Are We Finally Reawakening to the Profound Healing Properties of Psychedelics?

Originally appearing here. Slowly but surely, we may be reaching success in a determined and long-time legal effort to unleash the curative powers of psychedelic drugs in America. There is a tremendous need for alternative approaches to the existing models of drugs and therapy. Tens of thousands of soldiers have returned from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with symptoms of PTSD. Many alcoholics and drug addicts fail to find success in 12-step programs. Research shows that psychedelics have the potential to help many of them, as well as the victims of rape, molestation and family violence. But for years, scientific inquiry into the curative powers of psychedelic drugs has been blocked by political fears, the result of drug hysteria generated by anti-drug forces, law enforcement and Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no” campaign. Many industries, particularly the pharmaceutical and alcohol industries, and in some cases the prison guard unions, have employed a phalanx of well-connected lobbyists to protect the financial interests of their clients, regardless of the negative effects on the rest of us. There was a time in America when scientific research was not so hindered by politics; when elected officials didn’t constantly look over their shoulders, fearing conservative attacks of the lowest common denominator. Those “good old days” were the 1960s, when relatively unfettered research begin to tell the promising, occasionally startling story of the profound potential of drugs we refer to as psychedelics, or hallucinogens. Some are part of natural ingredients, while others are a product of creativity in the laboratory. Most of these drugs we recognize by their common names: LSD, psilocybin, MDMA or ecstasy, ayahuasca, Ibogaine, and other lesser known concoctions. And we shouldn’t leave out cannabis, as there is much research as well as anecdotal evidence of how marijuana can help users. Back in the ’60s, thanks to lab workers, doctors, chemists, and adventurers, many psychedelic drugs escaped from the labs and found their way into wider use. These drugs moved into the culture because they were mysterious, pleasurable and caused profound introspection. They spread first to elites around universities and in urban areas, and then to artists and musicians and then to the kids, who rolled them out far and wide like a huge tribe of Johnny Appleseeds. They created an influential niche in the culture. There was an explosion of creativity, cultural change, and of course, a few bad trips. Steve Jobs, the Beatles, John Coltrane, Jack Nicholson, Ram Das, Andrew Weil and many others experienced and shared their own personal magical mystery tours. I came of age during this period. I experienced the excitement and the often eye-opening insights of the culture of drugs, music, and yes, social change. Like many, I thought we had seen the future, and it looked very bright. But we were so wrong. This explosive cultural shift scared the shit out of the rest of the country. Scare stories and anti-drug propaganda were cranked out, excess highlighted, and before long virtually every one of these drugs was declared not only illegal, but profoundly so; drugs labeled Schedule 1, categorized as very dangerous and with no redeeming medical benefit, despite research that showed the contrary. Even pot, far less harmful than alcohol and most prescription drugs, was defined a “hard drug” in many parts of the country. In the past few decades millions of Americans have been arrested or thrown in jail for weed. These drugs were pushed far underground, and some, like LSD, become almost impossible to find. Research into the properties of these drugs came to a halt. And that is the way it has stayed for close to 40 years, the so-called war on drugs dominating the American psyche, sowing fear and misinformation, and not incidentally, filling the prisons, helping to create the prison-industrial complex and protecting various vested interests as millions of people suffer. But well below the radar, a small group of committed researchers, doctors and advocates did not give up on the potential of psychedelic drugs. Slowly but surely, over decades, they were able to convince the right people, at the right time, to embrace scientific values and fight against political hysteria. As a result, there has been tremendous progress toward bringing these drugs closer to legal availability, though the hurdles that remain are formidable. Scientists in the US and other countries have been coming up with impressive findings. Sarah Seltzer, writing for AlterNet in late April, cataloged a number of success stories in treating alcoholism (in Norway), depression and anxiety. Research showed psychedelics may shut down active regions of the brain associated with depression. Ecstasy has been shown to help women who were abused or raped. It may help cluster headaches, which are so painful they are sometimes called “suicide headaches.” Other scientific work has shown hallucinogens can give the dying a profoundly calming experience as they prepare for the end of life. What follows is the transcript of a highly illuminating panel discussion from the bi-annual conference of the Drug Policy Alliance in Los Angeles late last year, where some of the world’s foremost researchers in psychedelics described the history, process and results of their work thus far. I attended this workshop, and came away thinking how important it is for more people to know what is happening, so I decided to get a transcript of the proceedings for your reading pleasure. Read the full transcript here. AlterNet covers the wide variety of uses for psychedelics and marijuana, highlighting the various histories and medical potential of the drugs. The article features a transcript of the talks given at Reform Conference by MAPS Founder Rick Doblin Ph.D. and Executive Director of The Beckley Foundation, Amanda Feilding.