The Psychedelic Renaissance


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by Dr. Ben Sessa


From the Publisher: Psychedelics were inextricably associated with the hippie counterculture of the 1960s and, more recently, with the rave music scene, and were once believed to hold great promise for treating a number of medical conditions as well as providing access to profound spiritual experiences. However, legal restrictions on the use of such drugs effectively forced them underground and brought clinical research to a halt – until recently. In this book, psychiatrist Dr. Ben Sessa makes a persuasive case for the re-evaluation of psychedelics – LSD, MDMA (‘ecstasy’), DMT, psilocybin, ayahuasca, peyote, ibogaine, and more – as he explores their clinical potential for treating a range of conditions from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression to autism and cluster headaches. Based on a thorough review of the evidence, Sessa corrects some common misconceptions about psychedelics and makes a clarion call for their responsible therapeutic use, with appropriate set and setting, in psychotherapy, psychiatry and personal growth. Topics covered in this book include: What are the drugs and why are they so controversial? How should they be safely and wisely used? What is the nature of the psychedelic experience? What are the implications for psychiatry and for psycho-spiritual growth? With clarity and wit, the author surveys the contributions of major figures in the psychedelic movement – from Huxley, Hofmann and Sandison to Leary, Grof and McKenna – and takes the reader on a journey through the fascinating history of psychedelic plants and chemicals as he considers the crucial role such drugs have had in human culture from prehistory to modern times.


Praise for the Book: “In the spirit of psychedelic psycho­ therapy, child and adolescent psychiatrist Ben Sessa begins The Psychedelic Renaissance by describing his own journey—the libertarian, creative childhood, through a near­ death experience to raves and hippie hangouts, and into a medical career in which he became keen to understand the traumatic roots of mental illness, especially when pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy failed to reach many of his patients. Alongside his psychiatric studies, Sessa read of psycholytic lysergide (LSD) therapy in the 1950s, when British psychiatrist Ronald Sandison brought home some of the first LSD being distributed to interested psychiatrists by its discoverer, the then Sandoz chemist Albert Hofmann.


Before his death in 2010, Sandison described to Sessa the excitement of an era when psychedelic­assisted psychotherapy seemed to be the next big thing in psychiatry for otherwise treatment­resistant patients. In the USA especially, the talk was also of psychedelics as psychotomimetics— tools that could mimic psychosis for research, and that, in the clinic, seemed to have potential in the treatment of alcoholism.


After psychiatrist and researcher Humphrey Osmond gave Aldous Huxley mescaline, Huxley wrote The Doors of Perception and Osmond coined the term psychedelic (mind­ manifesting). What came next was the 1960s, when transpersonal became “turn on, tune in, drop out”, when war met flower power, and everyone from the hippies to mass murderers seemed to be using psychedelics. The inevitability of prohibition of LSD in 1966 seems so clear with the benefit of hindsight, but prohibition effectively put an end to psychedelic research and therapy. When the last psychedelic tool for therapists—3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)—was made illegal, the predictable post­prohibition rush of street­marketed MDMA into popular culture sparked a second summer of love—a time when Sessa traded in his guitar for a stethoscope, and I was becoming interested in psychedelic medicine as a writer and researcher. What we both discovered was the curious and colourful alliance of institutions, activists, hippies, scientists, artists, psychotherapists, and psychonauts who were continuing to ask questions about the therapeutic values of these substances.


In this book Sessa lovingly describes the story of the psychedelic renaissance, taking us on a journey that seems to have first arisen from the ritual use of sacred plants and is now starting to manifest as rigorous scientific findings. In 2011, the first phase 2 trial of MDMA­ assisted psychotherapy for refractory post­traumatic stress disorder was published, and now studies on psilocybin from so­called magic mushrooms and LSD for end ­of ­life anxiety are awaiting publication, while psilocybin, ketamine, and ibogaine are being explored to treat addiction. Sessa goes on to propose that psychedelic­ assisted psychotherapy might have potential for other hard­to­reach mental disorders— for example, MDMA for personality disorders and as an alternative to electroconvulsive therapy in patients with life­ threatening depression, and psilocybin for obsessive­ compulsive disorder.


Although books on psychedelics abound, volumes like The Psychedelic Renaissance show how the field is now addressing the substance of findings from recent research rather than the legions of case reports and anecdotes. Another decent offering is from David Jay Brown, neuroscience writer and psychedelic explorer who details studies since 1990 in an e­book Psychedelic Drug Research: a Comprehensive Review. For a discussion of the evidence for psychedelic benefit beyond therapy—for cognition enhancement, learning, and changing values—look out for educational psychologist Thomas B Roberts’ new book, The Psychedelic Future of the Mind. These new writings bring an approach to psychedelics that is both science and art, in which the rigour of an evidence­ based approach is interwoven with personal, experiential narrative.


In 2009, Sessa became the first person in the UK to be legally given a psychedelic in 30 years, as a volunteer in an fMRI study of the neural correlates of a psychedelic experience. These UK studies are revealing how psilocybin seems to reduce activity in key connector hubs of the brain, those that might have a role in constructs of ego and self­identity, to allow a state of unrestrained cognition and enhanced memory recall. Similar research is delving into spiritual experiences as potentially important in the psychic changes that can be catalyzed by psychedelic agents. Sessa enthusiastically progresses his account of the potential of psychedelic drugs into spirituality and creativity, bringing his unique clinical background to consider concepts too often neglected in psychiatric illness.” — Kelly Morris


About the Author: Dr. Ben Sessa is a NHS Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist working in Taunton, Somerset with children and young people with a wide range of severe mental disorders. He trained in medicine at University College London and is a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Dr. Sessa’s research into psychedelic therapy has been published in The British Journal of Psychiatry. He has worked alongside Professor David Nutt at Bristol and Imperial universities as part of the growing research into therapeutic applications for the drug psilocybin. He is currently planning a clinical study looking at MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as a tool to manage treatment-resistant PTSD. His interest in this field stems from a fascination with the myriad of possibilities for therapy and neuroscientific research afforded by this unique class of compounds. Whilst accepting that the psychedelic drugs have a complex and controversial social history, he believes these drugs carry great potential to improve the depth of psychotherapy for patients whose history of trauma makes them resistant to many traditional approaches.


ISBN-10: 1908995009    –    ISBN-13: 978-1908995001