‘Tis I once again, writing about a subject close to my heart – psychedelics.
I know these substances come with a lot of baggage and preconceptions. But please read with an open mind and heart.
Estimated read time – 5 minutes
The New Science of Psychedelics
In the 1960s, a Harvard psychologist called Timothy Leary started to do research on a group of substances called ‘psychedelics’. Primarily, he was trying to understand what a chemical called LSD was doing to his subjects’ brains. He wanted to use LSD and psilocybin (the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms) to better understand the mystery of human consciousness.
Initially, his research was promising, but when his message “turn on, tune in, drop out” conflicted with the US government’s plan for the youth (the primary goal of getting young men to sign up for the Vietnam war), Leary, and the substances he was studying, were vilified and outlawed from US culture.
Soon after Timothy was kicked out of Harvard, Nixon declared the “War on Drugs”, which ended all research into psychedelics and criminalised possession with laws still in force today.
Many scientists believe this may have been the biggest blunder in understanding human consciousness and treating mental health the world has ever made.
(From a government ad on the dangers of ‘drugs’. As you can see it was a highly sophisticated campaign.)
We’re now seeing a kind of scientific renaissance taking place, with many universities setting up psychedelic research centres to study these compounds.
“Psychedelics are to the study of the mind what the microscope is to biology and the telescope is to astronomy” – Dr Stanislav Grof – MAPS founder and Executive Director.
The University of Johns Hopkins (#9 ranked uni in the world) has invested $25 million in a psychedelics research centre. Imperial College London has also invested £3 million in a similar establishment.
The early studies published have already proven to be significant. Twenty-five adults with severe depression were given doses of psilocybin and showed large and rapid reductions in depressive symptoms. HALF were in complete remission – free from depression – after 4 weeks.
Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world today. There have been almost no developments in therapies since the introduction of SSRI’s in the 1990s, and suicide is now the leading cause of death in men under 45 and women between 15-34 in the UK.
“The magnitude of the effect we saw was about four times larger than what clinical trials have shown for traditional antidepressants on the market,” Alan Davis, PhD.
Psychedelics can be used recreationally, but far more exciting is the potential they have in treating the mental health crisis which grips modern societies all over the world.
And it’s not just depression psychedelics can help to alleviate.
They’ve also shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and treat addiction with success unheard of with current methods.
A spiritual experience is often described by people using psychedelics. A connection to God/The Universe and a feeling of belonging to a greater order is common. Many feel they are sacred, reminded they are made up of molecules billions of years old, on a big spaceship flying through infinity.
This feeling of sanctity has led some addicts to stop abusing their bodies with habits such as smoking (an addiction described by some as harder to kick than heroin). In a study done in 2009 at Johns Hopkins, 15 volunteers were given cognitive behavioural therapy followed by two or three doses of psilocybin. After 6 months, 80% had given up smoking. After a year, that figure had dropped to 67%, which is higher than any method used today.
When one of the participants, Alice, was asked why she’d stopped she said:
“The universe is so great and there were so many things you could do and see in it that killing yourself seemed like a dumb idea. It put smoking in a whole new context. Smoking seemed very unimportant; it seemed kind of stupid, to be honest”.
For now, I hope governments will begin to relax the restrictions around these substances and let real science be done to better understand how they work and how they can treat mental health disorders. Unfortunately, we’re decades behind where we could have been had the US not invaded Vietnam, but hopefully, our society can put aside their prejudices and welcome psychedelics back into mainstream culture.
But don’t just take my word for it…
The bald man in this video, Michael Pollan, is the author of How to Change your Mind – The New Science of Psychedelics (see what I did there^. Stole both his title for the article and some of his ideas. Hope you don’t mind, Mike). This book is one of the most respected pieces of work on the research being done on psychedelics. In this video, he shares some stories and ideas which are worth understanding. The other dude is Sam Harriss, a respected psychologist and meditation teacher.
Have a Good Trip
This Netflix documentary is excellent. It features a star-studded line up who share their experiences around psychedelics. It’s funny and interesting. Sting’s stories are especially good. He’s obviously ignored government prohibition over the past decades and has had some wild adventures on DMT and psilocybin.
This documentary also has some extremely important safety advice like “don’t drive if you’re tripping”.
Rick Doblin is a researcher with MAPS – one of the leading bodies of science on psychedelics. He discusses the potential these drugs have in treating mental health disorders and why we should be excited about the prospect of psychedelic therapies.
Read this Stuff
A great article on the Johns Hopkins depression study – Shares the key findings and why they’re important.
How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan – If you’re looking for a book to read, look further than Pollan’s. He did extensive research, giving a great overview of how far the science of psychedelics has come.
All of these sites have great resources to learn more about the science underway.
All of these sites have great resources to learn more about the science underway:
Listen to These
Alright, so I’ve recommended the same four guys but in different combinations. That’s because these dudes have the best knowledge I’ve been able to find on psychedelics. They’re only interested in science and have done their reading.
Paul Stamets is a fungi expert and a huge advocate, especially of mushrooms. He tells a crazy story on the JRE about how mushrooms cured his stammer. He also reckons he’s figured out how to save the bees. Excentric dude and a brilliant scientist.
Pollan – I think you know what he’s all about now. Just a level-headed dude who knows what he’s talking about.
“Habits are undeniably useful tools, relieving us of the need to run a complex mental operation every time we’re confronted with a new task or situation. Yet they also relieve us of the need to stay awake to the world: to attend, feel, think, and then act in a deliberate manner. (That is, from freedom rather than compulsion.) If you need to be reminded how completely mental habit blinds us to experience, just take a trip to an unfamiliar country. Suddenly you wake up! And the algorithms of everyday life all but start over, as if from scratch. This is why the various travel metaphors for the psychedelic experience are so apt. The efficiencies of the adult mind, useful as they are, blind us to the present moment. We’re constantly jumping ahead to the next thing. We approach experience much as an artificial intelligence (AI) program does, with our brains continually translating the data of the present into the terms of the past, reaching back in time for the relevant experience, and then using that to make its best guess as to how to predict and navigate the future. One of the things that commends travel, art, nature, work, and certain drugs to us is the way these experiences, at their best, block every mental path forward and back, immersing us in the flow of a present that is literally wonderful” – Michael Pollan, How to Change Your Mind
Do psychedelics scare you, and if so why/why not?
Thank you, beautiful readers. I hope you took some value from the 19th Patterson Post.
Psychedelics have so much potential. I hope society realises it.
Have a great week everyone.