Healing Depression Via Plant Medicines: The Holistic Approach To Wellness

Daniel Hannah
13 min readApr 30, 2024

Western medicine tends to fall short when dealing with depression, but what if a solution is through traditional medicines that have been demonized within our culture?

After working closely with hundreds of guests at a shamanic healing center, I learned a thing or two about the healing power of plant medicines in the context of tradition and ceremony.

The individuals who sought out ancestral medicines came for different reasons, however, I found there were three main camps:

  1. Curiosity: After reading the many stories tucked away in the deep corners of the web, many individuals simply wanted to see what all the commotion was about.
  2. Spiritual growth: Many individuals on a spiritual path wanted to further explore their consciousness, address certain roadblocks, and attain guidance or wisdom.
  3. Deep healing: The most common reason people sought out these medicines was to heal the emotional issues that they were facing.

The emotional issues people had were a mixed bag, and often they were quite severe.

Some of the people I supported throughout their medicine journeys involved:

  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Lack of self-love, core shame, etc.
  • Mourning and loss of loved ones
  • PTSD (mostly in veterans)
  • Emotional dysregulation from toxic relationships
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Childhood trauma
  • Trauma from sexual abuse, rape, and molestation

However, the common thread was depression.

Many of these individuals were fed up with conventional medicine. Years of SSRIs and therapy didn’t work, so they looked for alternative solutions. After hearing about, or perhaps experiencing the healing of psychedelic plants, many individuals sought to deepen their healing through ancestral medicines including Ayahuasca and Huachuma.

Working closely in this space, this is where my path crossed with some of these people.

The deep healing of ancestral medicines

Plant medicines can certainly act as a powerful remedy for depression. Although Ayahuasca has taken the spotlight in recent years, other plant medicines such as magic mushrooms, Peyote, and even LSD are also very effective in this area.

I credit plant medicines for facilitating a space to work through my depression, and I’ve witnessed psychedelics facilitate dramatic transformations in people, again and again. However, this isn’t to say that plant medicines are a linear solution to depression, because they’re not.

Depression is complex, with many potential factors contributing to it. It would be naive to objectively say that psychedelics heal depression, however, they are a powerful aid.

I have seen cases of retraumatization and psychosis following the use of ancestral medicines. It’s important to veer on the side of caution when using any psychoactive substance to address serious mental health issues, but with that said, they are medicines for a reason.

I’m writing this article to illuminate an alternate path to healing depression that many people aren’t aware of. Many individuals in today’s world are facing depression, and feel like they don’t have a fighting chance.

Honestly, I can’t blame them. We live in a fix-it society after all, when depression can’t be fixed, it must be healed.

Some people may be interested in exploring psychedelic healing, but to many people, it has never crossed their mind. On the other hand, many people have been conditioned to perceive psychedelics as dangerous recreational drugs, as opposed to what they have traditionally been used for, for millennia — medicines.

Although psychedelics aren’t for everyone, if you are facing depression and don’t know what to do about it, hear me out.

There is a lot to unpack regarding plant medicines and depression, so I’m going to speak from my experiences working closely with plant medicines, for many years.

Treating depression with plant medicines

It seems that now more than ever, people are once again setting their sights on ancestral medicines, especially regarding healing. Indigenous wisdom is beginning to penetrate the intelligent, but closed-minded blanket of science, and telling us there is something here worth looking at.

Conventional medicine is fantastic when it comes to the physical body, however, it lacks in the realm of emotional health.

That’s because the emotional body is viewed through the wrong lens. Western culture tends to perceive emotion as something mechanical — that can be fixed, rather than a fluent expression (or manifestation) of the deeper workings of consciousness.

First off, depression is a phenomenon that isn’t well understood within the scientific framework.

When we bring psychedelics into the equation which are even less understood, conventional medicine tends to give an arm’s length because this is not its forte.

This is why we turn to tradition for guidance. Many thousands of years of shamanic ceremonies involve plant medicines for healing and spiritual growth. Perhaps, these healers know something we don’t. Perhaps there is a lot of wisdom within these lineages, who have such an affection towards these healing plants.

And let’s be honest, we aren’t aware of this knowledge, not because these healers are hiding it from us. It’s because we’re too stuck in our ways to consider anything outside the box of conventional medicine.

However, as more research is being conducted, naturally occurring psychedelics are slowly becoming more widely accepted treatments for depression, and this is also being reflected in our studies and research.

How I treated my depression with psychedelics

When I was in my late teens, I began self-medicating my depression with psychedelics.

From my perspective at the time, life was hell. Therefore, going deep into strange and unfamiliar headspaces via plant medicines wasn’t frightening for me, because anything was better than reality.

Perhaps my plant medicine journey began as an act of escapism, perhaps I was just curious, but the more regularly I took psychedelics, the more intrigued I became with them.

It wasn’t long until I began to see the bigger picture with psychedelics. They aren’t simply feel-good drugs that they’re painted as within our society, they’re gateways into the deepest layers of consciousness. They allow us to access parts of ourselves that have never been met with the naked eye.

