Psychedelic Science Conference Highlights Therapeutic Benefits of Mind-Altering Drugs

Originally appearing here. The psychedelic movement of the 1960s and 70s ended with the enactment of federal laws making most of these drugs illegal. But psychedelics have moved on, into laboratories, hospitals and clinical settings where the use of mind-altering drugs has been intensively studied for their unique benefits to health – especially mental health. Enter the MAPS Psychedelic Science Conference, the brainchild of Harvard Ph.D. Rick Doblin, whose decades of pioneering scientific work with psychedelics is bringing together talented presenters from all over the globe from April18 – 23 in Oakland, California. Many of these presenters are medical doctors from hospitals like Johns Hopkins, Santa Fe Medical Center, Harvard, U.C. Berkeley and other clinical settings where psychedelic research has been conducted or studied. The term psychedelic was first coined by British psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond in 1957 and means “mind-manifesting.” Osmond was one of the first medical doctors to work with LSD in a clinical setting. Psychedelic drugs include LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, DMT, MDMA (Ecstasy) and whole plants and fungus – including peyote, magic mushrooms, ayahuasca and other agents. MAPS, which stands for Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, was founded in 1986 by Doblin and has functioned as a clearing house, bringing to light the many published scientific and medical studies that document therapeutic uses of psychedelic drugs. The conference will focus to a great extent on clinical research into the use of psychedelic drugs for a wide variety of mental health needs. There is plenty of science to draw upon, with medical doctors by the dozens presenting their findings. Psilocybin, for example, the active agent in magic mushrooms, demonstrates benefit in treating alcohol dependence. The same drug also allays fear and anxiety about dying among terminally ill cancer patients. Researchers including medical doctors Charles Grob, Torsten Passie and Stephen Ross will all present on this drug at MAPS. MDMA or Ecstasy, known mostly as a rave drug, has proven beneficial for allaying post-traumatic stress disorder among war veterans, fire-fighters and police officers. First developed by Merck Pharmaceuticals in 1912, the invention languished on the shelf until the 1980s, when it became a recreational drug. Eventually MDMA became the focus of medical investigations into its benefits in cases of trauma – with mostly good results. Workshops by Peter Oehen, Annie Mithoefer and scientists from the United States, Israel, Canada, the U.K. and Australia will all present on breakthroughs with MDMA. LSD, perhaps the best known of all psychedelic drugs, was developed in the Sandoz Pharmaceuticals laboratories by Dr. Albert Hofmann in 1938. The drug got its big boost into public prominence in the mid-1960s, when a small group at Harvard University led by then professor Timothy Leary began to conduct ad hoc experiments on LSD. Times have since changed. David Nichols, Torsten Passie and pioneering medical doctor Stan Grof will all speak on the therapeutic benefits of LSD, notably among individuals who have suffered great traumas, gleaned from their decades of clinical science. Many people may simply write off psychedelics as dangerous or unnecessary, but for the numerous dedicated health professionals at the MAPS Psychedelic Science conference in April, these drugs are the subjects of entire careers. While psychedelics can potentially lead to abuse and other health problems, they are starting to hold some scientific merit as well. These drugs, many of which were developed in pharmaceutical laboratories, are now starting to emerge as therapeutic agents. Fox News contributor Chris Kilham provides an overview of psychedelics and their use in clinical studies, while linking the research to upcoming presentations at Psychedelic Science 2013.