Native Amazonians have used Ayahuasca, a psychedelic brew, to promote spiritual healing and growth for hundreds of years. Steve Jobs (among many others) stated that his experiences with psychedelics were among the most important moments of his life. That these chemicals can be of lasting value to tribesmen and tech titans alike is a remarkable indication of their potential value to humanity at large, and yet our government labels them as both more dangerous and less medically beneficial than methamphetamine.
The shaming and subsequent outlawing of psychedelics in the 1960s killed the promising research being made at the time. Vestiges of this outdated sentiment still influence drug policy and limit our understanding of psychedelics. But, the global scientific community is challenging this longstanding reservation. Renewed study of psychedelics is improving their tarnished reputation by debunking old myths and discovering new health benefits.
Such research shows that “classic” psychedelics such as LSD, psilocybin and DMT can have lasting, positive psychological effects on most users. Even a single dose of LSD can promote robust healing in cases of alcoholism and depression. Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, can lessen end-of-life anxiety for the terminally ill. Many other studies demonstrate similar findings.
LSD and psilocybin can benefit healthy people too. These drugs have a reputation for profoundly improving creativity and outlook on life. “Bad trips,” flashbacks and other negative phenomena are actually quite rare, and are preventable with responsible, supervised use. And no, you cannot overdose or develop a physical dependence on classic psychedelics. In fact, they are less addictive and less harmful than many legal intoxicants like sugar, caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.
Despite an abundance of new research on psychedelics, their bad reputation still makes them difficult to study. “Even marijuana, which is essentially legal now, is for the most part a black box [to researchers],” says Olaf Bjornstal, a graduate student in the UT School of Pharmacy. “I think we have a lot more science to do before we know enough to use [psychedelics] therapeutically.”
Though more research may indeed be required to fully understand psychedelics’ full breadth of usefulness, organizations like the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies are making progress, but are still hindered by the strict federal classification of psychedelic compounds.
To clarify, psychedelics are not for everyone. They are powerful hallucinogens that must be employed properly, and outright legalization for recreational use is unwise. However, relaxing the federal restrictions placed on psychedelics to allow supervised clinical administration and research could initiate a wave of new discoveries.
We need to reevaluate our opinions about psychedelics. Our unjustified fear, exacerbated by Reagan-era drug education programs and outdated legislation, limits research of these drugs. It is unfair to researchers, those with mental health issues and everyday people for our government to sustain such decades-old, reactionary policies governing what could potentially be one of the most revolutionary classes of chemicals since antibiotics.
Schmidt is a physics sophomore from Austin. Follow him on Twitter @heyjakers.