My recreational use shifted towards use with intention — to explore my consciousness, dredge up harmful but stubborn patterns, and alter my perception of myself and reality. Over the years, many of the unhealthy programs that kept me trapped in a mental prison began to deteriorate.

The trips often weren’t pleasant, but they were eye-opening. They forced me to confront the darkness in myself and take a long hard look at what was wrong with me.

As my general sense of well-being improved, I attributed it to a few things that the plant medicines were doing:

  • They were cleaning out a lot of internal junk that was keeping me in the same old painful patterns.
  • They were dredging up a lot of trauma, and facilitating the space to heal that trauma and feel happier about my life.
  • They were changing my attitudes, mindsets, and perceptions, which in turn changed the way I interacted with reality.
  • The new ways of interacting with reality were more fulfilling, meaning depression had less ammunition.

One experience transformed my life forever. After experiencing a complete rebirth following ego death, I set off the travel the world indefinitely and worked closely with ancestral medicines in Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador, where I worked at a shamanic healing center for some time.

My horizons broadened, and I began to understand just how deep this rabbit hole goes

The holistic perspective of depression

Rather than perceiving depression as solely a trigger in the brain, I now understand it primarily as a dysfunction in our energetic systems.

In other words, you have some dark crap trapped inside you, and you’re not going to feel happy until you get it out. This darkness has many interpretations depending on the belief system or context. We can call it emotional baggage, negative energy, dense energy, stagnant energy, low-vibrational energy, Hucha, Duḥkha, you name it.

Whatever you want to call it, it’s not good. I’m going to call it dense energy because that’s the term I’m familiar with.

Dense energy manifests as depression, illness, or even disease, and causes suffering in one form or another.

Imagine dense energy as grime that builds up through painful experiences, trauma, or being energetically exposed to some nasty stuff. Healing is the act of slowly wiping away this grime to avoid it building into a level of dysfunction.

This is where plant medicines come in — as a cleaning agent.

Plant medicines help clear out dense energy for a couple of reasons:

  • The spirit of the plant energetically cleanses you, as long as it’s used responsibly in the right context.
  • Plant medicines facilitate a space that allows you to clear out this energy, the same way you do via meditation or therapy.

There’s a lot more than what meets the eye when it comes to healing via plant medicines. If you approach depression from an angle where your brain simply isn’t producing enough happy chemicals, it may take you a very long time to heal.

Dopamine (or serotonin) isn’t happiness.

Happiness is happiness, it’s a vibration of consciousness that well-exceeds the physical being.

Holistic remedies vs Band-Aid fixes

Using psychedelics to treat depression is a much more holistic approach to healing than taking medication.

My aim is not to discourage you from using conventional medicine to treat depression. Western medicine has its place, of course, but it doesn’t come without its issues.

In most cases, modern medicine acts as a Band-Aid fix. SSRIs may provide relief, but they’re not a long-term remedy. Therapy can be helpful, but it can also miss the mark and take a long time to see any progress.

Plant medicines, on the other hand, get to the roots of the issue. They expose everything that’s trapped within your energetic body, therefore they are great at illuminating what in particular is the issue, and how to proceed with it.

This is what needs to be acknowledged when it comes to depression.

There is nothing to fix. Something, or more likely a host of different things are influencing depression, whether it’s:

  • Your environment or setting
  • Your lifestyle or lifestyle choices
  • Trauma and dense energy you’re holding onto
  • Painful mindsets and perceptions you’re harboring

Maybe you’re being attacked from several angles, which is why healing your depression feels hopeless. Even if you resolve one thing, there might be a host of others keeping you trapped in this state of misery.

For example, it’s hard to do the inner work and clear out some of the dense energy trapped in you if you’re in a toxic environment that’s smothering you with it. It may be difficult to get out of that toxic environment if you have limiting belief systems or detrimental perceptions that prevent you from doing so.

As you can see, now we’re in a pickle.

Therefore it’s important to work all angles when it comes to healing depression. Don’t solely rely on plant medicines, because there could be other things in your life that may be contributing to it.

Use plant medicines as an aid for depression, and tackle it from every angle.

How do psychedelics heal depression?

Let me make something clear.

Psychedelics don’t treat depression, you treat depression. Psychedelics are an aid, but you’re the one who does the heavy lifting. If you expect psychedelics to be a miracle cure, or the process of healing to be a smooth ride, you’re missing the point.

Think about it this way…

Psychedelics facilitate deep healing, but you’re the one working through your issues and dropping the emotional baggage.

Psychedelics are the therapist, providing the space to more deeply understand where your depression is coming from, and what you can do to make progress with it.

There is a learning curve with psychedelics. They work similarly to therapy sessions with a psychologist or counselor. It takes practice to get deep into your subconscious where the real work can be done. Likewise, with psychedelics, it takes experience to learn how your mind works, and how to work with it.

Keep in mind that therapy isn’t always easy. Through this approach, psychedelics may force some pretty dark stuff out of your subconsciousness, which you very well may not be prepared to confront. That’s why it’s important to mentally prepare yourself, and acknowledge that the experience could be very unpleasant.

