Are Psychedelics the New Prozac?

Disclaimer: while more and more research is being conducted into the efficacy and power of psychedelics, people looking for healing or who have a casual interest in altered states may be left with the impression from most of the reporting on the subject that psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, ayahuasca, MDMA, and other psychedelics and entheogens have nothing but positive effects. While most of them are very safe for your body, all of them have the potential to do harm to your mind, especially if consumed recklessly, without adequate preparation, in high doses, or in inappropriate environments. So, especially if you are psychedelically-naïve, it’s important to understand that taking a tested-pure, known-dose of a drug in a therapeutically- and medically-supportive environment is very different from gulping an unknown dose of a potentially unknown substance (as are most street drugs) in a less-than-ideal environment.

Until the mid-1960s, mushrooms, LSD, and DMT were all legal. Then, in 1970, Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), and psychedelics became politically toxic as a research topic. Now, however, they are once again finding acceptance in academia. Privately funded research sanctioned by the FDA and DEA has been under way at Johns Hopkins, New York University, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of California at Los Angeles, among others.

Scientists at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, led by professor of psychiatry and neuroscience Roland Griffiths, have used moderately high doses of psilocybin to arrest major depression and existential anxiety among terminal cancer patients. In 2014, Griffiths’s team released a study in which people trying to quit smoking achieved an unheard-of 80 percent success rate after six months using psilocybin and talk therapy. Now they are tackling softer subjects, like whether high doses of the drug—the equivalent of roughly four to five grams of dried mushrooms, several times larger than a recreational dose—will produce spiritually significant experiences among serious meditators and clergy members.

At the University of California at San Francisco, a preliminary survey is currently looking at whether ayahuasca has therapeutic benefits for people who are struggling with PTSD. According to faculty researcher Jessica Nielson—who I was initially unable to reach in early September because she was attending Burning Man—the survey makes a convincing case for more involved research into ayahuasca. “We aren’t totally certain what it is about ayahuasca that people find healing,” says Nielson. “But what the results hint at is the symptoms and severity of PTSD decrease. We’re seeing decreases in alcohol and prescription drug use.” Nielson plans to present these results at the Psychedelic Science conference in Oakland in April. She also believes that her team can create a synthetic version of ayahuasca that she hopes the FDA will one day approve for clinical trials.

And while the future uses of psychedelics are in limbo, researchers note anecdotally that they tend to generate a new perspective in the user. “I think the experience itself gives you the opportunity to change your daily practices,” says Nielson. “It shows you what you need.”

Her comments echo something that the late neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote in his 2012 bestseller Hallucinations. “We need to see overall patterns in our lives,” he said. “We need detachment of this sort as much as we need engagement in our lives.”

Read more here…

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