The New Frontiersman: Hallucinogens Pave Way for Medical and Scientific Advancements

Originally appearing here. Exploring the unknown. It’s why we adore characters like Indiana Jones and Captain James Kirk, why we read the news and why NASA’s nullification is tragically lamentable. Most importantly, it’s why we progress as a species. Like NASA, particular fields of study have been held captive by the America’s exorbitant regulations, and one increasingly prominent field is that of hallucinogenic substances, such as LSD, MDMA (the active ingredient in ecstasy) and psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms. Thanks to a re-emerging interest in psychotropic and hallucinogenic drugs, scientists worldwide are finally beginning to test these substances once more to explore possible medical applications. It’s about damn time. The results thus far hold massive potential. And also like NASA, the research is largely being outsourced to countries with laxer regulations, leaving American scientists to their own devices. The medical use of hallucinogens is tricky business and far different from the use of other pharmaceuticals, as University veterinary medicine professor Steven Barker explains. “[Hallucinogenics’] primary effect, rather than relieving pain or some other type of physiological phenomenon, is altering perception,” Barker said. Barker began his study of the naturally occurring hallucinogen DMT in 1976 and has since studied the effects and uses of such substances with scientists oceans away, including being interviewed for the documentary “DMT: The Spirit Molecule.” Given the drug’s ability to alter perception, its most potent application has been helping those suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), incurable illnesses and other psychological strains. According to a New York Times story published in late April, drugs such as psilocybin and MDMA have proven highly helpful for patients facing death, depression or anxiety. “The research is in its very early stages,” Charles Grob, a psychiatrist and researcher at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, told the Times. “But we’re getting consistently good results.” Positive results have also been found in the application of MDMA for PTSD and LSD for cluster headaches. These progressions are phenomenal for the medical world — we now have substances both synthetically and naturally occurring which can be used as tools to tackle sensitive psychological issues in ways never thought possible. The sad fact is these substances have been around since the mid-20th century, but thanks to free-love and free-drug use advocates, like the infamous Timothy Leary, the U.S. government has thoroughly restricted any medical application. Though drugs classified as Schedule 1, which includes most hallucinogens, are deemed as having no medical use whatsoever. “Back in the ’60s, LSD was being used in psychotherapy, but thanks to Leary and other advocates of free drug use, the government became rather afraid of the compounds,” Barker said. “Studies were curtailed completely.” The U.S. needs to embrace these progressions and avoid falling behind, as we now will in the space race. Here we have a group of substances predominantly bereft of the physical hazards typically associated with illegal drugs, and they’re proving to be highly beneficial in particular circumstances. Our hands have been tied in the past, but slowly — all too slowly — we’re learning that someone will reap these benefits if we don’t, and it’s high time we get on board and fulfill our potential as scientific vanguards of the world. As has become increasingly obvious, at least to myself, these substances are not hard to find. Now, more than ever, it seems the previous generation’s obsession with cocaine and speed is giving way to our generation’s electrified desire for new experiences, leading to a higher availability of various hallucinogens, especially MDMA (commonly referred to as Molly). And according to Barker, DMT is so ubiquitous that it’s found throughout the human body, including trace amounts in the spinal cord and blood. Prohibiting scientific endeavors and education has done nothing but hold our nation’s industries back along with piquing the youth’s desire for the unknown. It’s a beautiful progression we’re making, and this budding field of study is bound to teach us plenty about the nature of perception and the means by which we cope. Finally, we’re embarking once more into the unknown and being rewarded in the process. Sometimes, though, the unknown lies in our own backyards — or backbones. The Louisiana State University student newspaper publishes an enthusiastic op-ed about how research into the beneficial uses of psychedelics, like the space race, offers a major opportunity for scientific advancement and insights into new methods of healing.