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Psychedelics and Postpartum Mood Disorders


Introduction

Psychedelics are becoming more normalized (and legalized) in our society: it’s undeniable. Here in Arizona, legislation has moved forward for the use of psychedelic mushrooms under controlled circumstances. Psychedelic-assisted therapy has become more and more common, with places like ketamine clinics opening up all around the country and even here in Tucson. Given the research coming out on how psychedelics can help with mental health and mood disorders, more parents are becoming interested in the potential healing capabilities of psychedelics for perinatal mood disorders (mental health disorders affecting parents during pregnancy and postpartum; these include disorders like postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, and beyond). While research is still incredibly limited due to legal restrictions on studying psychedelics in general (and specifically with the pregnant, postpartum, breastfeeding and chestfeeding population), the available evidence can help in understanding how certain psychedelics may with perinatal mood disorders. 


There are a couple clarifications I would like to make before diving into this subject. First, I would like to reiterate that there are basically no studies directly looking at the use of psychedelics postpartum (ketamine is the exception). This blog post is a synthesis of relevant peer-reviewed research articles I have found. While the studies used may not directly be studying psychedelics for perinatal and postpartum mood disorders, they are still science-based, relevant to symptoms of postpartum mood disorders, and valuable overall. (My sources for information can be found at the end of this blog). The second point I would like to emphasize is that I am not advocating for the use of psychedelics postpartum or to treat perinatal mood disorders. Rather, I am just presenting information on a subject that can often be hard to find given its “taboo” nature. I come from a public health background; I believe that people deserve to have reliable information in order to make their own informed decisions. I also believe that everyone heals differently; what works for one person may not work for another. Parents deserve to know their options and make their own decisions. 


Now that we got that out of the way, the psychedelic substances I will be reviewing here are: mushrooms (who’s psychedelic compounds are “psilocybin” and “psilocin”), MDMA (aka “molly”), and ketamine (an anesthetic; aka “special K”).



Psychedelic Mushrooms for Postpartum Mood Disorders

There is already a lot of promising research out there showing that psychedelic mushrooms can be helpful for a variety of mental health issues. Much of this research is also revealing that the healing properties of mushrooms may be relevant to postpartum depression and anxiety. For example, studies have reported improvements among individuals with treatment-resistant depression, which postpartum depression tends to be. Research shows that mushrooms may help parents reconnect with themselves, their infants, and their loved ones/support systems. This is important given that postpartum depression causes a deep sense of disconnection from oneself, their baby, and their loved ones/support network. Mushrooms may help with improving self-compassion, self-worth, and may also help parents feel a heightened sense of gratification from their role as parents. Overall, psychedelic mushrooms may help many parents cope with internal negative thoughts and feelings and improve the parent-infant relationship. 




Ketamine for Postpartum Mood Disorders 

Ketamine is an interesting substance to write about because its legal status allows for more direct research to be done in regards to mental health. In fact, ketamine clinics are opening up across the country and here in Arizona. In Tucson, you can visit Tucson Counseling Associates for ketamine-assisted psychotherapy. The reason these clinics are opening in the first place is because ketamine has proven benefits towards depression. Thus for the purposes of this blog we can apply much of what’s known about the benefits of ketamine to perinatal mood disorders and postpartum depression specifically. Like mushrooms, ketamine has shown to help some individuals with treatment-resistant depression and suicidal ideation. In particular, ketamine has shown to help depressed individuals undergoing surgery. This last point is important given that many births occur via cesarean section and because parents who undergo c-sections are at a higher risk of having depression postpartum. A few studies directly looking at ketamine for depression have found that a single dose of ketamine during a c-section can help with short-term depression postpartum. Wait - ketamine during the cesarean surgery? Yes - remember that ketamine is an anesthetic; it is safe to use during surgery (and in fact is often used on children undergoing surgery). Overall, ketamine has a short infusion time and is eliminated from the bloodstream quickly, meaning if used postpartum for treatment (i.e. outside of surgery), parents can quickly resume parental duties once finished with a ketamine session (especially when compared to other psychedelics which often last several hours). 




