published : 2023-11-06

Psychedelic Medicine: A Breakthrough Treatment for Eco-Anxiety and Climate Grief

A psychiatrist argues for the use of psychedelic drugs in treating patients suffering from 'climate mental health' problems

A person gazing at a lush forest landscape, feeling a sense of eco-anxiety and contemplating the impact of climate change on nature (Taken with a Canon EOS Rebel T7i)

In an advice column for the Washington Post, board-certified psychiatrist Emily Willow, MD, explores the potential of psychedelic medicine-assisted therapy in addressing the rising issue of eco-anxiety and climate grief.

As a psychiatrist, Willow has witnessed a growing trend of patients experiencing feelings of powerlessness and despair over climate change and its harmful effects.

This phenomenon, termed as eco-anxiety and climate grief, has gained recognition as a new field in mental health, encompassing a broad range of emotional and psychological responses.

Willow suggests that the prevailing focus on personal responsibility and individual action in combatting climate change has contributed to feelings of anxiety and powerlessness in many individuals.

To address these challenges, Willow advocates for the use of psychedelics such as psilocybin (derived from psychedelic mushrooms), MDMA, and FDA-approved oral ketamine, in conjunction with psychotherapy sessions.

A therapist guiding a patient through a psychedelic medicine-assisted therapy session, exploring the complex feelings associated with climate grief (Taken with a Nikon D850)

Clinical trials have already shown the safety and efficacy of psychedelic therapies in treating conditions like PTSD, depression, end-of-life anxiety, and alcoholism.

While drugs like MDMA and psilocybin are not yet FDA approved, there is already a notable medication available – ketamine – which exhibits psychedelic properties and offers promising results when used in combination with psychotherapy.

Willow asserts that her patients using oral ketamine, along with psychotherapy, have reported breakthroughs and new insights in navigating eco-anxiety.

Psychedelic medicine-assisted therapy encourages individuals to embrace painful emotions rather than avoid them, fostering a deeper understanding of their suffering and offering a new perspective on climate crisis-related anxiety.

By experiencing intense emotions within a controlled therapeutic setting, individuals can learn to observe their suffering and find new ways to approach it.

A group of diverse individuals participating in a psychotherapy session, discussing ways to navigate eco-anxiety and find resilience in the face of climate change (Taken with a Sony Alpha a7 III)

Willow acknowledges that psychedelic therapies are not suitable for everyone, as medical and psychiatric contraindications exist and vary depending on the specific psychedelic medicine being considered.

She advises individuals interested in psychedelic therapy to consult with their doctor to determine if it is an appropriate option for them.

The potential of psychedelic medicine to alleviate eco-anxiety and climate grief represents a promising avenue for mental health professionals to explore, providing individuals with new tools and perspectives for navigating the overwhelming challenges posed by climate change.