Why Nurses should be involved with Psychedelic Treatments

As the field of psychedelic treatments develop, nurses will no doubt play an important role in their continuing clinical research.

Nurses can play a role in creating guidelines for assessing patients for psychedelic-assisted therapy and in providing a foundation of professional ethics on which to train other nurses, an area in which the voice and experience of nurses, a consistently trusted profession, would be an asset.

Nurses are skilled in supporting patients when they are going through challenging events and for prolonged periods, for example, during childbirth, a sudden or long term illness, and the times surrounding death. 

These skills translate well to being able to sit with a patient undergoing a therapeutic psychedelic experience.

Nurses can support patients on physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual levels, we can listen to patient stories and help comfort patients, a crucial task in integrating the therapeutic psychedelic experience. 

Nurses working with Psychedelics is not a new idea

In 1964, an article by Kay Parley, “Supporting the Patient on LSD Day.1 

Kay Parley was a psychiatric patient turned psychiatric nurse.

Kay Parley Nursing Considerations

Parley discussed nursing considerations when administering therapy with lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), which was under research as an adjunct to traditional psychiatric treatments for patients with alcohol use disorder. 

Parley described the process of “sitting” with patients over the course of a daylong LSD experience on the psychiatric unit. Since LSD can cause intense emotional experiences in people who ingest it, the duty of the nurse was to witness, create a safe and therapeutic environment, provide reassurance during moments of fear or anxiety, serve as a grounding presence to orient the patient to the “here and now,” and encourage the patient to explore what might emerge mentally, emotionally, or spiritually on their “journey.” 

Parley would narrate the experience to her patients, using the following words…

Parley suggested that the psychedelic experience led patients to “scan their life” and gain new perspectives, find meaning related to past events and relationships, explore traumatic wounds, gain insights into the cause of their illness, or experience a range of emotions that often led to self-healing and self-understanding. 

The same way that nurses create conditions conducive to self-healing of the body (cleaning and dressing wounds, for example), the nurse-guided psychedelic experience allowed patients to discover their capacity for emotional healing.

Where do nurses start?

Nurses with an interest in psychedelic treatments should start with the following:

  • Examine their personal thoughts, judgments, and opinions about therapeutic psychedelic use.
  • Familiarise themselves with the history, relevant language, and scientific findings related to the field of psychedelic research.
  • Learn about existing psychedelic treatments and research resources.
  • Consider the potential role of nursing in psychedelic treatment going forward.

Parley K. Supporting the patient on LSD day. The American Journal of Nursing (AJN) 1964;64(2):80–2. 

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