Despite being outlawed more than half a century ago, psychedelics like LSD and MDMA (ecstasy) are still being consumed as recreational drugs in different parts of the world. They are known to induce hallucinations or an altered state of consciousness, but, if some studies are to be considered, they can also prove helpful in treating several psychological conditions.

Be it anxiety or depression, an appropriate amount of some of these drugs combined with additional medical or therapeutic assistance could be key to treating a range of disorders, research work presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association suggested.

“Combined with psychotherapy, some psychedelic drugs like MDMA, psilocybin, and ayahuasca may improve symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder," Cristina L. Magalhaes, co-chair of a symposium on psychedelics and psychotherapy, stated at the convention currently being held in San Francisco.

Studies show psychedelic drugs could treat anxiety and depression. Pictured, a man sitting hunched over on a staircase in Tokyo Nov. 17, 2008. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

Ecstasy (MDMA), for one, offers a way to deal with stress and anxiety. The drug is currently in the final phase of clinical trials for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and has been observed to contain social anxiety when combined with psychotherapy, according to one of the studies presented at the convention.

In the work, the drug, when administered with appropriate therapy sessions, reduced symptoms of moderate to severe social anxiety in 12 autistic individuals for a long period.

"Social anxiety is prevalent in autistic adults and few treatment options have been shown to be effective," Alicia Danforth from Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, who conducted the study, stated. "The positive effects of using MDMA and therapy lasted months, or even years, for most of the research volunteers."

Among other psychedelics, LSD, psilocybin, aka magic mushrooms, and ayahuasca — a brew used by indigenous people of the Amazon for spiritual purposes — have also been proven to be effective.

For instance, one study — reporting results from 159 participants — suggested all three hallucinogens triggered greater spirituality, which improved emotional stability and reduced signs of anxiety, depression, and disordered eating.

The finding was further supported when other works confirmed ayahuasca alone helps in coping with addiction, trauma, and depression by fostering altruism and generosity, while psilocybin reduces stress and anxiety in people suffering from incurable or life-threatening diseases.

The psilocybin study — conducted on 13 different individuals — showcased that the drug, if administered accurately with therapy, can give people a new perspective towards death and help them cope with the stress of losing loved ones.

"Participants made spiritual or religious interpretations of their experience and the psilocybin treatment helped facilitate a reconnection to life, greater mindfulness and presence and gave them more confidence when faced with cancer recurrence," Gabby Agin-Liebes, the author of the research, stated.

Though these drugs still remain outlawed, the promising results do suggest they might be used in the treatment of psychological disorders. For now, the researchers stressed on the need for further research to build on these findings and consider the legal and ethical implications associated with using such drugs.