Article: Psychology Today: Psychedelics in Rehab

Thu, 19 May 2005
Psychology Today link
March-April 2005

“Psychedelics in Rehab”
by Steve Kotler

BACK IN THE early sixties, Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary snuck LSD out of campus laboratories and into the mainstream. Soon, tie-dyed hell broke loose in popular culture, and psychedelic drugs were quickly banned. By decade’s end, they had all but vanished from the psychological research scene.

Now, for the first time in some 30 years, human studies of such contraband substances are on the upswing. Many researchers say it should have happened sooner.

“The banning of psychedelics has been an absolute disaster for consciousness and medical research,” says Rick Doblin, head of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a nonprofit pharmaceutical company funding much of this new work.

Many researchers say hallucinogens were kept out of research labs because of fear generated by drugs like methamphetamines and heroin and the “war on drugs.” In fact, there’s little evidence that psychedelics are either addictive or more dangerous than, say, alcohol or marijuana, researchers report. Doblin argues that in the intervening decades, advances in everything from disease treatment to consciousness studies to basic psychological research have suffered. “These new studies are just the first steps on a long road to recovery,” he says.

The turnaround started in the early 1990s, when the Food and Drug Administration ran out of reasons, political and otherwise, to quash contraband drug research, Doblin says. Scientists hope hallucinogens can make inroads with tough-to-treat conditions, says Charles Grob, chief of adolescent and teen psychiatry at the University of California at Los Angeles. Grob is picking up where another researcher, Eric Kast, left off in the 1960s. Kast had promising results using LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) to relieve anxiety in terminally ill cancer patients. To follow up on those results, Grob is currently investigating psilocybin–the magic in “magic mushrooms”–as a treatment for anxiety in late-stage cancer patients.

Researchers hope this is only the beginning of a hallucinogenic data mine. As Grob also points out, “People forget, but psychedelics were the cutting edge of science in this country for 50 years.” In fact, in the 1940s and ’50s, so much money flowed in this direction that many top researchers got their start in this field. Many feel modern psychiatry owes its origins to the study of hallucinogens.

After all, it was the discovery of the neurotransmitter serotonin–thanks to LSD–that jump-started the brain chemistry revolution.


Six psychedelic drug studies are underway, all aimed at some of medicine’s more intractable problems.

The Medical University of South Carolina: Michael Mithoefer
MDMA (ecstasy) in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder triggered by sexual abuse

University of Arizona: Francisco Moreno
Obsessive-compulsive disorder treatment with psilocybin

University of California at Los Angeles: Charles Grob
Late-stage cancer-related anxiety treated with psilocybin and therapy

Late-stage cancer-related anxiety treated with MDMA and therapy

Harvard University: Andrew Sewell
Treatment of cluster headaches with LSD and psilocybin
(not yet approved)


Psychology Today link
May-June 1994

“Ecstasy and Psychotherapy”
by Paul Glanzrock

Ecstasy. In 1994, the FDA formally approved for research use in humans the hallucinogenic agent Ecstasy. Researchers believe that Ecstasy, technically known as MDMA, may relieve the pain and emotional distress of terminal cancer patients and speed the recovery of soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dubbed “the love drug” for effects that include profound feelings of empathy and a nirvana-like contentment, Ecstasy was outlawed by the Drug Enforcement Agency in 1986. But the same effects that have made it a popular underground agent make it of interest to psychiatrists today. MDMA may accelerate the therapeutic process of psychotherapy.

“Between 1977 and 1985, roughly half a million doses were administered for the treatment of depression, anxiety, rape-related trauma, and even schizophrenia,” reports Richard Doblin, a doctoral student at Harvard University who heads the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Research. He charges that “politics over science” stifled proper funding and recognition of MDMA research thereafter.

What’s more, he claims that in giving the signal for formal research on MDMA only in 1994, the FDA has “failed to recognize the successful results of the past.” So the drug must undergo “lengthy and expensive testing in order to establish what we already know– that MDMA is safe for clinical use.”

Studies to establish basic human safety, now underway at the University of California at Los Angeles by psychiatrist Charles Grob, M.D., must be completed before any clinical trials of MDMA can begin. The drug’s effect on brain chemistry is also being examined.

Ecstasy is known to be safer than LSD, the hallucinogen famed for producing psychotic episodes in the ’60s. However, there is concern about MDMA’s effect on the neurotransmitter serotonin, the levels of which are closely linked to depression and sleep regulation. In one study, heavy MDMA users reportedly experienced a 30 percent decrease in serotonin levels. However, they did not experience the impulsive and hostile behavior other studies have linked to lowered serotonin levels.


The FDA has recently approved the research use of a number of other psychedelic agents. Observers attribute the loosening up of the agency to key personnel changes and pressure from activist groups.

o Marijuana, for the treatment of epilepsy, Huntington’s chorea, and appetite loss and psychological trauma in HIV-positive and AIDS Patients.

o The African root ibogaine, which has psychedelic properties, to reduce dependency in cocaine, heroin, alcohol, and nicotine addiction.

o Research into LSD, an addiction-busting agent has been resumed.

Psychology Today offers two articles about psychedelic research constraints in the United States, one from 2005 and the other from 1994. Compare what 11 years can do!