Studies have demonstrated the neuroprotective properties of cannabis can help with traumatic brain injury by reducing secondary damage after the initial trauma, which has contributed to the interest in exploring alternative treatments like psychedelics for traumatic brain injuries.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. In Canada, 2% of the population lives with a traumatic brain injury. There are 18,000 hospitalizations each year, and traumatic brain injury typically occurs in 500 out of every 100,000 individuals annually. That is approximately 165,000 people in Canada impacted by traumatic brain injury every day. This equals 452 people every day, or one person every 3 minutes.

Here we will look at psychedelics for traumatic brain injuries, mainly where the research is headed and its promise for treatment.

Description of Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is defined as a disruption in the brain’s normal function caused by trauma to the head. This trauma can be experienced in numerous ways, typically described as a bump, blow, or jolt to the head.

Children and older adults are at higher risk of experiencing a traumatic brain injury than an average adult—other than adults engaged in contact sports.

Is a concussion a traumatic brain injury?

The term traumatic brain injury sounds scary, and it can be. A concussion is considered a type of traumatic brain injury. Even though concussions are often seen as mild brain injuries (because they are generally not life threatening) the impacts can still be severe. This is important because concussions are common in many contact sports.

Signs of a concussion can be subtle (hard to identify) and may not show up immediately following injury.

The symptoms of a concussion can last for days, weeks, or sometimes even longer. Common symptoms include headache, memory loss (amnesia), and confusion. Amnesia usually involves forgetting the event that caused the concussion.

Physical signs and symptomsOther signs and symptomsSymptoms that may occur days after injury
Headache
Ringing in the ears
Nausea
Vomiting
Fatigue or drowsiness
Blurry vision
Confusion or feeling in a fog
Amnesia surrounding the event
Dizziness
Concentration and memory complaints
Irritability and other personality changes
Sensitivity to light and noise
Sleep disturbances
Psychological adjustment problems and depression
Disorders of taste and smell

Related: Cannabis for Heacaches and Migraines

Treatment for Concussions

It’s essential to speak to a doctor if you think you’ve experienced a traumatic brain injury. Treatment focuses on physical and mental rest. Doctors recommend engaging in relative rest: reducing activities that require mental exertion but not eliminating all activities.

It’s vital to slowly add mental and physical activities back into your life and pay attention to how they impact symptoms. Resuming rigorous physical activity after a traumatic brain injury increases the risk of another brain injury. So, increase activity slowly and listen to your doctor.

Related: Mindfulness and Psychedelics

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a neurodegenerative disease linked to repeated blows to the head. It can include behavioural problems, mood problems, and issues with cognition. While it can only be diagnosed in an autopsy, a 2017 study showed that 99 percent of former NFL players and 91 percent of college football players studied had CTE.

Some professional athletes experience significant adverse impacts of traumatic brain injury, including depression and suicide ideation. As a result of these symptoms, many athletes have turned to alternative treatment methods, such as psychedelics.

Psychedelics for Traumatic Brain Injury

Several athletes have already turned to psychedelics to manage symptoms related to traumatic brain injury. The research is also underway.

A 2019 review stresses the importance of research into the use of psychedelics, such as psilocybin, for disorders related to consciousness based on previous preliminary studies. A 2021 review looked at historical data about psychedelics’ safety and potential therapeutic uses to outline the areas of interest for traumatic brain injury.

Neuroinflammation

Neuroinflammation specifically refers to inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. Ongoing neuroinflammation can increase damage to the brain.

The 5-HT2A receptor, the one psychedelics like magic mushrooms act on, is well known to have the potential to regulate inflammation in the brain.

Neurogenesis

Neurogenesis is the growth and repair of brain cells which is essential for healing from a traumatic brain injury.

Psilocybin has been shown to support neurogenesis in the hippocampus, which plays a vital role in learning, memory, and mood. Scientists believe the damage to the hippocampus may account for some of the long-term emotional and cognitive problems experienced by those who have experienced a brain injury.

Neurogenesis in the hippocampus also supports recovery from PTSD.

Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change and adapt through growth and reorganization. After a traumatic brain injury, the reorganization of neural connections is an integral part of recovery, specifically relearning information and reforming memories.

Studies show that psychedelics promote neural plasticity, speeding up relearning in patients with traumatic brain injury. 

Psychedelics for PTSD and Depression

It’s common for those who have experienced a traumatic brain injury to develop PTSD or depression.

Approximately 25% of people who experience a traumatic brain injury develop symptoms of major depressive disorder.

Psychedelics can also support the treatment of PTSD and depression, which, in turn, can support the overall recovery for those with a TBI.

Learn more about using psychedelics for PTSD and Depression.

Final Thoughts on Psychedelics for Traumatic Brain Injury

Psychedelics are being used by many athletes to manage the long-term impacts of traumatic brain injury. Research is underway to develop a deeper understanding of how psychedelics help heal the brain.

Preliminary evidence suggests that psychedelics could help restore some of the damage and improve psychological symptoms associated with injury. However, it’s important to note that this research is still pre-clinical, but more people are investing in it.

Image credits:

Photo by Keith Johnston on Unsplash

Photo by Milad Fakurian on Unsplash

Photo by Xan Griffin on Unsplash

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When using psychedelics, like magic mushrooms, you likely spend a decent amount of time planning for the experience. You probably set your intentions, choose a location and people you trust to be a part of the experience, prepare your environment, and select your dose. Do you take the same kind of care with the time after your psychedelic experience?

Psychedelics can have numerous therapeutic impacts. Taking some time for yourself after the experience can help integrate these impacts into your life.

If you have previous experience with psychedelics, you know several factors can impact how long it takes shrooms to kick in. If you’re taking a full macro dose, the experience is also not linear. It’s not likely the experience will ramp up to a peak and slowly decrease until you’re back to baseline – it tends to come in waves. As a result, it can be difficult to tell when you are back to baseline, and many people report experiencing something called an ‘afterglow.’

The afterglow experience is often described as a lingering euphoric feeling at the end of a psychedelic experience. It’s often called ‘afterglow’ because the world may feel particularly ‘shiny.’ Taking advantage of this afterglow can be a valuable part of psychedelic integration.

What To Do After a Psychedelic Experience – Psychedelic Integration

There are no rules for what to do or how to use your time after a psychedelic experience as different strategies work for different people. However, we suggest making a conscious choice about how to use the time.

Here are some ways to approach psychedelic integration:

Meditation/Mindfulness

Take some time to be present with yourself in a way that’s comfortable for you. If meditation or mindfulness is a part of your routine (if it’s not, we suggest you give it a try) lean into this and use it as a tool for being present with your feelings during the afterglow period.

If sitting quietly feels overwhelming to you, approach being with yourself in a way that feels more comfortable. Remember: the goal of mindfulness is not to be void of thoughts but to be present in the moment. Instead, you may want to try finding a comfortable spot to draw, colour or listen to soothing music.

You can find adult colouring books in places like Amazon or Chapters, but you can also download and print colouring pages.

Stretch/Move Your Body

A lot of our intense emotions are held in our bodies. So, moving our bodies can help to release those feelings. Take a few minutes to scan your body and notice how you feel and where you may be holding any tension. (Try this body scan meditation). Then, find ways of stretching or moving your body that feel good.

This could be sitting on the floor and stretching, doing some simple yoga stretches, going for a walk, doing whatever feels good – listen to your body.

Experience Nature

Psychedelics and nature go hand in hand. Reconnecting with nature following a psychedelic experience can be very healing. Find a quiet place to get outside and reconnect with nature; lay down in the grass, look up at the clouds or the trees, take your shoes off at the beach, or take a walk down a forest trail.

Note some people do choose to have their psychedelic experience in nature. If you choose to do so, make sure you are in a safe place, with people you trust, and have access to all the things you may need during the experience (such as water and a bathroom).

