Charleston SC Post and Courier
August 4, 2004
The Post and Courier Staff
The psychedelic drugs used by Woodstock-era hippies and some of today’s rave-going teens have a far-reaching history in medicine.
Hundreds of years ago, American Indians experimented with psychedelic plants like the peyote cactus, which they embraced as a tool for religious exploration and spiritual ecstasy.
Mexicans ate certain hallucinogenic mushrooms in search of a higher consciousness and doorways to “psychotherapeutic healing.”
During the mid-20th century, scientists began studies aimed at tapping into psychedelic drugs’ potential to be useful in conjunction with psychotherapy. American and European studies conducted during the 1950s and early 1960s showed a promising future for psychedelic drugs in the medical establishment.
Some psychiatrists believed the drugs could be especially useful in helping patients tap into repressed memories and cope with past abuse or traumatic events. But their progress came to a grinding halt when widespread use of LSD, a synthetic hallucinogenic drug, came to prominence during the 1960s.
After that, tougher state and federal drug laws and public fears over the rise of recreational drug use made it difficult to get research funding for similar studies, said James Bakalar, an attorney who lectures in the department of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts.
Valuable research and potential treatments have been lost as a result, he said. “There has to be a better understanding of not just the risks but also the possible value,” said Bakalar, who co-authored a book in the late 1990s that called for further scientific research on the potential benefits of LSD as a therapeutic drug. “Both sides of the story have to be told,” he said.
That may happen now, with Dr. Michael Mithoefer’s work in examining the potential role of the designer drug Ecstasy in treating people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
It is believed that in a medically controlled environment, psychedelic drugs can work much like a high-octane truth serum, causing people to open up about, and deal with, things they wouldn’t ordinarily be comfortable talking about.
Bakalar noted, however, that the psychiatric community remains hesitant to integrate psychedelic drugs into therapy because the process of recovering traumatic memories is fraught with the potential to “create false memories and illusion.”