The return of serious research into psychedelic drugs

While psychedelic drugs are now seen as illicit and criminalised around the world, with even those few remaining substances not criminalised occasionally cropping up as a potential bête noire for politicians, they were once at the forefront of psychiatric research. Here’s an astonishing video which gives a sense of this long suppressed research activity:

This fabulous New Yorker article introduces the background to this research and details its contemporary resurgence, as well as the many challenges it faces before any hoped for normalisation could come to pass:

Between 1953 and 1973, the federal government spent four million dollars to fund a hundred and sixteen studies of LSD, involving more than seventeen hundred subjects. (These figures don’t include classified research.) Through the mid-nineteen-sixties, psilocybin and LSD were legal and remarkably easy to obtain. Sandoz, the Swiss chemical company where, in 1938, Albert Hofmann first synthesized LSD, gave away large quantities of Delysid—LSD—to any researcher who requested it, in the hope that someone would discover a marketable application. Psychedelics were tested on alcoholics, people struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder, depressives, autistic children, schizophrenics, terminal cancer patients, and convicts, as well as on perfectly healthy artists and scientists (to study creativity) and divinity students (to study spirituality). The results reported were frequently positive. But many of the studies were, by modern standards, poorly designed and seldom well controlled, if at all. When there were controls, it was difficult to blind the researchers—that is, hide from them which volunteers had taken the actual drug. (This remains a problem.)

By the mid-nineteen-sixties, LSD had escaped from the laboratory and swept through the counterculture. In 1970, Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act and put most psychedelics on Schedule 1, prohibiting their use for any purpose. Research soon came to a halt, and what had been learned was all but erased from the field of psychiatry. “By the time I got to medical school, no one even talked about it,” Ross said.

Two points stand out: (1) we have vast evidence of experiences induced by psychedelic drugs which cohere with religious experiences recorded in the scholarly literature concerned with them (2) we have strong evidence of the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs and the biggest obstacle to overcoming the risks concerning them (the most sensible objection to this research) are constraints on serious clinical research itself.

Categories: Rethinking The World

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