Image for For the love of: Psychedelic therapy

For the love of: Psychedelic therapy

Rana Rahimpour was BBC Persia’s lead anchor, covering everything from Iran’s presidential elections to its nuclear programme, making her a target of the regime. The endless bad news has inspired her to retrain as a psychedelic therapist

Rana Rahimpour was BBC Persia’s lead anchor, covering everything from Iran’s presidential elections to its nuclear programme, making her a target of the regime. The endless bad news has inspired her to retrain as a psychedelic therapist

First, the passenger plane. Flight PS752. Blown out of the sky. All 176 on board, killed. Later, the arrest of a 22-year-old woman. Seized by the morality police. Died in custody. Swirling rumours, noisy protests, then the crackdowns, brutal and swift.

Iran is not your average beat for a broadcast journalist. Not by a long shot. For BBC Persia’s former lead presenter, Rana Rahimpour, the troubled Middle Eastern state consumed her every waking hour for 15 long years.

Eventually it broke her. The death threats, the wiretappings, the intimidation of her family, the fake news campaigns on social media, the non-stop churn of bad news. It was more than she could take. She cracked.

“I couldn’t get out of bed. I became suicidal. I had terrible paranoia,” she recalls. “So I decided to leave the BBC. I figured I’d stay in news [but] then I started wondering if the flow of constant crises isn’t actually making people more depressed.”

Today, she’s back on her feet. She credits a new passion for her turnaround. It has nothing to do with the fast-paced, adrenaline-charged atmosphere of an international newsroom. Quite the opposite, in fact. Rahimpour’s focus now lies at the other end of the spectrum – on tackling her demons, on resolution, on peace of mind.

Her inspiration, she says, is psychedelic. Literally. Natural psychedelic compounds – a category that includes psilocybin (magic mushrooms), DMT (found in ayahuasca), mescaline, and LSD, among others – are becoming increasingly recognised as a possible solution to mental illness.

Psychedelics take you to the source of whatever problem you’re facing and help you deal with it in a very spiritual way

Rahimpour won’t be drawn on whether she has direct experience, but her bookshelves are filled with studies on the mental health benefits of psychedelics.

Plus, she’s spoken to dozens of people with firsthand knowledge and all credit it with beating conventional pharmaceuticals hands down. Their disorders differ – from anxiety and depression to post-traumatic stress and severe addiction – but all talk of feeling “lighter”, “happier” and “more positive” post-treatment.

“Psychedelics take you to the source of whatever problem you’re facing and help you deal with it in a very spiritual way, which isn’t something you’d experience with standard western medicines,” she says.

Psychedelic therapy

Rana Rahimpour was BBC Persia’s lead anchor for 15 years. Image: RezaHashemi2023

As a treatment option, however, psychedelics have two major downsides. The first is the uncertainty of it. Bad trips remain a real possibility. As a subset of hallucinogenic drugs, psychedelics trigger non-ordinary mental states that, on occasion, can heighten fear and anxiety rather than reduce it.

Having an expert, trained therapist on hand is therefore very much advised. Someone who can help prepare people for what to expect, share tools like breathing techniques, and be there with them during the trip experience itself.

While she knows becoming a qualifed therapist will require many years or training, it’s the future that Rahimpour has set her heart on: “I watched a documentary called Fantastic Fungi, about the powers of mushrooms, and I turned to my husband and said: ‘That’s what I want to do’.”

To that end, she is continuing to read everything and anything she can find on the topic, from peer-reviewed academic papers to practical ‘how-to’ guides. In prominent place on her shelf is Michael Pollan’s influential 2018 book, How to Change Your Mind.

Next step is to embark on a training course to acquire the necessary qualifications to practise. Few options exist at the moment, but she has an eye on several formal programmes in the US and the Netherlands.

There are so many made-up stories about psychedelics, but I think people should know how useful they can be

Jumping from high-profile journalist to professional psychedelic therapist represents a huge leap, but it’s one that, with the support of her husband and parents, she has little hesitation in making.

“There are so many made-up stories about psychedelics, but I think people should know how useful they can be,” she says. “My whole perception [about them] changed when I decided that this is what I want to do with my life.”

The only problem – cue, the second downside – is that it’s illegal. At least in the UK. Despite an upsurge in interest in medical circles and their widespread use for centuries in many Indigenous communities, naturally occurring psychedelics such as magic mushrooms remain a class A drug.

Not everywhere is the same. In July 2023, Australia gave the go-ahead for the use of certain psychedelics (including psilocybin) in the clinical treatment of some forms of PTSD and depression. Similar permissions are available in individual states in Canada and the US. Magic truffes have long been legal in the Netherlands.

The legal barriers leave Rahimpour in a bind, but she believes we’re on the brink of change.

“However I do it, I’ll find a way of getting myself trained up,” she says. “When the clinical application of psychedelics becomes legal in the UK, which I believe it will very soon, I want to be ready to help.

Main image: Amara Eno

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