In the past decade, after thirty years in the deep freeze, research into the medicinal use of psychedelic drugs, ranging from psilocybin to Ketamine, and from MDMA to LSD, has begun to accelerate. FDA-approved pilot studies and clinical trials using the drugs under controlled conditions and in combination with talk therapy have shown they could be used safely, delivering promising results in a wide range of tough-to-treat maladies, including opiate and tobacco addiction, alcoholism, autism, anxiety, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
These developments are not surprising to some who remember the first wave of research and even widespread clinical use of psychedelics in the quarter century after the accidental discovery LSD in 1943. A global review of psychedelic studies and clinical results in 1963 concluded: “Some spectacular, and almost unbelievable, results have been achieved by using one dose [of the drugs].”
In 1960, a psychiatrist named Sydney Cohen surveyed the results of 44 physicians who had administered 25,000 doses of LSD or mescaline to 5,000 subjects under widely varying conditions. Cohen found “no instance of serious or prolonged physical side effects” in either those 25,000 sessions or in the wider literature on psychedelic drug studies. Adverse psychological reactions, he found, were rare, and mostly related to pre-existing mental illnesses.
But the powerful drug that was proving surprisingly safe to use in the clinic was creating a panic when used on the streets. The mushrooming popular abuse of psychedelics in the late 1960s, particularly by unscreened young people taking it in uncontrolled environments, struck such a sensitive cultural and political nerve that it left the drugs, and the scientists who worked with them, severely stigmatized for more than a generation.
“It was if psychedelic drugs had become undiscovered,” one researcher recalled.
Ironically, the criminalization of the possession of psychedelic drugs in 1970 and the attendant passion of the authorities’ anti-drug crusade did little to slow the spread of recreational abuse, but effectively shut all research into possible beneficial uses down cold.
In the three decades that followed, an underground network of therapists continued to use the now illegal compounds in treatment of psychological maladies. In the late 1970s, with the rediscovery of the psychoactive effects of the synthetic psychedelic 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine, or MDMA, these underground therapists found a compound many felt was even more useful in combination with therapy than the classic psychedelics – avoiding the unpredictable effects and anxiety-provoking visions that sometimes arose, as well as creating an almost instant bond with the therapist. MDMA also had the advantage of not yet being illegal.
As the government prepared to rectify that in 1985, a coalition of credentialed doctors and scientist allied with those in the psychedelic underground to take the attempt to rehabilitate the drugs and bring back the hope of the 50s and 60s that they could become a powerful tool in psychotherapy. They sued the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to prevent them from placing MDMA on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the most restrictive category referred for highly dangerous drugs with no medical benefit.
After months of hearings and volumes of testimony, the presiding judge ruled dramatically in the plaintiffs’ favor – MDMA he declared, was neither particularly dangerous when used in a clinical setting nor without medical value.
The DEA simply ignored the ruling, which was not legally binding, and MDMA therapy went back underground. But some of those behind the challenge refused to surrender. If they couldn’t prove their case in court, they would do it in the lab. It took better than a decade and a slowly changing culture, but as the 20th Century came to a close, the Food and Drug Administration began to once again approve clinical trials giving psychedelics to humans to test everything from whether they could reliably produce a profound spiritual experience to help people stop smoking.
The following is an article written by Tom Shroder based on his new book Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy, and the Power to Heal
By Tom Schroder for Alternet/September 14, 2014
Psychedelic Drug Therapy Remains Alive and Well