Psychedelics Help Autoimmune Conditions? (2024)

Could Psychedelics Treat Autoimmune Conditions?

Welcome to my blog Could Psychedelics Help Autoimmune Conditions?

Could Psychedelics Help Autoimmune Conditions?

A handful of studies from a variety of fields suggest that psychedelics do indeed have effects in the body that may attenuate the outcome of autoimmune disease.

The incidence of autoimmune diseases has been steadily increasing in the last decades, as reported by The National Institute of Health (NIH) and other sources. There are currently over 100 defined autoimmune-related diseases.

What Causes Autoimmunity?

While the causes of autoimmune diseases are controversial, they appear to be multifactorial with many facets that contribute to their development such as:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Environmental triggers
  • Psychosocial stress

There is strong evidence that traumatic experiences such as adverse childhood events and prolonged stress may contribute to the development of an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases often encompass a variety of symptoms and features including:

  • Increased vascular and intestinal permeability (leaky gut)
  • Chronic inflammation
  • The presence of chronic infections
  • Dysregulated adrenal function
  • Mitochondrial dysfunction
  • Microbiome dysbiosis.

While the area of research is quite underdeveloped, there is some evidence that psychedelic compounds have anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating effects.

Trauma And Autoimmune Disease

We have already mentioned that a number of studies have suggested that significant or prolonged stress, especially in early childhood, contributes to the development of a number of diseases including autoimmune diseases. This prolonged stress:

  • Increases inflammatory cytokines
  • Increases oxidative stress
  • Increases glutamate excitotoxicity
  • Inhibits effective digestion and nutrient absorption
  • Contributes to HPA axis dysfunction

Stress has been found to increase intestinal permeability (leaky gut) which can lead to food sensitivities and inflammation.

The psychedelic compounds psilocybin, LSD, MDMA, and ayahuasca are currently being explored for their promising potential to assist in treating trauma-derived illnesses such as PTSD, depression, and addiction

Given that trauma and chronic sympathetic activation are prevalent among those with autoimmune diseases, the therapeutic outcome of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy could resolve or improve stressful psychological states that cause or contribute to physiological outcomes seen in the majority of autoimmune disease patients.

How Might Psychedelics Treat Autoimmunity?

Well we mentioned common features of autoimmunity such as inflammation, infections and dysbiosis, and a history of stress/trauma. These are three potential mechanisms by which psychedelics help autoimmune conditions.

Infections And Dysbiosis

Chronic infections with bacteria, fungi and viruses are common in those with autoimmune disease.

Examples include the Epstein-Barr virus and other herpes family viruses as well as Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Many patients with autoimmune disease display evidence of increased gut permeability, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, and other signs of gut dysbiosis, which can be classified as chronic low-grade infections.

Research has shown that certain psychedelics have anti-microbial properties.

Constituents in psychedelic plants such as the ayahuasca vine and Peyote cactus display specific antimicrobial effects.

It’s also been theorised that psychedelics may indirectly modulate microbes via influencing the vagus nerve and our stress response:

The emotional and psychological benefits of psychedelics may indirectly alter microbial communities in the GI tract via induced changes in vagal nerve tone, stress response, and enteric environment

So perhaps one way psychedelics help autoimmune conditions is via modulating our ‘microbial environment’.

Psilocybin And Lyme Disease: A Case Study

A good example of this is a case study that got published in 2023.

Lyme disease can result in severe neuropsychiatric symptoms that may be resistant to treatment. The pathogenesis of neuropsychiatric Lyme disease is associated with autoimmune induced neuroinflammation. This case report describes an immunocompetent male with serologically positive neuropsychiatric Lyme disease who did not tolerate antimicrobial or psychotropic medications and whose symptoms remitted when he began psilocybin in microdosed (sub-hallucinogenic) amounts. A literature review of its therapeutic benefits reveals that psilocybin is both serotonergic and anti-inflammatory and therefore may offer significant therapeutic benefits to patients with mental illness secondary to autoimmune inflammation. The role of microdosed psilocybin in the treatment of neuropsychiatric Lyme disease and autoimmune encephalopathies warrants further study. (source)

Psilocybin Is Anti-Inflammatory

Another possible way psychedelics treat autoimmune disease is via their modulation of the immune system.

Psilocybin immediately reduced concentrations of the pro-inflammatory cytokine tumour necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), while other inflammatory markers (interleukin (IL)- 1β, IL-6, and C-reactive protein (CRP)) remained unchanged. Seven days later, TNF-α concentrations returned to baseline, while IL-6 and CRP concentrations were persistently reduced in the psilocybin group. Changes in the immune profile were related to acute neurometabolic activity as acute reductions in TNF-α were linked to lower concentrations of glutamate in the hippocampus. Additionally, the more of a reduction in IL-6 and CRP seven days after psilocybin, the more persisting positive mood and social effects participants reported. Regarding the stress response, after a psychosocial stressor, psilocybin did not significantly alter the stress response. (source)

I wonder in some cases whether the psychedelic journey is ‘potent’ enough to have a more long lasting impact – recalibrating the immune system to a healthy state (in fact it’s obvious this must happen based on anecdotal reports).

Psychedelics And Complex Trauma

The most common thing I see in clinic is absolutely chronic or acute stress, or adverse childhood experiences, contributing to my clients health challenges.

Child maltreatment has a detrimental impact on the development of internal self and other schemata, resulting in adverse adjustments in self-perception and social understanding. Clinical evidence indicates the potential of psychedelics in addressing the psychological aftermath of child maltreatment. By modifying dysfunctional self and other schemata associated with negative self-perception and hindered social comprehension, there lies a significant pathway for alleviating symptoms of post-traumatic stress (source).

So there are three published mechanisms by which psychedelics help autoimmune conditions.

Summary: Psychedelics Help Autoimmune Conditions

So could psychedelics help autoimmune conditions? I feel they could absolutely be an important component of some peoples healing journey.

In fact, I have had dozens of people reach out to me sharing how psychedelics had a profound impact on their healing journey, including spontaneous remission after sitting in ceremony. And I am never one to promote the idea that simply taking a psychedelic is going to heal you, I am fascinated that it can and does happen (and it is rare despite what social media/the internet might sometimes suggest).

It is also not something, I feel, you should blindly go in to. Psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca are sacred medicines and should be treated with the upmost respect. As many of you will appreciate, preparation for a ceremony is important, as is integration afterwards.

I see psychedelics as another tool in the tool box that can be used, to compliment the other elements of healing – and that includes relationships, diet, exercise, sleep, stress management etc etc. Sure, some get ‘lucky’ but psychedelics are not a magic bullet, they can come with risks for some, and they can lead to profound unexpected consequences. Some times we might just get a big slap in the face in regards to how we are showing up in the world.

The authors provided this summary of their paper:

  • Classic psychedelic compounds display immuno-modulatory properties.
  • Psychosocial stress may contribute to the development of Ads.
  • The gut microbiota modulates physiological pathways involved in stress.
  • Modulation of the gut microbiome by psychedelics may influence immune functions.
  • Normalisation of physiological stress responses may be key in the application of psychedelics to treat Ads.

References

  • Psychedelics as a novel approach to treating autoimmune conditions: click here
  • Psychedelics and Immunomodulation: Novel Approaches and Therapeutic Opportunities: click here
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