In 1938, Albert Hoffman synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). After accidentally ingesting it in 1943 he deemed it the “medicine of the soul.” Psychedelic drugs carry a stigma and it is easy to have very different views about them. Some have long claimed that, when taken responsibly and with the proper supervision, psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin are safe to consume. These drugs were researched extensively in the 1950s and 1960s, but funding stalled when the substances were classified as dangerous and lacking medical value. The Controlled Substance Act of 1970 classified psilocybin, LCD, and MDMA as Schedule 1 substances, which is defined as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Interestingly, approximately 0.005% of emergency department visits in the US involve LSD or psilocybin according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
A growing body of evidence is beginning to show that psychedelics have therapeutic potential beyond what pharmaceutically made prescription drugs can do. A recent article published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology highlights the potential of LSD, psilocybin, and MDMA for treating a wide range of mental illnesses. Several other studies have shown positive results can come from short courses or single sessions of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. A study conducted for cigarette smoking at Johns Hopkins had a very high success rate with 80% of people was abstinent after six months after using psilocybin. A pilot study found a strong affect with alcoholism as well. In 2014, Swiss researchers studied the therapeutic benefits of LSD-assisted therapy in reducing anxiety in 12 patients who had been diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. One year later, nearly all patients showed sustained reductions in anxiety with no adverse reactions. Lastly, one pilot study on 19 participants with drug-resistant PTSD showed a “significant and sustained-reduction in PTSD symptoms” in 83% of those given MDMA-assisted therapy.
The data suggest it’s the nature of the subjective experience that one has while under the effects of the substances that make psychedelics affective. Gasser P, Kirchner K, & Passie T (2015) study found the following:
Evaluations of subjective experiences suggest facilitated access to emotions, confrontation of previously unknown anxieties, worries, resources and intense emotional peak experiences. The experiences created led to a restructuring of the person’s emotional trust, situational understanding, habits and worldview.
Johansen and Krebs (2015) wrote:
Psychedelics are not known to harm the brain or other body organs or to cause addiction or compulsive use; serious adverse events involving psychedelics are extremely rare. Overall, it is difficult to see how prohibition of psychedelics can be justified as a public health measure.
Continued research into psychedelic drugs may one day offer new ways to treat mental illness and addiction. The emerging paradigm shift of psychedelics in a therapeutic setting may open new doors.
Gregoire, C. (2015, September 16). Psychedelics Could Trigger A ‘Paradigm Shift’ In Mental Health Care. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/psychedelics-mental-health-care_55f2e754e4b077ca094eb4f0
Johansen, P. and Krebs, T. (2015). Psychedelics Not Linked to Mental Health Problems or Suicidal Behavior: A Population Study. Journal of Psychopharmacology. 1-10. doi: 10.1177/0269881114568039
Gasser P, Kirchner K, & Passie T (2015). LSD-assisted psychotherapy for anxiety associated with a life-threatening disease: a qualitative study of acute and sustained subjective effects. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 29 (1), 57-68
Rivas, A. (2015, March 15). Psychedelics May Improve Mental Health Disorder, But We’ll Have to Support the Research to Find Out. Medical Daily. Retrieved from http://www.medicaldaily.com/psychedelics-may-improve-mental-health-disorders-well-have-support-research-find-out-325780
Jonathan Torres, M.S.
WKPIC Doctoral Intern