The Economist Weighs In: “Research into hallucinogenic drugs begins to shake off decades of taboo”

Nice to see that, for the most part, the Economist gets it!

This piece keeps an open mind about the potential benefits of this research finally being published and made publicly available.

Acid tests: Research into hallucinogenic drugs begins to shake off decades of taboo

Excerpted from the article:

“These papers will be interesting not only culturally, but also scientifically, as they reflect what happened between the early medical promise of hallucinogens and their subsequent blacklisting by authorities around the world…”

“Which was a pity because, like many other drugs the authorities have taken against as a result of their recreational uses, hallucinogens have medical applications as well. But time heals all wounds and now, cautiously, study of the medical use of hallucinogens is returning.”

“Psilocybin has shown promise in treating forms of OCD that are resistant to other therapies, in relieving cluster headaches (a common form of chronic headache) and in alleviating the anxiety experienced by terminally ill cancer patients. The first clinical study of LSD in over 35 years, also on terminally ill patients, is expected to finish this summer. Peter Gasser, the Swiss doctor leading the experiment, says that a combination of LSD and psychotherapy reduced anxiety levels of all 12 participants in the study, though the statistical significance of the data has yet to be analyzed.”

It’s hard to believe that the paragraph above, and the one below, came from the same article (although the piece resumes its optimistic tone at the very end).

From the article:

“It may, of course, be that LSD has no clinical uses. Even when no stigma attaches to the drugs involved, most clinical trials end in failure. But it is worth seeing whether LSD might fulfill its early promise. And if the publication of Leary’s archive speeds that process up by exorcising a ghost that still haunts LSD research, then the New York Public Library will have done the world a service.”

Dr. Timothy Leary (1920-1996)

As these research papers are gradually made available to the public, it will become clear that the majority of them did not end in failure.

Early research pointed to the use of various psychedelics, in a supportive* environment, with trained professionals, was effective in assisting in the successful treatment of alcoholism, depression in terminally-ill people, pain relief in cancer patients, for breaking the mind-set of imprisoned repeat offenders, for producing authentic religious experiences, and for unblocking creativity.

The concept of “guides,” an idea that came from the Huxleys (Aldous and Laura), was a central part of Leary’s experimental design.   At least one member of the Leary team would remain undosed, and the member tripping with the subject would take a smaller dose.  But usually the researchers relied solely on their own prior experiences to be effective guides.

*Editor’s Note: We say a “supportive” environment rather than a “controlled” environment (sterile clinic rooms, no other trippers, no music or amenities,  doctors hovering over with note pads) because Leary and his team quickly learned that these sort of environments were part of the reason for the bad trips. Also, few of those docs (in the “controlled” environment studies) had ever taken LSD or Psilocybin themselves. Or had only taken one trip, at a very low dosage, in order to keep scientific detachment. In contrast, Dr. Leary and his colleagues quickly realized this was one area where the doctor had to experiment with the drug themselves in order to truly understand what the subject was experiencing.

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