Journal

One of the therapeutic effects of magic mushrooms is being able to examine and connect with past experiences so you can recontextualize them. Sometimes feelings come up that you aren’t expecting, are bigger than you were expecting, or you simply aren’t prepared to deal with. Journaling is a tool that many people use to help them sort through their feelings or to record their experiences to return to later.

Many people say journaling is the most crucial aspect of psychedelic integration for them. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you understand them, see them more clearly, self-reflect, and potentially recognize patterns.

How to Journal for Psychedelic Integration

As with any integration process, journaling is personal. If journaling is part of your routine, you may follow the same pattern you always do, but if not, you may want some prompts or tips to start the process.

There are generally two ways of journaling; (1) open-ended journaling and (2) journaling for a specific purpose. For psychedelic integration, you may want to consider incorporating both.

Consider starting your journaling before your psychedelic experience. Not only does this help with setting your intentions, but it can also act as a trip log. A trip log can help you further understand your psychedelic experience and help you uncover trends.

What to record in your trip log before your psychedelic experience

A few things can be beneficial to record in your trip log before your psychedelic experience to help you make the most of it.

  • Date and time of the experience
  • Dose and strain of mushrooms
  • Intentions
  • Emotional state before the experience
  • Any important thoughts/feelings you may be having (ex: are you nervous?)
  • How your body is feeling (any soreness, tension, etc.)

Journaling After a Psychedelic Experience

If you journal regularly, an open-ended process may work well for you; you may be able to write freely about your feelings naturally. If not, that’s okay too.

It may be helpful to return to the things you recorded in your trip log before and ask yourself the same questions to see if you’re feeling differently.

Here are some prompts to get you started. Please don’t feel obligated to answer them all; use what resonates with you or piques your interest. Some, you may want to come back to each time you dose to see how things change.

  • How does your body feel? Are you feeling tense? Relaxed?
  • Did you experience any struggles, conflicts, or big emotions? Did you have times where you fought against the experience? Consider why this may have happened, record your experience and how you’re feeling about it now.
  • Think about the intention you set. Do you feel this was addressed? If yes, in what ways? If not, what may have happened that moved you away from your intentions? Are there ways you are still working to understand this?
  • Did you make any big realizations about your life? Consider your relationships, job, family life, health, etc. Are there changes you need to make? What commitments do you want to make to yourself moving forward?
  • Did you experience any big revelations? Or do you feel like there were key messages to take away from this experience?
  • What are you grateful for? Adding gratitude as part of your regular journaling process can be exceptionally beneficial.

Some other things to consider are:

  • What tools do you think you may need to integrate this experience into your life or make the necessary changes in your life? 
  • What challenges do you think you may experience with integration?

What About Microdosing? Does Integration Apply?

A microdose is a small dose of a psychedelic substance. Microdosing is the process of regularly consuming a small quantity to experience the therapeutic benefits without the hallucinogenic effects.

You may think psychedelic integration doesn’t apply since you don’t experience the coming down with microdosing as you do with a macro dose. This isn’t true. With microdosing, the intentions and therapeutic goals may be the same; the approach (i.e. the dose) is the only different thing.

Since microdosing involves taking such a small dose of a substance, journaling and integration may be more critical. At this dose, it’s more challenging to determine whether the substance has its intended impact. And even the task of finding the most effective dose can be difficult. Journaling can help.

Tracking the date, time, and size of your dose can help you determine the most effective dose and most effective regimen (how often to dose). We always recommend starting with a low dose and increasing slowly over time. Recording these can help you see the nuances between doses and track your tolerance.

Additionally, keeping an ongoing record of your intentions and your emotional state before and after dosing can help you to track the benefits over time.

Final Thoughts – The Importance of Integration

Psychedelic integration can impact how you experience psychedelics and improve the therapeutic potential. Don’t rush to move on to the next thing after a macro dose; take the time to reflect and record your experience. Do the same with microdosing to get the most out of your experience.

Do you incorporate journaling into your psychedelic routine? What do you find works best for you? Let us know in the comments.

To hear how others integrated what they learned during a psychedelic trip, see our 50 quotes on psychedelics.

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