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A trip to hell to cure depression? Psychedelics as psychiatry with Adam Laidler

Some of his ‘visions’ may seem hard to believe…


According to the research of Mind, the UK based mental health care charity, one in four Brits will suffer with at least one bought of depression in their lifetime. This statistic stands incredibly high, but to me, as a student, a friend and a consumer of terrible, daily world news, this comes as no surprise.

The World Health Organisation estimates depression as the leading cause for disability worldwide. But when faced with the “empty promises” of the Tory government’s mental health spending according to The Independent, is the UK simply ignoring the issue at hand?

After new figures revealed that “half of local NHS bodies plan to slash spending on vital services” in 2018, perhaps the government’s way of tackling this epidemic is not putting the welfare of sufferers first, and rather, it’s about what money is being spent, and what money can be made.

The pharmaceutical companies of the world have dominated the mental health industry for decades. Through constructions of healthcare guidelines such DSM-5 that are used globally — with the research within usually being funded by pharmaceutical companies themselves — the administration of “mood stabilizer” pills have become the expectation for mental health sufferers post-diagnosis. For many people, medication from pills for their depression have saved their lives, but for some, the pills are found to simply numb or blunt emotions, and aren’t the be all and end all answer.

Cambridge University hosted a talk last year from leading members of the Cambridge Neuroscience Society on the topic of psychedelic drugs as ways of identifying, medicating and providing therapy for various mental health disorders. Psychedelic psychiatry research projects are fairly under-funded in medicine and hold a great deal of taboo due to the illegal nature of the substances. The talks concluded with leading drug policy reformer Amanda Feilding stating that psychedelic drugs should be “conceived as non-specific medicines for a wide range of disorders”.

With these ideas in mind, I met with Adam Laidler, a motivational speaker, MCR Talks regular and self proclaimed ex-depressive. Adam is currently under taking his masters in psychotherapy, and on Tuesday gave a talk about his experiences with his depression and the most powerful psychedelic in the world: ayahuasca.

After a series of events that lead to an extreme depression for Adam, which included his thirteen year relationship and marriage ending, the liquidation of his company due to his financial advisor defrauding the business and the sudden death of his aunt, Adam found himself in the darkest period of his life. He decided to travel the globe, and found his path to Peru to take the drug through recommendations from various people, including someone from the counselling university course he was taking at the time.

“As my depression got worse I became more desperate for a way out” Adam told me. “After being told about ayahuasca and having researched it a bit I became more interested in it’s healing properties.”

Photo: Adam Laidler

Photo: Adam Laidler

Ayahuasca, for those who don’t know, is a powerful hallucinogenic brew that has been administered by Shamans in parts of South America for centuries as part of ritual, spiritual and medicinal exerts.

For many people the drug can take them into a dark place, with some reports — mentioned by Adam — of the psychedelic transporting it’s consumers to the depths of their own personal hell.

“When I think about it now, classing myself as not having depression anymore, it makes me really anxious to think about doing something like ayahuasca. Psychedelic drugs can be so disorientating, destabilising and they can change your worldview. At the time I was so depressed I couldn’t feel my own anxiety,  I was so numb to all my feelings that I wasn’t able to process any anxiety around taking the drug.”

The experience itself wasn’t wholly positive for Adam, as a lot aren’t. After taking the drug in the course of three ceremonies over five days, he saw visions of himself in his mother’s womb, was planted back into his toddler self in a cot and found himself in a dark, empty place, the only thing to see being a black tar pit with a writhing body within, being consumed by the darkness of consumerism and capitalist greed.

Adam found these experiences, though terrifying, also transformative. “It showed me a good way of living” he states. The drug had looked into the depths of his ego and shown Adam the ways in which he was living his life that were making him depressed, including the root to his lifelong belief that he was unlovable.

“I realised, whilst I saw visions of my grandmother holding me as a child, that my mother had been suffering from postnatal depression. We’d never talked about it before, but when I got home from my trip we discussed it and I was right.”

Adam believes he found a cure for his own depression through the drug ayahuasca. But, he stresses, for him this was a personal journey and not one to be taken lightly.

“If you are happy in your life, I would think very, very carefully before taking anything like this. It changed my worldview, and it could show you things that you aren’t ready to see.”

According to Dr Bia Labate, one of the world’s leading ayahuasca experts, quoted by BBC News, there is lots of potential for ayahuasca to be used in medicine.

“There are currently 80 subjects in a clinical trial in Brazil looking at its impact on people with depression – it’s very rigorous and very promising. In Brazil it has helped people with depression who have been resistant to other treatments,” she says.

Ayahuasca is a potent drug that has caused severe harm and even fatalities for its consumers. It is illegal in the UK, but with leading researchers such as Cambridge University seeking to implement psychedelics further in the progression of psychiatric medicine, perhaps the drug, along with others will make it into further research. Whilst the taboo of illegal psychedelic substances remains vigilant in medical, public and media discourse, research into the properties of ketamine to treat mood disorders and legally prescribed diamorphine (heroin) having been a part of British medicine for decades, we must overcome taboo in the name of science and medicine in a controlled manner.

Then, perhaps, we will find that experiences such as Adam’s are not as rare and unbelievable as we imagine them to be.

Find more from Adam on Facebook. 

  • Darryl Bickler

    Many truths here, but please note that substances can never be illegal. Galaxy is a concept which applies to human action not particular defined molecules

  • Darryl Bickler

    The interesting article is marred by the legal error of referring to substances as illegal, legality is a concept which applies to human actions not discrete molecules. There is a vital distinction in terms of human agency and how the law can be made to operate properly and provide proportionate regulation . This possibility is obscured through the misnomers that lead to binary objectification.