Sunday, February 5, 2023

Prince Harry Used Psychedelics to Help With Grief. Does It Work?

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In his new memoir, Spare, Prince Harry reveals that he turned to psychedelics to help heal the unresolved grief of losing his mother when he was 12 years old.

“I would never recommend people to do this recreationally,” Harry told Anderson Cooper on last Sunday’s episode of 60 Minutes. “But doing it with the right people, if you are suffering from a huge amount of loss, grief or trauma, then these things have a way of working as a medicine.”

Harry, the Duke of Sussex who stepped down from his royal duties with his wife Meghan Markle in 2021, reveals in Spare that he used psychedelics including the South American shamanic brew ayahuasca and psilocybin mushrooms.

The two substances are being widely explored for their potential in healing trauma and grief; Harry said they helped him cope with the loss of his mother, Princess Diana, who was killed in a car crash in 1997.

Psychedelics cleared ‘the misery of loss’

“I had a huge amount of frustration and blame towards the British press for their part in it,” Harry told Cooper. “It was obvious to us as kids the British press’ part in our mother’s misery and I had a lot of anger inside of me that luckily I never expressed to anybody. But I resorted to drinking heavily. Because I wanted to numb the feeling, or I wanted to distract myself from how… whatever I was thinking. And I would, you know, resort to drugs as well.”

Princess Diana
Prince Harry turned to psychedelics to help heal the loss of his mother, Princess Diana, who was killed in a car crash in 1997 | Courtesy Royal Family

That left Harry feeling “hopeless” and “lost.”

“There was this weight on my chest that I felt for so many years that I was never able to cry,” Harry said. “So I was constantly trying to find a way to cry, but — in even sitting on my sofa and going over as many memories as I could muster up about my mum. And sometimes I watched videos online.”

“Of your mom?” Cooper asked.

“Of my mom,” replied Harry.

In recent years, though, Harry says he turned to therapy and explored natural healing modalities including E.M.D.R. (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy), a technique that helps people with PTSD cope with triggering memories.

But Harry said it was psychedelics that “cleared the windscreen, the windshield, the misery of loss,” he told Cooper.

“They cleared away this idea that I had in my head that — that my mother — that I needed to cry to prove to my mother that I missed her. When in fact, all she wanted was for me to be happy.”

Psychedelics for grief

Unlike depression and other mental health issues, grief is not a mental illness but a natural condition nearly all humans experience. But it can turn into bigger issues if not addressed.

best psychedelic retreats
Psilocybin mushrooms Courtesy Mushroom Tao

Researchers have been studying psychedelics as a treatment for PTSD and grief for years.

Recent research conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the leading organization exploring psychedelics for PTSD, found MDMA (3,4-Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine) showed an 88 percent reduction of PTSD symptoms in participants. Sixty-seven percent of participants in that 18-week study no longer met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis.  

Research into psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in more than 100 strains of mushrooms, is also showing significant findings in treating depression. A 2021 study on psilocybin found it restored key neural pathways in the brain within 24 hours after one dose.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers revealed last year that he turned to ayahuasca to deal with family trauma.

“Most of the work was around myself and figuring out what unconditional love of myself looks like of myself,” Rodgers said. “In doing that, allowing me to understand how to unconditionally love other people but first realizing it’s gotta start with myself. I’ve got to be a little more gentle with myself and compassionate and forgiving because I’ve had some negative voices, negative self-talk, for a long time. A lot of healing went on.”

Johns Hopkins University, the University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine, and New York University are all exploring psychedelic therapies.

And while the substances Harry took are currently illegal in the U.S., that’s also beginning to change. As of January 1st, the therapeutic use of psilocybin is legal in Oregon, and several cities have decriminalized recreational use of psychedelics including ayahuasca.

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