MDMA for Postpartum Mood Disorders

MDMA has been shown to help people with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and in couples therapy. Studies show MDMA-assisted therapy can help in many ways: it can help individuals feel more comfortable with new experiences, it can increase self-compassion and compassion towards other people, it can help build and strengthen connection to others, and MDMA can help with addressing negative childhood experiences. While the research is limited, the information coming out may be relevant to perinatal mood disorders. For example, negative feelings from childhood trauma are often heightened postpartum. Given that MDMA-assisted therapy may help with confronting feelings and experiences associated with childhood trauma, this makes MDMA’s potential benefits relevant to symptoms of some perinatal mood disorders. MDMA’s benefits in couples therapy is also relevant given the strain a new child can bring into a relationship between parents. Overall, MDMA shows potential in helping treat a variety of postpartum mood disorders and symptoms; hopefully more research will be done on this substance soon.



Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy and Postpartum Mood Disorders

Psychedelic-assisted therapy involves working with a therapist before, during, and after a dosing session. Therapists can help maximize the benefits of the psychedelic experience and with integrating lessons learned during the experience into everyday life. Psychedelic-assisted therapy is thought to prolong the positive effects of a psychedelic experience. In a quote from one peer-reviewed, scientific article, researchers write: “Psychedelic-assisted therapy may be beneficial in treating one of the core features of PPD [postpartum depression] – a maternal loss of connection with herself and her infant – and can engender a sense of acceptance, which can promote enduring positive changes for the mother–infant dyad.” (Jairaj, C. and Rucker, J.J., 2022). Personally, I feel psychedelic-assisted therapy is an excellent way for people to experience psychedelics as these therapists are trained to help guide you as you work through the motions (which often, parts of psychedelics experiences can be upsetting as they uproot deeply held feelings). With a therapist, you are also in a safe, appropriate environment to experience the psychedelic. 




Conclusion and Resources

Given the ever changing legality of psychedelics in Arizona and across the United States, I expect more studies on psychedelics for perinatal mood disorders will be published soon. As I said earlier, people heal differently; what works for one person may not work for another. My hope is that with more research, we can give parents suffering from postpartum mood disorders more options to heal. I also hope to see the use of these substances destigmatized by society. 


Here are some Tucson-local and non-local resources: 

  • Tucson Counseling Associates - As mentioned in the ketamine section Tucson Counseling Associates provides ketamine-assisted treatment as well as general psychotherapy. 

  • Black Therapists Rock - A great resource for mental health in general but in particular for Black individuals who are often left out of the psychedelics conversation. This group is run by Deran Young, a therapist who was able to treat her own mental health through ketamine-assisted treatment. She gave an excellent talk on “reversing racial trauma through collective healing” during the Science of Psychedelics conference last year (2023) which was one of my favorites of the conference. 

  • Moms on Mushrooms - While this page is specifically for mothers, this group “...bridges the gap between uncertainty and community by providing education and support, exclusively for mothers, through multiple offerings centered around the sacred practice of microdosing mushrooms.”

  • “How to Change Your Mind” by Michael Pollan - this is an excellent book on psychedelics. While it doesn't specifically focus on postpartum or parents, its unbiased account on the history and background of psychedelics is incredibly informative (and interesting; it will change the way you look at psychedelics).

  •   Double Blind Magazine’s article titled “More Parents Take Psychedelics Than You Think” - An interesting article on parental use of psychedelics. 


References/Bibliography: 

Jairaj, C. & Rucker, J.J. Postpartum Depression: A Role for Psychedelics? 2022; 36(8): 920-931. Journal of Psychopharmacology.


Chen-Li, D., … & McIntyre, R.S. Ketamine as potential treatment for postpartum depression: A narrative review. 2022; 34(4):264-274. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry: J. of the American Academy of Clinical Psychiatrists.


Yao, J., … & Zhao, P. Intraoperative ketamine for reduction in postpartum depressive symptoms after cesarean delivery: A double-blind, randomized clinical trial. 2020; 10(9). Brain and Behavior.


Alipoor, M., … & Sarkoohi, A. The Effect of Ketamine on Preventing Postpartum Depression. 2021; 14(1):87-92. Journal of Medicine and Life.


Wagner, A.C., … & Monson, C.M. Relational and Growth Outcomes Following Couples Therapy with MDMA for PTSD. 2021; 12. Frontiers in Psychology. 


MAPS. MDMA-assisted Psychotherapy: Possible Treatment for Postpartum Depression? 2010. 


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