Back in the sixties, when Timothy Leary and others experimented with LSD and acid, the research quickly reached a dead end amidst fears of drug usage spiraling out of control.
Today, researchers around the globe are attempting a more serious approach that includes the controlled treatment of patients with ailments like PTSD, depression or alcohol and drug addiction. Drugs like ecstasy and LSD are used in small dosages and are integrated in psychotherapeutic work with the patients.
A pioneer in the field is the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) that has been battling regulators to approve research in the field for decades, and has recently approached the Pentagon to work with active duty soldiers who suffer from PTSD. Maps is also cooperating with scientists in Israel, Europe and South America to expand the scope of research into the usage of other drugs.
Last year, British scientists reported that psilosybin, an active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”, reduces activity in the so called default mode network of the brain. The default mode network is a hot topic in the field of neuroscience and there are many theories about its function. Some researchers believe that it is responsible for the internal monologue we create about ourselves, and therefore shapes how we perceive ourselves.
People with depression, anxiety or other related symptoms, tend to form negative beliefs about themselves, which then becomes an aspect of the default mode network. With the help of MRI technologies, psychedelic drugs have shown to dissolve that sense of self including its negative attributes.
In the US too, progress has been made. In one MAPS sponsored study, there is pronounced optimism about the future of these treatments, especially the use of MDMA or ecstasy.
The long-term study that included 19 chronic, treatment resistant patients with severe PTSD demonstrated a “sustained benefit over time, with no cases of subsequent drug abuse and no reports of neurocognitive decline”, the authors conclude. “These results indicate that there was a favorable long-term risk/benefit ratio for PTSD treatment with just a few doses of pure MDMA administered in a supportive setting, in conjunction with psychotherapy. Should further research validate our initial findings, we predict that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy will become an important treatment option for this very challenging clinical and public health problem.”
According to a study conducted by neuroscientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, the use of psychedelic drugs is at its highest now, higher even than in the 60ies and 70ies. 15 percent of the tests subjects have stated to have used one of these drugs recently.
“Psychedelics are different from other drugs, in that they are not known to be physically harmful or cause addiction or compulsive use”, the study concludes. “Experts agree that psychedelics are less harmful than alcohol and most other recreational drugs, although psychedelics can elicit anxiety and confusion during the drug effects”.