way and, therefore, to this link or relationship. The nucleus accumbens motivates our reward system, which is responsible for food, sexual behavior, stress, and drug self-administration, also known as addiction. Heroin and cocaine both activate and destroy this same reward system. The connection of love to its drug-like addictive consequences is a common theme, but we are becoming more aware that sadness chemically acts along the same cerebral pathway. The lack of a relationship or the absence of a missing individual causes this loss to be jarring to our reward, neurological, limbic, and physiological systems. In other words, it devastates your entire universe at first.

According to neurosurgeon Lisa M. Shulman, “grief is an evolutionary mechanism to improve survival in the face of emotional trauma.” Grief as a tool for transformation is a relatively recent concept. Most popular views of grief, such as the “five phases of grieving” or The Kübler-Ross model, were developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969. This model was inspired by the range of emotions experienced by a dying person rather than by grief. It remained a real and recognized explanation of the complicated and abstract emotional upheavals one goes through during the many stages of their mourning journey. The final step was once approaching unavoidable acceptance. Still, her protégé and collaborator, David Kessler, today’s most popular media expert on “Grief and Grieving,” transformed the layman’s narrative in 2019 with his book Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. Since then, new-age grief work, such as experiential retreats or writing workshops like the Make Meaning Workshop, has provided outlets for them to merge their grief into meaning.

This crucial sixth phase in the search for meaning links mourning and a more fulfilling and emotionally balanced life. However, Dr. Robert A. Neimeyer’s 2001 book Meaning Reconstruction and The Experience of Loss studied this intrinsic tendency to adjust to the shock of loss by generating meaning from it. Neimeyer defines Meaning-Reconstruction Theory, comparable to psychedelic integration theories, as the ability to reconstruct, rearrange, and reimagine our experiences or stages of mourning to commence recovery and personal growth beyond our previous capacities.

This seemingly simple “sixth step” of grief can appear challenging and daunting for the average bereaved person. Still, suppose one successfully practices the process and skill of creating or reconstructing meaning. In that case, one successfully integrates a new evolutionary coping mechanism and life tool for the brain, body, and spirit.

It is an emotional excavation and reconstruction that requires us to explore the depths and caves of our most perilous memories to form new brain bonds essentially. For individuals seeking more holistic and sophisticated approaches to overcoming protracted bereavement, psychedelic-assisted therapies come into play. Psychedelics benefit those who are grieving in the same manner that they have been shown to help heroin addicts, people living with PTSD, and those who have witnessed horrific events. They assist in accessing memories and essential experiences that have negatively impacted the reward system to confront and offer their brain a road to favorably rebuilding them.

Prince Harry has been vocal about his experience with psychedelics and how they helped him through grieving after his mother, Princess Diana, passed away. Harry is not alone in this sentiment. Many American athletes have also turned to psychedelic drugs to deal with extreme grief, including quarterback Aaron Rogers.

Prince Harry and Aaron Rodgers are just two of the many prominent people who have recently opened up about using psychedelics to help them deal with extreme emotions. Whether it’s grief or depression, these high-profile figures are showing that there are safe, effective ways to handle complicated feelings without resorting to prescription drugs or alcohol.

The fact that Prince Harry has publicly discussed his use of psychedelics to cope with grief shows how far we’ve come regarding mainstream acceptance. While some people may still view psychedelic drugs as taboo, Prince Harry’s openness about this topic is a step toward more widespread acceptance of the benefits they can provide for people dealing with extreme emotions like grief.

fact that Prince Harry has publicly discussed his use of psychedelics

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