Psychedelics facilitate inner work

Trauma is well-known to be a contributing factor to depression. If someone has a lot of trauma hidden deep in their psyche, this trauma is going to manifest somehow. Therefore, if depression is dependent on trauma in this context, once the independent variable is removed, the dependent manifestation will likely be resolved.

The difficult thing about trauma is that we often don’t know we have it. Even if we do, we don’t know how to dredge it out, or what the process of healing it looks like. This is where plant medicines shine.

Plant medicines create a space for you to do the inner work. While under the influence of psychedelics, you will often revisit emotional wounds, past traumas, and things that hurt you in the past.

As long as you work with the medicine instead of fighting against it, the psychedelic will flush up a lot of the ugliness in yourself, which gives you space to work through it.

Lie down and be completely present with the experience. Don’t listen to music, don’t stimulate yourself. Allow yourself to be fully there with the experience because healing occurs through experiencing. This is a big part of therapy. You’re giving yourself an audience, which in turn allows you to acknowledge and discard some of the trauma.

The deeper you go into the trip, the more crap is going to be flushed up. Therefore, it’s important not to dive beyond your limits. If you can’t handle what’s coming up, and you can’t stop the experience because you’ve already committed to it, this is where things can get ugly.

This is where I’ve seen people experience psychotic snaps because they were panicking and resisting the avalanche.

Nonresistance plays an essential role here, as via the path of nonresistance, you will embrace the experience, rather than causing friction.

Psychedelics dismantle the self

During a psychedelic journey, your self, and your identity start unhinging, which is a phenomenon called ego-dissolution. Essentially, ego dissolution is when the construct of you begins to fall apart.

This means you can see between the cracks that usually aren’t illuminated, and look at yourself from an angle you may have never seen before. This can be very helpful in getting you out of your negative mental space, where you can make some real progress.

For me, a big part of my depression was due to never feeling good enough, and not living up to who I wanted to be. It was made worse by the constant loneliness of being shy around people, and the desperation to be someone else.

The dismantling of my identity gave me a different vantage point of my life situation. This new perspective allowed me to reshuffle the pieces, and put them together differently. Instead, of being glued to my usual, broken perspective, psychedelics allowed me to gain an unbiased view.

During my psychedelic journeys, I began to wonder why I was living like this, and why I was not the person I wanted to be. Rather than hovering on the surface, plant medicines allowed me to explore these questions in more depth, and illuminated the changes that needed to be made.

As your identity begins to dissolve, you’re left with more room for a narrative. Spaciousness is created, and you finally have an audience with your thoughts and feelings.

Rather than being glued to a biased outlook in which your depression very well might manifest, you start to see life for what it is, and this can be a very refreshing feeling.

During a trip, you may think about different solutions to your problems, and paint things in a very different light. You might have originally avoided your problems, while psychedelics push you to confront them and find solutions to them.

Instead of seeing everything as monotonous and dystopic, a different appreciation for life starts to seed in your consciousness.

Psychedelics are an emotional detox

The reason why psychedelics are such good therapists is because they act as an emotional detox.

We generally have a lot of shit trapped in our energetic bodies which can obstruct the road to clarity and happiness. This junk accumulates throughout your life experience, and unless you’re constantly doing the inner work and learning from these experiences, it gets stuck.

People who are good at processing their emotions regularly detox themselves and prevent this grime from building up. For people who don’t regularly introspect, process, and do the shadow work, the grime can build into a level of dysfunction.

Therefore, when you take psychedelics responsibly, you tend to introspect, confront your issues, and clean out your mental environment. You will tend to pay attention to your emotions, feel them, and process them.

This is why people tend to feel relief after landing back down on Earth after a psychedelic journey because they feel clean. They traveled deep into their subconscious with a broom and put in the hard yards.

The spiritual cleansing

From the hundreds of sittings with plant medicines I have had in my life, there is no doubt I have experienced some mind-blowing phenomena.

A kundalini awakening, spirits of all sorts, different energies, cosmic states of consciousness, bliss, astral projection, gateways into other realms of consciousness, spirit guides, you name it.

Anyone who has spent enough time around ancestral medicines will understand that there’s a whole lot more to healing than what meets the eye.

When involving plant medicines, there is a spiritual component that at first may be understood as simply beliefs and placebos, but it has become apparent, to me at least, that healing is too a spiritual phenomenon and extends beyond our realm of perception.

You may believe that all healing simply stems from fixing the physiology of our brains, and that’s okay. Still, this belief often prevents people from diving into the deeper levels of consciousness and shoveling out the grime deeply entrenched within it.

Our bodies are more than just sacks of flesh and bone. They are complicated energetic systems with different influences on all levels of reality.

When working with Ayahuasca, a big component of healing comes from the spiritual side of it. The shamans always refer to the plant’s spirit, while the participant often perceives these spirits too.

People may have dark energies or entities attached to them that can cause a host of problems. Plant medicines can ward them off and protect the person who is working with the medicine. Plant medicines can also open you up energetically to nasty things within these spiritual dimensions, so it’s important to respect tradition and take plant medicines seriously.

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